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China, Binge Polluter

(Beijing smog, from space.) 

Many an environmentalist harbors a shameful crush on China's command-and-control state--or, at least, on its vaunted ability to shut down factories and vehicle travel at will to reduce air pollution.

But will Beijing's pre-Olympic plan to scrub its skies actually work? One climate expert tells Wired "no":

And yet, at least in terms of air quality, one veteran atmospheric chemist says that China's outsized efforts will have little to no impact on the air. Why? Because Beijing's worst air-quality days are often not the result of human activities, but meteorological phenomena--namely, the lack of cold fronts pushing across the city from Mongolia.


"They cannot depend on weather modification. Nature is bigger and stronger than the Chinese people and rockets," Rahn said. "The west has known this for 50 years but China is in the stage of development where they think science and technology can do everything."

In other words, curtailing industry (and cloud seeding) three weeks before the Games may be the public-policy equivalent of starving yourself before swimsuit season--doomed to fail, and not a healthy substitute for regular exercise.

--Barron YoungSmith