Beijing To "Force" Good Weather for the Olympics

According to China's top meteorologists, the chances that the skies will open up over the "bird's nest" stadium at the Olympics opening ceremony on August 8, 2008 are 50/50. But the Chinese government isn't known for taking chances -- especially when they've got a huge arsenal of anti-aircraft cannons loaded with silver iodine bullets. "We will use catalytic agents to force the rain clouds over the National Stadium to fall down prior to the opening ceremony," Zhang Qiang, who is in charge of Beijing's artificial rainmaking projects, told the state-run China Daily. Even though the practice is common in China's drought-plagued northwest -- China has the world's largest rainmaking force, employing over 3,000 people -- many scientists question it's effectiveness. Still, Beijing is undeterred, especially considering its other big reason for pulling out the big rain guns: to get rid of the smog. Under its Olympic pledge, Beijing must meet World Health Organization levels of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ground-level ozone, and lower particle concentrations (aerosol levels) to those found in major cities in developed countries. While Beijing has plans to turn off its own factories and prohibit traffic during the Games, experts have discovered that much of the city's pollution drifts in from other cities in nearby Hebei province, full of factories and cars, and from inner Mongolia, which is rife with sand, dust and toxic smelter plants.

Rain can help to disperse smog, but as atmospheric scientist Ken Rahn, a visiting scholar at Tsinghua University's Air Pollution and Control Institute in Beijing, recently told me, the only real way to fight China's pollution is with serious comprehensive emissions standards, cleaner factories, and a cleaning-up, or a phasing out, of coal. It's a solution that will take much longer to effect than the city's "advanced techniques." But given the chances that rainmaking actually works, and the possibility that it can decrease badly needed rain elsewhere (and not to mention the energy it takes to try it), the long-term solutions offer a more favorable forecast.As for his own Olympic forecast, Rahn told me, “If you forced me to take a guess, I would say they won’t meet the [WHO pollution] standard." For its part, the International Olympic Committee remains cheery as ever: "Beijing's bid book contained some 130 commitments so far as the environment is concerned. I must say the Chinese have totally lived up to all the commitments they have made," said IOC inspector Hein Verbruggen this week. Two days later, no less than Premier Wen Jiabao announced he would be heading up a new task force on the environment, admitting a "grave need" to cut pollution. Shooting up the clouds won't work anyway, according to Rahn. "Absurd--it never works," he told me. Maybe that's why, as China Daily reports, the deputy chief engineer of the Beijing Meteorological Bureau is resorting to another unlikely technique in secular China: "God bless Beijing," he said.

Previously, Beijing's Fake Rain. Also see our previous posts (here and here and here) on the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

Image from USA Today

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