Breaking down China's efforts to green up for the Olympics

Some of Beijing's attempts to clean its air, water, food, and streets in preparation for the 2008 Games

By Victoria Schlesinger

China’s winning bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games had a lot to do with the government’s $12.2 billion plan to reduce pollution, particularly in the air, and to launch a legacy of environmentally progressive Olympics. That has been no small undertaking. Over seven years, the People’s Republic has taken steps ranging from innovative to inhumane in an effort to make  good on its promise of a green Olympics in Beijing, a booming metropolis of 16 million. Playing host to the world this August, China wants more than anything for its house to sparkle.  But while some initiatives portend positive, lasting change, others seem short sighted, and are the equivalent of jamming the coat closet full of junk before guests arrive.

Trees and plants cover roughly 6,300 square miles in and around Beijing, an area that grew from 41.9 percent in 2000 to 51.6 percent this year. City officials built the 580-hectare Olympic Forest Park and planted 900 hectares of native species on the Olympic Green.

Air quality
To clean up Beijing’s infamous cloak of smog—a mixture of greenhouse gases and particulate matter—most taxis and buses must use cleaner fuel and the city’s 3.3 million autos will be limited to every-other-day use during the Games. While businesses that emit air pollutants have been retrofitted and even relocated, coal facilities and the city’s geography contribute to its persistently poor air quality.

Demand for water could increase by 30 percent during the Games. With fourteen new plants, Beijing will treat 90 percent of its waste­water, up from 40 percent in 2001. Olympic Village faucets will dispense potable water, a luxury the government vows it will soon provide to locals. Underground rainwater-recycling pools at the National Stadium will supply water for landscaping, cleaning, and firefighting.

Public Transportation
Beijing’s no­toriously bad traffic, combined with its promise that all Olympic venues will be no more than a
30-minute journey from the Olympic Village, prompted the city to improve buses and expand rail capacity by 1.5 million users daily. A public education campaign encourages walking and biking, already the primary modes of transportation for 39 percent of the population.

Starting in May, Beijing outlawed cigarette smoking in most indoor public places, including museums, hotels, and medical facili­ties. Restaurants are also required to designate smok­ing and nonsmoking areas. That angered eatery owners, who say the regulation is driving customers away.

After the USDA discovered that fish imported from China last year were drug-laden, the Chinese government developed a long list of new seafood-safety standards. Nonetheless, the US Olympic team, worried consumption of tainted foods could lead to accusations of drug use, decided to bring its own food. China then banned pre-prepared food in the Village, citing extensive food-safety controls now in place.

In an effort to clean up Beijing streets, the government banned the common practices of spitting and littering. It’s also rounding up stray cats believed to represent a health risk, according to Humane Society International. The organization is investigating concerns that the felines are being killed inhumanely.

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