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Doug Krizner: Beijing has been called the “air pollution capital of the world.” Not surprisingly, air quality has become a serious issue in the run-up to the 2008 Summer Olympics. The International Olympic Committee has warned of delays if pollution is too severe, so city officials tried an experiment to improve air quality. They removed nearly 1.3 million cars from Beijing’s roads over four days. Richard McGregor is a reporter with the Financial Times in Beijing. Richard how did they get all these cars off the road?
Richard McGregor: Well it’s actually done quite simply, you know, you look at your number plate. If your number plate ends with an odd number or an even number, depending on the day, you can’t drive.
Krizner: So how are people going to get around the city in the absence of 1.3 million cars?
McGregor: Well use of public transport went up and use of taxis went up and less people traveled I think. That’s it in a nutshell.
Krizner: So what do we see in terms of the change in air quality? Was this a successful exercise?
McGregor: Well the Chinese would have you believe it was successful. If you were the sort of proverbial Martian arriving in Beijing on the four days when the experiment was underway, the air was pretty thick and hazy as it often is and it certainly didn’t look like it had made much difference.
Krizner: So you live in Beijing. Tell me, how bad is the air quality?
McGregor: You know I’ve lived in China and Asia for many years but the air quality on some days in Beijing just strikes me as shockingly bad. I didn’t used to notice this when I was younger if you like, but it can be thick, sort of a sickly yellow at times, you can’t see very far, you don’t realize until the afternoon that the sun is actually shining because it doesn’t get through the haze until the afternoon. You know at times when you wake up it’s like the proverbial nuclear winter if you like. The whole city can be embedded in this haze.
Krizner: Is there a level of pollution that will be acceptable for the Olympic Committee to have the games played?
McGregor: I don’t know whether the Olympic Committee has ever announced that it does its own independent testing or has set actual benchmarks for the Beijing city to reach, but certainly the IOC, the Olympic Committee has said that it is willing to delay events should there be a problem.
Krizner: For the American audience, what is the most important thing for them to take away from all of this do you think?
McGregor: Well I think the most important thing, I guess that it’s China’s economic growth has a cost. The cheap goods are paid for in some respects by pollution. If China wants to clean up, the sorts of things that you buy Made in China in America are going to go up in price
Krizner: Richard McGregor is a reporter in Beijing for the Financial Times. Richard thanks so much for talking with us.
McGregor: Thank you.
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