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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Reporting From ... The Beijing Bureau

June 26, 2008

T-minus 44 days until the Opening Ceremonies.
by Anthony Tao
June 24, 2008

One of the more interesting Olympics-related developments to watch
heading into next month is whether Beijing's recent spate of air
quality initiatives—the hiring of foreign environmental experts, a
halt on construction and a shutdown of factories, the removal of half
the city's cars—will have any effect. In other words, after spending
$17.1 billion, according to Xinhua, on improving air quality these
last few years, will we see more blue skies and less of this?

We decided to ask an expert. Enter David Streets, a senior scientist
at the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, who has been involved
in Chinese air quality research for about 15 years.

"I think there's definitely been a lot of improvement," Streets said,
taking a long view of the situation. "I'm pretty pro-China in terms
of what it's been able to achieve. With relatively limited
resources—I don't think most people realize that China has a lot of
problems and limited money, and so you can't expect them to devote as
much resources as we do to the environment. They have to worry about
education and rural development and health care and all these other
things. And yet, I think there's been great progress, especially in
the major cities."

Streets differentiated between Beijing's springtime and summertime
air quality, pointing out that shifting wind patterns will change the
source of pollution come August (example: say goodbye to those nasty
sandstorms from the north). And, coupled with policy initiatives like
the halting of construction, Beijing could be a different place when
the Games come around.

But will there be blue skies?

"If the weather complies, then I believe things will be generally
okay," Streets explained. "If the weather turns adverse, then I don't
know … it might be a problem."

The weather?

"Stagnation episodes," he continued. "Very low winds, high
temperatures, no rain. Then you're going to get buildup of pollution."

He went on to point out that Beijing is nestled between hills to the
north and west, and that these hills trap dust particles over the
metropolis. The bottom line is that Olympic organizers, after all
they say and do, may be left praying for wind and rain in the week
before the Opening Ceremonies.

Of course, who can predict the weather? (Answer: these guys, apparently.)
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