By Philip Hersh
BEIJING - From my hotel window Saturday morning, the sun was trying to rise above the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium.
It wasn’t worth the effort.
The sun’s rays could not spread through the dismal, gray air, a haze that blurred the outlines of the gigantic stadium, even though it was barely 400 yards away.
Any bird that tried to cover that distance might have collapsed from respiratory failure.
After almost a week of the toughest anti-pollution measures the city ever has implemented, two of the past six days had poor air quality as measured by the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.
And, as expected given the way the air looked Saturday morning, it was 3-for-7. In fact, the reporting period from Friday noon to Saturday noon showed the worst air of the three days.
Not to worry, said Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the environmental protection bureau, who advised skeptical reporters at a Saturday press conference not to believe what they saw.
(Or, in this case, what they couldn’t see.)
``The very notion of air quality should be equated by data instead of by photos,’’ Du answered, in translation, my question about the atmospheric conditions Saturday.
Du was referring to some recent pictures on a BBC Web site.
I was talking about what I could see with my own eyes.
Maybe I was losing something in the simultaneous translation. So I turned for help to the official news release handed out before the press conference.
This is what it said:
``However, because of abundant precipitation, higher humidity in the air and poor visibility, the general public can sense the air quality poor and inconsistent with actual air quality condition.’’
Actually, despite printed English and simultaneous translation as murky as the air, I think the answer is there is a gloomy pall over Beijing because there is no wind or rain to remove it.
The point is that the gloomy pall includes enough noxious junk for the city to have reported that the air from midday Wednesday to midday Friday fell into the category of ``unhealthy for sensitive groups.’’
And Beijing considers air unhealthy only at a level double what the World Health Organization recommends.
Like athletes exerting themselves in the Olympics that open Aug. 8?
``We can guarantee good air quality during the games to provide a good environment for the athletes,’’ Du said.
``During the Games, no substandard days or very few substandard days will be experienced.’’
Du’s optimism comes from the litany of statistics he recited to confirm the improvement in Beijing’s air over the past decade. He admitted that 30 percent of days still do not meet good air standards.
``The air quality in Beijing has room for further improvement, that’s for sure,’’ Du said.
See for yourself.