Archive for November, 2009

mep website redesign and datacenter problems

Monday, November 9th, 2009

The Ministry of Environmental Protection unveiled a new Chinese website about a week or so ago.  The English version appears unchanged for now. This news would probably not be blog-worthy except that the datacenter now seems a little buggy, causing two problems:

1) The Greenpeace Beijing API widget that I have on the top right of this blog isn’t fetching daily data anymore. (I’ve been in touch with the developers and I know they are working on it.)

2) The datacenter’s query function for past air quality data doesn’t quite work right; data queries return past data different from the date range entered. I hope and presume this will be fixed soon.

After the redesign, the presentation of API on the MEP homepage is now done in the datacenter analysis format, as opposed to the old list format (still used on the English site).

new mep page

xinhua reports on beijing’s “fog”

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Xinhua reported yesterday afternoon on the “heavy fog” enshrouding Beijing the last few days (English link, Chinese link). The extreme pollution is mentioned only tangentially as a side effect of the fog:

BEIJING, Nov. 7 (Xinhua) — Major highways to Beijing have been closed as the capital and neighboring Hebei Province and Tianjin Municipality were shrouded in dense fog on Saturday…

The city’s environmental protection bureau said that the fog, which has dominated Beijing since Friday, deteriorated the city’s air quality.

Beijing recorded “serious pollution” Saturday, which was rare during this year, according to a bulletin issued by the China Environmental Monitoring Center.

The Chinese version of the story has slightly more information, mentioning that the specific weather conditions are unfavorable to pollution dispersion. I don’t doubt that the current weather (including, probably, some real fog), are contributing to the high pollution levels. Regardless, the city should do a better job warning its citizens of dangerous pollution conditions, no matter what the cause.

The BeijingAir Twitter feed has been reporting hazardous air for over 40 straight hours now…

students at a beijing international school kept inside yesterday

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

Posted last night on an American expat’s “Red Lantern Diary” blog:

My daughter, on the other hand, awaits heavy pollution days with bated breath. The other day, she asked, “Mommy, when will it be polluted again?” Upon questioning, I learned that on particularly bad days, her school keeps the little ones inside and lets them watch episodes of “Little Einsteins” rather than play outdoors.

Yesterday, as I walked to Elisa’s bus I paused to look around. As I surveyed the landscape around me, the brownish haze made it feel as if I were viewing the world through a sepia filter. It was odd to think that the hazardous air around me would be the source of my daughter’s good spirits. Sure enough, she stepped off the bus with a huge smile, “Mommy! It’s polluted! We got to watch “The Einsteins!” Not exactly the cultural experience I was looking for when we moved to Beijing.

I have long known that educators in the US and at international schools alter programming depending on the air quality. This is the value of real-time air quality reporting – sensitive or at-risk populations (e.g. children) can plan accordingly. With MEP’s official air quality numbers not reported until 2pm for the previous 24 hours (noon to noon), I doubt any Chinese schools have this luxury.  Does anyone know if any Chinese schools altered outdoor activity yesterday because of the hazardous air?

air in beijing hazardous again

Friday, November 6th, 2009

11 6 09 twitter

The pollution in Beijing right now is bad. Really bad. So bad that you can feel the heaviness, the denseness of the air as you breathe it in. It is stifling.

So how bad it is? Well, the closest thing we’ve got to real-time data, the US Embassy’s BeijingAir Twitter feed, confirms our worst fears; it has been reporting hazardous air for over 24 hours now, with over half of the hourly data points maxed out at an AQI of 500. MEP’s air quality data released this afternoon, on the other hand, shows an API of just 186, “lightly polluted” (“轻度污染”).

I wrote a lot about this discrepancy back in June when Beijing experienced a similar pollution spike. (See these posts: 6/18: air in Beijing is hazardous; 6/19: more info on Beijing’s 6/18 air quality; 6/22: US Embassy outed as source of BeijingAir Twitter feed.) In June, I posited that the hazardous pollution was not reflected in the MEP data because the MEP data is a 24-hour average, while the pollution events then only lasted for a few hours each. In this case, though, BeijingAir has been continuously reporting hazardous air since around 4pm yesterday, so it’s hard to imagine how the MEP data is still so “low.” (Low is in quotation marks because an API of 186 still represents very polluted air.)

I’m afraid I don’t have time to post more right now; I’ll try to get some graphs up this weekend. In the meantime, avoid strenuous exercise and stay inside if you can. With the Embassy-reported AQI maxed out at 500, the air is, in theory, worse than hazardous:

11 6 09 aqi

beijing’s vehicle population

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

I just stumbled across this 10/19/09 China Daily article on Beijing’s future vehicle population:

As many as 5.5 million cars will be on Beijing’s roads by 2015, although the growth rate will stabilize in the next five years, a senior local transport official said.

Beijing’s car community will hit 4 million by the beginning of next year and will then grow by an average of 300,000 cars a year, compared to the present rate of 400,000, to reach 5.5 million in 2015, Liu Xiaoming, director of the Beijing municipal committee of communications, said.

Liu said the municipal government would not restrict the number of cars on the road at the moment, but would not rule out doing so in the future.

“But efforts would be made to reduce public needs for cars and restrict their use and parking through overall traffic planning and related policies,” he said.

By next year, Beijing’s car community will have grown by 1 million in only two-and-a-half years. It took cities like Tokyo 12 years to reach that rate of growth.

Putting this projection together with historical data from the China National Bureau of Statistics yields this graph:

motor vehicles in beijing

Given the extreme traffic we are already experiencing, it is hard to imagine how this city is going to cope with 1.5 million more vehicles over the next five years.

By the way, in the China Daily article, I am certain they meant to say “vehicles” instead of “cars” in all cases. Vehicles includes trucks and buses.

Sources and additional references:
China Statistical Yearbook, 1998-2008
China Daily, 2/17/09:  China has more cars on roads
Beijing Traffic Management Bureau: Beijing’s Vehicle Population Reached 3,765,000
China Daily, 9/18/09: Extra 2,000 cars on road everyday
China Daily, 10/19/09: Automobile numbers could be capped

Beijing’s Vehicle Population Reached 3,765,000