From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]

China’s Weathermakers Prep for Olympics
BY Irene Klotz  /  Feb. 1, 2008

China, which is preparing to host the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing,
has taken on a task that would flummox even Hurcules: controlling the
weather. Determined to prevent rain from dampening the spirits — not
to mention the crowds — on opening day ceremonies, the government
plans to seed any threatening clouds with chemicals to dispel, or at
least delay, rainfall.

Though it sounds like a classroom assignment from Hogwarts School of
Witchcraft and Wizardry, weather modification programs have been
around for more than 50 years. California and 10 western states in the
United States regularly lace clouds with various substances to
increase snow and rain, though the practice has not passed full
scientific muster. The problem is there are too many factors that
affect the weather, making naturally occurring phenomena difficult to
separate from man-made triggers.

Not that people haven’t tried. Roscoe Braham, who pioneered weather
modification experiments at the University of Chicago in the 1950s,
always believed it would be possible to change the weather, but years
and years of tests were inconclusive. “It was unfortunate,” Braham
said in an interview with Discovery News from his retirement home in
North Carolina. “There was no strong scientific base for changing the

“The atmosphere and nature are so broad and so big and the best
efforts that man can put forth are really small in that respect,”
added Braham, who now serves as Scholar-in-Residence for North
Carolina State University’s Department of Marine, Earth and
Atmospheric Sciences. “If (proof) exists, we’re looking for a rather
small needle in a huge haystack of hay. You don’t even know what it
looks like, you don’t even know what success would be,” he said.

That’s not to say the techniques were disproved, either. A March 2007
study for the California Energy Commission by the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation found that cloud-seeding programs statewide produced
300,000 to 400,000 acre-feet of water annually. The water, mostly in
the form of melted snow, benefits agriculture and the state’s
hydroelectric power industry. It also augments recreational and
municipal supplies.

To make or mitigate rain, target clouds are injected with chemicals
such as silver iodide, which has a crystalline structure almost
identical to ice, or with dry ice, which changes the clouds’
structure. Braham recalls watching the transformation take place from
aboard research aircraft. “Dry ice is most effective. You just crush
it up and spew it out. A hole will develop in the cloud,” within about
10 minutes, Braham said. “It’s always mesmerizing to see this change.”

The chemical transforms water droplets, which cause a cloud’s opacity,
into ice crystals. That leaves a clear patch which, over time, fills
in. As for China’s Olympic feat, Braham said it would be nice if the
experiment was run and published prior to the big day so it could be
weighed on its scientific merits. Otherwise, he, for one, would award
the gold medal for weather to Mother Nature.

China plans to halt rain for Olympics
BY Barbara Demick  /  January 31, 2008

BEIJING — It is yet another attempt by man to triumph over nature.
Determined not to let anything spoil their party, organizers of the
2008 Summer Olympics said Wednesday that they will take control over
the most unpredictable element of all — the weather. While China’s
Olympic athletes are getting ready to compete on the fields, its
meteorologists are working the skies, attempting the difficult feat of
making sure it doesn’t rain on the Aug. 8 opening ceremonies. “Our
team is trained. Our preparations are complete,” declared Wang
Jianjie, a spokeswoman from the Beijing Meteorological Bureau,
addressing a news conference at the headquarters of the Beijing
organizing committee.

The Chinese are among the world’s leaders in what is called “weather
modification,” but they have more experience creating rain than
preventing it. In fact, the techniques are virtually the same. Cloud-
seeding is a relatively well-known practice that involves shooting
various substances into clouds, such as silver iodide, salts and dry
ice, that bring on the formation of larger raindrops, triggering a
downpour. But Chinese scientists believe they have perfected a
technique that reduces the size of the raindrops, delaying the rain
until the clouds move on.

The weather modification would be used only on a small area, opening
what would be in effect a meteorological umbrella over the 91,000-seat
Olympic stadium. The $400-million stadium, nicknamed the “bird’s nest”
for its interlacing steel beams, has no roof. “This is really a very
complex process in terms of selecting the place and the time,” said
Wang Yubin, an engineer from the meteorological bureau. “Probably we
will have to decide one day before or very close to the event.” Jeff
Ruffalo, a public relations advisor to the Beijing Olympics, believes
this is a first for the Summer Olympics, which in recent years have
taken place in drier cities — Athens, Sydney, Barcelona.

Summer is the rainy season in Northeast Asia. Originally, the Beijing
Olympics were to open July 25, but meteorologists urged that the date
be pushed back as late as possible. Still, the chances of rain in
Beijing on Aug. 8 are close to 50%. Training with the Olympics in
mind, the meteorologists have been practicing their “rain mitigation”
techniques since 2006. They have had a couple of dry runs, so to speak
— a China-Africa summit and a panda festival in Sichuan province,
among others.

The Chinese have been tinkering with the weather since the late 1950s,
trying to bring rains to the desert terrain of the northern provinces.
The bureau of weather modification was established in the 1980s and is
now believed to be the largest in the world. It has a reserve army of
37,000 people — most of them sort of weekend warriors who are called
to duty during unusual droughts. The bureau has 30 aircraft, 4,000
rocket launchers and 7,000 antiaircraft guns, said Wang Guohe,
director of weather modification for the Chinese Academy of

“We have the largest program in the world with the most people
involved and the most equipment, but it is not really the most
advanced,” Wang said. That honor belongs to the Russians, who he says
used sophisticated cloud-seeding in 1986 to prevent radioactive rain
from the Chernobyl reactor accident from reaching Moscow. Although
many scientists dispute the effectiveness of weather modification,
Wang insists that it has been successful in China on a limited scale.
“If you’re talking about a small rainfall, you can eliminate it,” Wang
said. “But if it’s going to be raining cats and dogs, there’s nothing
man can do about it.”

The People’s Weather  /  BY Tom Scocca

At this summer’s Beijing Olympics, China puts a 50-year experiment to
the test: Officials are betting weather modification can keep the sun
shining on the Games. Despite shaky science, the government is
confident (not for the first time) that man can best nature. Whatever
their chances, there’s plenty at stake—because all that development
and urban renewal won’t look so good beneath a curtain of smog.

One thing worth considering when you tamper with nature is what sort
of nature you’re tampering with. Nature is not kind to the city of
Beijing. China’s capital is arid, nearly a desert, and its natural
weather patterns are fickle and harsh. Winter is marked by howling
Siberian winds; summer, by sweltering monsoon heat. In lieu of
showers, springtime is best known for seasonal dust storms that sweep
down from Central Asia. Fall is parched and gusty too, but the dust
settles down. This basic brutality is overlaid with levels of
pollution like those of England’s Industrial Revolution. Many things
blot out the sunshine, and most have nothing to do with rain: factory
and power plant emissions, construction dust, smoke from stoves
burning scrap wood or pressed coal. There are more than 3 million cars
on the streets—and the count is said to be growing by 400,000 vehicles
annually. It is not unusual to check the AccuWeather international
forecast on the New York Times website and find that while other
cities’ weather is “mostly sunny” or “overcast,” Beijing’s is “smoky.”
In February 2007, authorities finally abandoned a longstanding policy
in which haze was referred to as wu, Mandarin for fog, and just called
it what it is—mai, or haze.

So the government aims to manipulate the city’s weather. This is a
matter of plain bureaucracy, not science fiction. Ren ding sheng tian,
went an old aphorism embraced by Mao Zedong: Man must defeat the
heavens. The People’s Republic has a colorful history of battling
nature with colossal, often ill-starred public-works projects.
Imperial flood-control schemes, for instance, begat today’s Three
Gorges Dam, designed to be the world’s largest hydroelectric station—
and denounced by critics as an environmental disaster. The Weather
Modification Office (WMO) is an arm of the Beijing Meteorological
Bureau, which is the local branch of the Chinese Meteorological
Administration. There are 31 provincial or municipal weather-
modification offices in China. The administration employs 52,998
people by its own count. Beijing’s WMO has sixteen full-time employees
who direct the activities of several dozen part-time weather
modifiers, mostly local farmers. The farmers maintain 21 emplacements
of antiaircraft guns and 26 rocket launchers, which fire munitions
loaded with silver iodide into the clouds. In the winter, when clouds
are lower, the modifiers burn chemical charges in special stoves. A
small squadron of planes, flown from a military airfield, delivers
silver iodide or dry ice into the clouds from above. In the clouds,
the silver iodide mingles with tiny droplets of water—leading, in
theory, to the formation of ice particles, which melt into heavier
drops and then fall as rain.

The operations of the weather modifiers lend themselves to a kind of
science folklore. Beijingers and foreigners in the city harbor pet
theories about signs that the government may be tampering with a
particular day’s weather—they include unusually fat raindrops, rain
from clear skies, or remarkably well-timed breaks of sunshine. Such
divination both over- and underestimates the Beijing Meteorological
Bureau’s activity. “Normally, if conditions permit, yes, we would
modify,” says Zhang Qiang, the deputy director of theWMO. But
miraculous transformations have not been the goal—at least until now.

This year, much of Zhang’s time is taken up with a new obligation.
Beijing is preparing for the coming Summer Olympics with an all-
encompassing effort involving new subway lines, trophy architectural
projects, and an urban renewal campaign that has cut huge swaths
through what’s considered the old city. Over it all hovers the problem
of the weather—which Chinese officials have been manipulating for 50
years now—and what to do about it. The Beijing Games are meant to mark
China’s emergence on the world stage as a 21st-century global
superpower. China would like that stage to be clean and dry.

The Olympics will take place during the brief but emphatic wet season;
on average, more than half the city’s annual precipitation falls in
July and August. The National Stadium, a tangled-looking lattice of
monumental steelwork known as the “Bird’s Nest,” is open to the skies.
The original design, by groundbreaking Swiss architecture firm Herzog
& de Meuron, included a retractable roof that was eventually scrapped
in a cost-cutting maneuver.

So the weather administration is responsible for standing between the
Olympics and the real possibility of an untimely downpour. History
suggests the natural chance of rain during the opening and closing
ceremonies is 50 percent, Beijing bureau deputy chief engineer Wang
Yubin announced at a press conference about weather and the Olympics
last year. Officials are hoping the same technology that’s meant to
bring more rain can also make it rain less or make the rain fall
somewhere else. Wang was accompanied by Zhang and by representatives
of the Academy of Meteorological Sciences, the Research Institute of
Urban Meteorology, and the Central Meteorological Observatory. They
discussed the interagency work of the Beijing Olympic Meteorological
Services Center, a temporary weather authority that will blanket the
city with real-time mini-forecasts. “We find that our measure is quite
effective if it deals with rainfall in a limited area,” Wang
explained. If there is widespread or heavy rain, he warned, “at
present we cannot reduce this rainfall to the minimum, to be frank.”

The Beijing rainmaking command center occupies a large seventh-floor
room in the bureau’s compound, near the Jingmi Canal on the west side
of the city. I visited it on a late-spring day last year. One wall was
taken up by windows that could have been called panoramic, had they
faced out on something other than a Beijing afternoon.

If weather is what you see and feel when you go outside, then the
majority of Beijing’s weather is manmade, with or without the help of
the WMO. On this particular day, the city looked as if someone had
shaken out a giant sack of instant concrete over it. The Fragrant
Hills, less than five miles to the west, were invisible from outside
the bureau.

The murky light could have passed, to the untrained eye, for a sign
that a shower was imminent, but the weather modifiers weren’t
stirring. In a bank of ten computer screens across the room from the
windows, only two were on—one showing a radar display, another showing
graphs of cloud temperature and water content. A voice broadcast over
speakers delivered a forecast: overcast again tomorrow, lasting
possibly until the next day.

Near the doorway of the weather-modification room was a relief model
of the municipality in tans and greens with white tags marking the
bureau facilities. The city proper is dead flat, resting on an inland
offshoot of the Huabei coastal plain. Around it is a deep bowl formed
by overlapping mountain ranges—the Taihang to the west and the Yan to
the north and northwest. Many of the tags, marking firing stations,
were scattered on the high ground in Beijing’s rural districts.
A row of past and present cloud-seeding rockets stood on the floor
beside the relief map, including an olive, waist-high RYI-6300, the
model currently in use. A 37-millimeter silver-iodide antiaircraft
shell completed the set. The Beijing bureau buys its equipment from
State-Owned Factory No. 556 in Wuhai City, Inner Mongolia, a former
military plant that now makes weather-control gear and industrial
blasting fuses.

Over the past decade, Beijing has sought to improve its air quality by
moving heavy industry out of town to neighboring Hebei Province and
the port city of Tianjin. Even the venerable Shougang Iron Works, a
mascot of China’s industrial might, is being uprooted for the
Olympics. But when the wind blows off the ocean, from the south and
the east, it carries the factory-choked air of Hebei and Tianjin up
the coastal plain, until the mountains funnel it to a halt over the
capital. The city’s Environmental Protection Bureau keeps an annual
tally of “blue-sky days” on which air quality falls into the two
lowest classes of its five-level pollution scale (at level five,
residents are warned to stay indoors and avoid exercise). Each year
brings a new, higher quota of blue-sky days for the city to meet; in
2007, the target was 245 days. The city logged 246, thanks to December
30 and 31—a pair of sunny days that followed a two-week stretch of
filthy ones. International media outlets also noted that the
government had scored an improbably large number of days that just
cleared the cutoff for “blue-sky” status.

Technically, summer is less polluted than other seasons, in part
because the lower portion of the atmosphere known as the planetary
boundary layer is higher, fewer people are burning coal, and the
government doesn’t include ozone—the primary component of smog—in its
pollution index. Regardless, Olympic officials are making contingency
plans for rescheduling events if certain days are too dirty. Athletes
worried about particulates in their lungs may descend on the city
wearing filter masks, taking them off for public appearances and
competition only. Last year, the International Olympic Committee
president, Jacques Rogge, expressed his concern to CNN about
scheduling “endurance sports like the cycling race, where you have to
compete for six hours. These are examples of competitions that might
be postponed or delayed to another day.”
Weather modification has a vexed and winding history, but China’s
position is straightforward: It is the world’s number one nation in
the field, however debated the field itself may be. The country spends
up to $90 million annually on weather-manipulation projects, and the
Meteorological Law of the People’s Republic of China directs
“governments at or above the county level” to “enhance their
leadership over weather modification” and “carry out work in this
field.” According to Yao Zhanyu, a weather-modification expert and
professor at the Academy of Meteorological Sciences, climate control
was first proposed by weather bureau chief Tu Changwang in 1956. Mao
gave it his blessing: “Manmade rain is very important,” he commented.
“I hope that meteorological professionals put more effort into it.” By
the summer of 1958, the first rain-seeding flights took place in Jilin
and Gansu provinces. This August—when the Olympics’ opening ceremonies
take place—a more modest public celebration in Jilin province will
honor 50 years of weather modification by the People’s Republic.

China’s meteorologists, though, weren’t the first to try cloud
seeding. The General Electric Laboratory launched the first field
experiments in 1946. The original principle established by the GE
experiments was sound, and momentum for research grew so much that at
one point in the ’70s, the United States spent $20 million annually on
projects. Forty years ago, it was at least as plausible to trigger a
downpour as to send a man to the moon, according to Hugh Willoughby, a
meteorology professor at Florida International University who took
part in major rain-making and hurricane-taming studies during the ’70s
and early ’80s. But if American scientists want to pursue weather
modification today, he says, “The burden of proof is really on them.”
Presently the country spends only $500,000 on the science.

GE’s original starting point was that seeding can cause ice to form in
cold clouds, or droplets to condense in warm ones. Yet cloud physics,
it turns out, is considerably more complex than rocket science: The
moon is an object of known size, moving predictably through space at a
distance of about 240,000 miles. To put a man on the moon, he is put
in a spaceship on a rocket and shot closer and closer to the target. A
cloud seeder, by contrast, is never shooting at the same target twice.
Not only is today’s cloud unlike yesterday’s, it is unlike the cloud
it was five minutes ago. Its top is unlike its bottom, and the two may
be changing places. Liquid water in it may be colder than neighboring
ice. Rain falling inside it may never reach the ground.

Six decades after its enthusiastic beginnings, weather modification
has been granted few successes by American scientists. In mountainous
areas, seeding seems to be able to moderately increase snowfall in the
winter. Insurance companies paid fewer hail-damage claims over the
years in counties where private anti-hail contractors were at work.
Recent studies also suggest that seeding clouds in the tropics with
salt seems to produce more rain, though later and farther away than
current theories can explain. According to a 2003 National Academy of
Sciences Board of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate report, progress in
weather modification “is not possible without a concerted and
sustained effort at understanding basic processes in the atmosphere.”
In their own studies, Chinese scientists have concluded that their
cloud seeding increases rainfall by 10 to 25 percent. They have seeded
clouds not only to offset drought and fill reservoirs but even to
fight forest fires. Talks have been underway with officials in Spain
and Egypt, who are said to be interested in the purchase of
modification instruments, and in 2005 China signed a bilateral
agreement with Cuba to begin operations there. “We’re not that far
ahead of other countries,” the WMO’s Zhang explains. “It’s just
because we’re still working at it continuously, trying to tackle these
problems, that we have results.”

The greatest recent triumph of weather modification in Beijing wasn’t
planned as a weather-control operation at all. In fall 2006, Beijing
hosted a pan-African summit. It was preceded by a rushed
beautification job in which workers hung floating red lanterns and
photomural billboards along major roadways and filled in medians with
new sod and saplings. To prevent congestion, the city’s traffic
authorities banned most government vehicles from the roads, cutting
traffic by a quarter. An obliging west wind swept away traces of the
old gridlock just before the summit. The sky turned a gorgeous
autumnal blue—a Hudson Valley sky, not a Huabei Plain one. The azure
stayed all week. It was beyond anything the Meteorological Bureau had
ever accomplished.

In August 2007, the city tried a repeat performance. While the
Meteorological Services Center utilized its rain-fighting artillery,
Beijing tried an even more drastic traffic cutback—alternately
allowing only odd- or even-numbered license plates on the road. But
what was announced as a two-week trial only ran for four days because
of a bureaucratic miscommunication. The haze remained.

The rain-prevention trial ending that same month was also
inconclusive. The technique employed in that effort was a variant on
the usual plan to make more rain, which is related to the technique
for stopping hail. Both depend on the supply of particles in the air
to serve as nuclei for rain formation. In a brewing hailstorm, Zhang
says, think of the available droplets of supercooled water as mantou—
steamed bread rolls—and the supply of ice-precipitating nuclei as
monks. “If you give 1,000 mantou to 100 monks, each of them is going
to burst to death,” Zhang said.  (Mantou are notoriously filling.) In
hail-formation terms, the overloaded monks would come crashing out of
the clouds as dangerously large hailstones. But by firing silver-
iodide shells into clouds, you’re adding more monks to the scene. “So
in the end,” Zhang said, “each monk gets two or three mantou.” The
resulting ice pellets should be small enough to melt on their way
down, arriving as raindrops. The metaphor leaves out a few things—hail
also requires powerful thermal updrafts to serve as a buffet line that
allows for feeding the monks—but it captures the basic strategy. Thus,
if you continue to reduce each monk’s portion of mantou, eventually no
one gets enough to eat, and the droplets stay in the cloud.

The concentration of nuclei in the air, with and without seeding, is
one of the great outstanding questions of weather-modification
science. The silver iodide monks are beside the point if the mantou
have already been nibbled to bits, and the skies over China are rich
with aerosol particles from dust and pollution. In a paper published
in Science last year, Yao Zhanyu and a team of researchers concluded
that in the mountains near Xi’an, heavy pollution can suppress
rainfall by 30 to 50 percent.

In his office at the Academy of Meteorological Sciences, Yao explained
the strategy for protecting the National Stadium. China had tried rain-
prevention ventures before, Yao said—at the Tiananmen Square
celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the People’s Republic in 1999,
for instance, and at the 10th National Games in Nanjing in 2005—but
the leading practitioner of anti-rain seeding was the former Soviet
Union. Yao, a compact and muscular man with thin-rimmed glasses,
pointed to a floor tile to represent the Olympic grounds. He traced
three semicircles, one inside the next, where the mountains would be.
The majority of summer storms, Yao said, come from the northwest, the
west, or the southwest. Starting at the outermost line, the modifiers
plan to seed approaching storms to encourage rainfall, in the hopes
that they rain themselves out. By the nearest line, the goal will be
instead to overseed the surviving clouds to suppress rain entirely. So
rain seeding and anti-rain seeding “are not two strategies that are
contradictory to each other,” Yao said. “We have to use them both.”

But the theory and technology were no match for last year’s monsoon.
August was marked by powerful downpours and flooding in the city. One
evening that month, I went to a neighborhood restaurant under clear
skies. By the time I finished dinner, it was as if the streets were
being sprayed with a celestial firehose: A row of mature trees had
been downed, cabs crept through water up to their hubcaps, and
pedestrians waded with their pants rolled past their knees.
Thunder was rumbling at the Xinzhuang Village firing station when I
arrived one afternoon last June, riding up a dirt lane in a city
taxicab. Beijing’s whole network of modifiers had been at work earlier
in the week, the WMO said, and the humidity hadn’t budged. The launch
site was on a ridgetop 1,400 feet above sea level in the middle of a
50-acre orchard run by a farmer named Jing Baoguo. An island platform
stood in the middle of an irrigation reservoir, under a striped
canopy, with catwalks leading to and from it. Along the far side of
the enclosure was a grape arbor; on the near side, tomato plants
flanked weather instruments.

The artillery stood off to the right: two antiaircraft guns, their
barrels poking out over the fence top, and a pair of blocky rocket
launchers mounted on single-axle trailers. In front of a large shed
sat a silver-iodide RGY-1 burner, a gleaming barrel-shaped contraption
with three wheels, a conical nose, and a long chimney that looked like
a barbecue smoker. By the side wall of the shed was a white doghouse
with a medium-sized black dog inside.

Jing, a wavy-haired man in earth tone slacks and a pullover, leased
the orchard six years ago, after working as a purchaser in a local
trading organization. After his trees suffered hail damage that year,
the Beijing Meteorological Bureau approached him about becoming a
weather modifier and setting up a station on his land. The Xinzhuang
site is one of four the bureau has added since 2001, with farmers
supplying the property, local government funding construction, and the
bureau supplying the guns and other equipment. The modifiers are paid
50 yuan, or about $7, for every shell fired, which would typically top
out at six on a day like today.

Heavy clouds were blowing overhead and a sprinkle of rain began to
fall. This was a rain-enhancement opportunity. An assistant, wearing a
round straw hat, ducked into the shed and began bringing out rockets,
one by one, and loading them into the nearest launcher. He slid each
one home, lining up the tailfins with slits in the firing tubes. The
launcher held a half-dozen rockets at once.

Jing and his assistant swung the launcher around and cranked it
skyward. Orders for modification begin with an advisory from the
Beijing bureau to its district sub-bureaus, alerting them to a
suitable weather system. The district offices mobilize the local
stations and direct them to fire. Via cell phone, the station got the
final orders: No firing today. Air traffic controllers, the ultimate
authority, had vetoed the operation. “Lots of airplanes circle this
area,” said Jing.

We retreated to the platform in the middle of the irrigation tank,
where Jing had put out apricots and cherries. Rain fell on the canopy,
and Jing poured hot mineral water from a thermos. He had originally
been skeptical of modification, he said, but at least in the case of
hail prevention, “it definitely works.” Pointing to an apricot, Jing
added, “Before the guns were installed, the hail was as big as this.”

The thundershower passed. The rocket launcher was still pointing
upward as I left in my taxi. Between air traffic and the southerly
origins of the storm, the bureau later stated, none of the other
weather-modification stations had been able to fire either. As we
returned to the expressway, though, drops began sprinkling the
windshield and then pelting it. Lightning flashed. Before long, we
were in a downpour again. We rode home through the unassisted rain.



Champion Pulls Out of Olympic Race Due to Pollution
BY Gregory Mone  /  03.10.2008

Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie has announced that he will not race in
the marathon at this year’s Beijing Olympics due to the potential
pollution. Gebrselassie, the world record holder in the event, says he
suffers from exercise-induced asthma, and that the risk to his health
would be too great for him to run that race, though he does plan to
compete in the shorter 10,000 meter event. China has announced
numerous plans to clean the air prior to the Games—the country has
said it will limit traffic in the city, shut down factories and even
attempt to modify the weather with technology. But as we’ve written
before, these local measures might not suffice, as some scientists
have found that much of Beijing’s pollution often comes from far-off
sources. Gebrselassie isn’t the only athlete to protest. Other runners
have expressed concern about the foul air, and officials have
suggested that these longer races may be delayed by a few hours or
longer in the case of intense smog.

Construction Halted Ahead of Games
BY Andrew Jacobs  /  April 15, 2008

BEIJING — City officials laid out an ambitious series of measures on
Monday that will freeze construction projects, slow down steel
production and shut down quarries in and around this capital during
the summer in an attempt to clear the air for the Olympics. Even spray-
painting outdoors will be banned during the weeks before and after
sporting events, which begin here on Aug. 8. Although officials
initially suggested that the city’s wholesale transformation would be
complete long before the opening ceremonies, the announcement
nonetheless represents the most detailed plan yet for how Beijing
might reach its longstanding pledge to stage “green Games” in one of
the world’s most polluted cities. In the past, officials had suggested
that the city’s makeover would be completed well before the Games,
possibly by the end of 2007.

But the two-month construction ban announced Monday will instead begin
on July 20. Government directives will also force coal-burning power
plants to reduce their emissions by 30 percent through most of the
summer. Officials said 19 heavily polluting enterprises, including
steel mills, coke plants and refineries, would be temporarily
mothballed or forced to reduce production. Gas pumps that do not have
vapor-trapping devices will be closed, cement production will stop and
the use of toxic solvents outdoors will be forbidden.

If Beijing’s air remains unacceptably sullied in the days leading up
the Games, officials said, they would take “stringent steps” to curb
polluting industries, although they declined to say what those might
be. “We will do everything possible to honor the promise,” Du
Shaozhong, deputy director of the city’s Environmental Protection
Bureau, told reporters. “Just tell everybody they don’t have to

Some Olympic officials and athletes remain unpersuaded. Although the
government has made notable strides in reducing the brown haze from
coal-burning heaters and stoves, the unabated surge in car ownership
has erased many of those gains. There are about 3.5 million vehicles
choking Beijing’s roadways, with about 1,200 new cars joining the
honking parade each day.

Last August, in a four-day exercise that will probably be repeated
this summer, authorities forced more than half of Beijing’s cars and
trucks off the road. Officials said they would present plans to
restrict traffic later. In recent months, independent scientists who
have sampled Beijing’s air have said levels of ozone and particulate
matter from diesel engines remain five times as high as maximum
standards set by the World Health Organization.

The president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge,
said a particularly smoggy day could prompt officials to postpone
outdoor endurance events. Mr. Du, the environmental official,
dismissed suggestions that Beijing had failed to substantially reduce
harmful pollution. He said that the number of Blue Sky days, those
with acceptably clean air according to the city’s monitoring system,
has more than doubled since 1998. There were just 100 such days then,
he said, compared with 246 last year. He said levels of nitrogen
dioxide and sulfur dioxide had dropped significantly in recent years.

However, an independent study released in January by an American
environmental consultant, Steven Q. Andrews, found irregularities in
the monitoring system that cast doubt as to how much air quality had
actually improved. The authorities said they had reduced pollution by
forcing local factories to upgrade pollution-control equipment and
compelling about 200 of the most hopelessly noxious ones to shut down
for good. Even on a day when the horizon was notably hazy and the
fumes from idling cars undeniably acrid, Mr. Du urged a roomful of
reporters to tell the public how much better Beijing’s air had become
in recent years. “Please assure all the athletes,” he said.

But even if they find the city’s air cleaner than expected, visitors
may be disappointed by the indoor environment. Earlier in the day,
government officials announced that a proposed smoking ban, which is
to take effect on May 1, had been modified in the face of opposition
by business owners. Smoking will be restricted in hospitals, schools
and stadiums, but it will be permitted in bars and restaurants.

Selling Out? A Defense of Commercial Engagement in China
BY Tom Doctoroff  /  April 23, 2008

After a recent posting in which I argued against an Olympic boycott,
the anti-China blogosphere let out a primal scream, accusing me, and
other expatriates within the China-based business community, of
“coddling dictators” and “selling out to totalitarianism.” One hot-
tempered netizen went so far as to suggest we were “worse than
terrorists,” earning a cheap buck while supporting the whims of an
amoral Communist party, one willing to do anything to maintain power
— from the crushing of domestic dissent to propping up illegitimate
regimes around the globe. The anti-China, anti-business faction is

Guns and Monks: A Public Relations Fiasco

This article will not attempt to justify the recent actions of the
Chinese government. In fact, while no (Han) PRC citizen supports a
“free” Tibet, its recent handling of the Tibetan protests has been
antediluvian and ham handed, a public relations disaster that
embarrasses even Shanghai taxi drivers. But Western observers should
take a deep breathe and ask a simple question: What in heaven’s name
could have motivated such a diplomatic strategic misfire?

There are only three and a half months until the Beijing Olympics. The
entire nation wants nothing more than to impress the world with its
industrial modernity, social progress and international outlook. The
Games have been built up here as a Second Coming, an economic and
cultural inflection point that announces China’s arrival as a new
superpower, shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States, a proud
declaration that the Han worldview is not only legitimate but also
more enduring than any other culture’s value system. At the dawn of a
“Pacific century,” one during which both West and East can each, at
last, hold up half the sky, why on earth would the apparatchiks clash
with sympathy-inspiring monks and then, archaically and hysterically,
blame the whole thing on the machinations of the “splittist” Dalai
Lama, a figure beloved through the world? What were they thinking? How
could they be so, well, irrational?

Tibet and “Unity”: Sacred Ambition

A simple question deserves a simple answer. The government is scared
of chaos. So, too, is the entire population. In Han eyes, stability is
the lynchpin of progress. In the Chinese universe, change is constant
and absolutes, moral or otherwise, do not exist. Man’s inherent state
is precarious but he can move forward if unpredictability is
minimized. As a result, religious, political, and philosophical forces
are geared toward propagating order. Chinese were, and continue to be,
obsessive about balance and predictability. Daoism’s yin and yang
(i.e., feminine versus masculine forces) are an integration of the “ba
gua,” or eight natural elements evenly divided between feminine and
masculine forces that can be combined in only sixty-four pre-set ways.
The lunar calendar is cyclical, always morphing from yin to yang, with
each “animal” corresponding to one of twelve “earthly branches.” Lucky
dates for marriage, auspicious office openings, and astrological
license plates are all structure-obsessed manifestations of a
preordained temporal rotation that must be both understood,
critically, managed.

In this context, the sacred goal of strengthening China’s “unity” is
more than a nationalistic impulse after decades of colonial
degradation and economic humiliation. A cohesive China, void of
secessionist elements, implies no less than the unification of heaven
and earth, harmony that underpins the nation’s continued economic rise
and geo-political ascent. True or not, rational or not, it’s what 100%
of Chinese believe. When chaos erupts, fear strikes the deepest corner
of the Han heart. Disorder presages decline and decay. And, today more
than ever, Chinese are “optimistically anxious,” dazed by country’s
economic miracle yet on the qui vive about the bottom falling out.

Capitalistic Institutions: Civil Society’s Lynchpin

Contrary to the perceptions of some, Western capitalism is not about
maximizing profit at the expense of civil society, rule of law and
human rights. Quite the contrary, it is founded on the assumption that
the individual, not the clan, represents that basic productive unit of
society so his economic — and, by extension, political — interests
must be protected. It is institution-based. Efficient allocation of
capital is lubricated by impartial institutions such as: a) banks that
make lending decisions based on quantified risk and return, b) the
wide available of credit, and c) corporate governance structure that
rewards transparency and long-term shareholder gain. (Chinese
businesses have been traditionally fueled by guanxi, personal
relationships rooted in mutual obligation.)

The rationalism inherent in on-the-ground commercial engagement is
appreciated in China — so, too, is the American system of checks and
balances — for it makes the Chinese feel safe. Sermons about human
rights elicit, at best, yawns and, more often, accusations of cultural
tone deafness. The business community, yes, has a moral obligation
advance the cause of liberty but, to be effective, their arguments
must be couched in terms of “efficiency,” not idealistic abstractions
or dewy pleas for universal brotherhood.

Western Business and Reform

And, lo! Modern capitalism — again, anchored in an assumption that
individual interests must be protected — has already altered China’s
economic, corporate and social landscape. It is the “bridge” on which
the PRC connects to a world that is infinitely dissected but rarely
understood. On a deeper but unarticulated level, the presence of
American and European businesses in China’s midst challenges
traditional assumptions that the outside world — the Western world —
is inherently unfriendly. China’s “dark side” emerges when it feels
threatened. Heels are dug in. Shields are raised. From the robotic
blankness of the sales girl who does not understand the competitive
advantages of her product line to old world factionalism encouraged by
bosses who fear their underlings, insecurity breeds dysfunction. On
the other hand, when the Chinese feel protected, they look up and out,
productively, non-belligerently and non-passive aggressively, eager to
connect with a broader world and bigger opportunity.

As a result, Western business has helped push China to “our side” in
important ways:

Meritocratic Advancement. In a land laden with stultifying basso
profundo propaganda and soul crushing political correctness, foreign
companies have instilled China’s middle class with a new truth:
capability, not connections, leads to professional advancement. JWT,
for example, boasts more than 1,000 mainland staff, with each
receiving formal performance evaluations that determine promotions and
raises; furthermore, 50% of our senior management is local. Western
organizations reward true “leadership” — i.e., the courage to
persuade others to accept a new point of view — and reject mumbling
yes-men. Although most Chinese are still uncomfortable with non-
quantifiable performance benchmarks, a new generation of self-
possessed, innovation-driven, confident MNC-trained leadership is
slowly-but-surely emerging.

Transparent Corporate Governance. As suggested above, the Chinese
revere efficiency. One of the country’s most inspiring characteristics
remains an uncanny ability to dispassionately assess current strengths
and weakness and then, meticulously and incrementally, identify steps
toward a higher plane of performance. In the PRC, the success of
multinational corporations — they beat domestic companies across a
broad swathe of categories from cars (GM) and shampoo (P&G) to
camcorders (Sony) and ice cream parlors (Haagen Dazs) — has persuaded
leaders to acknowledge the linkages between: a) transparent
information flow and stock price gains, b) board structure/shareholder
rights and long-term profit and c) consistent accounting standards and
access to capital. (The central government also recognizes the
dysfunction of old-style shadows and darkness, hence its eagerness to
join the World Trade Organization while subjecting itself to the harsh
glare of membership. Since accession in 2001, the gradual opening of
several sectors, notwithstanding “sensitive” industries such as media
or telecommunications, has impressed many Western observers.)

Is Shanghai’s opaque stock market any more rational than a Las Vegas
gambling binge? Not yet. Are state-owned enterprises still encouraged
to fritter away “excess” profit in the form of Cartier watches and
corporate “team building” trips to Macau? Yes. But, make no mistake:
global accounting companies such as KPMG and Price Waterhouse Coopers
are doing gangbuster business on the mainland, and not only by
policing MNCs. They have penetrated Chinese C-Suites by prying open
books, one ledger at a time. Another example: HSBC’s small and medium
enterprise (SME) client base is exploding; the bank lends RMB to
thousands of start ups that know securing a loan depends on reporting
normalized profit.

It’s the Consumer, Stupid! Consumers have finally begun assert their
rights as buyers, an impulse that barely existed ten years ago.
Ironically, the multinational corporations that first introduced the
concept of “shopper satisfaction” are frequent targets of ire. Procter
& Gamble’s SK-II elicited howls of indignation for “hurting the
feelings of Chinese” because it failed to offer a refund when a
“suspicious” chemical showed up in its skin cream. Nestle’s “arrogant”
handling of “tainted” baby formula, fodder for indignant internet
attacks in chat rooms across the country, made the nation seethe. But,
at long last, the patriarchical Communist party, the self-appointed
protector of national welfare, has been cut by its own double-edged
sword. In 2007, the Shanghai municipal government was forced to cancel
plans to extend a high-speed railway into the downtown area due to
middle class property price concerns. And a scandal which has seen
half of China’s mobile phone users spammed with unwanted text
messages, many from state-owned telcos, has “drawn the ire of the
government which has vowed to fight against offending texters.”

Rome: Not Built in a Day

Am I naïve enough to suggest that Communist China has miraculously
morphed into a society in which the needs of the “little guy” are
always addressed? No. Property rights still do not extend to land
ownership (all real estate is leased). The judiciary is still light
years away from impartiality, with many judges either poorly trained
or still beholden to local power brokers. The banking system, all too
often, is rigged against the interests of the entrepreneur; raising
capital for non-state-owned entities can be an exercise in extreme
frustration. But China is, step by step, evolving into a more rational
and fair environment in which policy makers pragmatically acknowledge
the relationship between civil (and human) rights and sustained
growth. Whether we like to admit it or not, the People Republic is
becoming a quasi-“normal” environment, business and otherwise. It is
only a matter of time before more a modern (albeit not Western)
political structure emerges to address 21st century capitalistic

Many “advanced” Chinese societies — Singapore and, yes, Hong Kong —
still regard strong central authority as a bulwark against disorder.
Therefore, representative democracy, an inalienable right in Western
society, will not take root any time soon in China, a country burdened
with crushing poverty and urgent infrastructural demands, not to
mention a radically-different world view. But Americans and Europeans
who rail against a “red menace” and are blind to the progress that has
been made, help neither the Chinese nor the world.

The road to Rome is long and the Chinese have only just started on
their journey. And we expatriate businessmen (and women) are certainly
not saints; Yahoo’s sell out to the Communist censors reminds us of
our fallibility. Nonetheless, we can be proud of our contribution to a
more prosperous, stable nation and world order.

Chinese Gobi Desert Threatens Beijing

The Chinese Gobi desert threatens to take over China’s capital city of
Beijing. The vast and ever expanding Gobi Desert devours 2,460 square
miles of Chinese soil each year. This is an area roughly the size of
the State of Delaware. Frequent violent sandstorms threaten to
overcome Beijing. Sand dunes now tower just 43 miles from the ancient
capital. In spite of efforts to contain the desert it is relentlessly
marching south at a brisk 12-15 mile per year clip.

Why is Asia’s largest desert growing so quickly? It is because of a
process scientists call desertification. Over population strips the
desert of meager tree, plant, and grass cover. Without sufficient
protection bare sands are quickly spread by the wind. The desert
ecosystem enters a positive feedback stage where each deterioration in
stable conditions accelerates the pace of change.  China’s rapid
economic growth comes at a great price. The fast approaching desert
threatens to encroach upon the Chinese capital city of Beijing before
the Summer Olympics in 2008. The Chinese are trying to stop the
southern spread of the Gobi by constructing a Green Wall. Beijing
officials set aside $8 billion to construct a natural wall of trees
spanning more than 2,000 miles.

However, there is a problem. Trees need water. And air pollution
inhibits precipitation. Researchers from Israel’s Hebrew University of
Jerusalem and the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences found
that on hazy days, precipitation from the top of Mount Hua in China’s
northwestern Shaanxi province is cut by up to 50%. Rampant air
pollution is one of the terrible prices that China has paid for rapid
economic growth. Consequently, one quarter of China currently finds
itself buried beneath sand. And now climate change threatens to make
the dry region even dryer. China’s immediate need for water remains
paramount. Two out of every three major Chinese cities have less water
than they need. Cities in northeast China have roughly five to seven
years left before they completely run dry.

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