China wants sun on demand for Beijing Olympics

In Plenty magazine, this feature about the Chinese government's high-tech "weather modification" efforts for this summer’s Beijing Olympics. The big idea: keep the sun shining, through all that smog. Snip:

One thing worth considering when you tamper with nature is what sort of nature you’re tampering with. Nature is not kind to the city of Beijing. China’s capital is arid, nearly a desert, and its natural weather patterns are fickle and harsh. Winter is marked by howling Siberian winds; summer, by sweltering monsoon heat. In lieu of showers, springtime is best known for seasonal dust storms that sweep down from Central Asia. Fall is parched and gusty too, but the dust settles down. This basic brutality is overlaid with levels of pollution like those of England’s Industrial Revolution. Many things blot out the sunshine, and most have nothing to do with rain: factory and power plant emissions, construction dust, smoke from stoves burning scrap wood or pressed coal. There are more than 3 million cars on the streets–and the count is said to be growing by 400,000 vehicles annually. It is not unusual to check the AccuWeather international forecast on the New York Times website and find that while other cities’ weather is “mostly sunny” or “overcast,” Beijing’s is “smoky.” In February 2007, authorities finally abandoned a longstanding policy in which haze was referred to as wu, Mandarin for fog, and just called it what it is–mai, or haze.
Link to article. (Thanks, Choire Sicha, you gorgeous creature, you.)

Image: "Sun through the smog in Beijing," by ~diP.

Previously on BB:
* Weather modification for the Beijing Olympics


  1. Grrrrr. They’re trying to do weather control for the Olympics, but they just had the worst winter in history and had about a billion travelers stuck on trains for a week. I thought that communists were supposed to be materialists, not fantasy writers.

    Is there not a Chinese equivalent to It’s Raining McCain for Hu Jintao?

  2. I was there last June at the end of the month, and hardly noticed it. And I’ve suffered much worse in Los Angeles waaay back in the day. (Not nearly as bad now. Infinitely better, I would say.) But athletes, rightly, have a different standard.

    #1, the freak snowstorm was much further south than Beijing, I think. But (smog clearing!)rain for the summer olympics there would be welcome in that hella-heat!

  3. perhaps an appeal to Heaven?

    Let the radiant light shine of Buddha’s wish-fulfilling gem teachings,
    the treasure mine of all hopes for happiness and benefit
    in both worldly life and liberation.
    O Protectors who hold the jewel of the teachings and all beings,
    nourishing them greatly,
    may the sum of your virtuous deeds grow full.
    Firmly enduring in a diamond-hard state, guard all directions with
    Compassion and love.
    Above our heads may divinely appointed rule abide
    endowed with a hundred benefits and let the power increase
    of four fold auspiciousness,
    May a new golden age of happiness and bliss spread
    throughout the three provinces of Tibet
    and the glory expand of religious-secular rule.
    By the spread of Buddha’s teachings in the ten directions,
    may everyone throughout the world
    enjoy the glories of happiness and peace.
    In the battle against dark negative forces
    may the auspicious sunshine of the teachings and beings of
    Tibet and the brilliance of a myriad radiant prosperitys
    be ever triumphant.

  4. Yeah, I’ll be signing up for some Olympics tickets real soon. What a paradise.

    Oh… and by the way… FREE TIBET

  5. You COULD waste billions trying to control the weather…OR you could do something about trying to cut the pollution. No surprise that the suits have chosen the former.

  6. I was in Beijing last November. When we arrived there was some wind which had cleared the air quite nicely. By the time we left a week later it was like nothing I’d ever seen, and I grew up in L.A. in the 70s. Sitting in the plane waiting to taxi out to the runway, I was unable to see the airport terminal building…less than 100 yards away. Good luck to ’em, if they think there’ll be sun for the Olympics.

    And, free Tibet.

  7. Corruption, probably.
    All the other nature-bending projects went so well for China (like “let’s all make steal!”, which resulted in a famine that killed millions), I’m interested how this one will go.

    Free Tibet!
    Declare independence, Taiwan!

  8. Some comments sound like Iranian responses to Hurricane Katrina.

    Let’s just hope that this is enough of an alarm for the people there to develop better technologies to protect the environment. This current solution of weather modification is like how some butchers dye their meat red to make it look more sellable. It’s temporary but not long-term, like Western medicine. But it’s not all bad, it at least is a temporary relief, while they are dealing other long-term solutions.

    On the positive side of things, for the sci-fi lovers out there, this might as well be the beginning of terraforming technologies. :)

  9. Kid:

    The Chinese are already master terraformers; they’ve managed to grow the Gobi at a rate of ~2,500 square miles a year!

    Seriously, though, the disregard the authorities have for the environment is stunning, and has very complex roots. Part of it is the explicitly anti-Daoist (as well as anti-Buddhist, somewhat anti-Confucian) roots of Maoism; accommodating nature was considered backward thinking for much of China’s modern history. This is how the Three Gorges dam project got underway.

    Another aspect is the percieved political impossibility of hampering growth. The Communist party believes that only continued economic prosperity insulates them from overthrow, and enforcing environmental standards could threaten a lot of very dirty businesses that keep the system going. Wishful thinking leads them to weather control that way.

    Cronyism probably has something to do with it, too. Weather control schemes employ people, effective or not, and if it “works” (random chance being what it is), it’ll reflect some glory onto the schemers.

    Oh, I could go on. I’m frankly glad that the Tibetan riots, for all that they’ll be disastrous for the Tibetan people, have happened now. It’s finally shaken people out of the notion that China is some kind of “normal” country. It’s a deeply troubled place, and without internal and external pressure, it’s never going to solve its issues. Schemes like weather control are symptoms of top-down rot.

  10. to quote the wizened old man on Thunderbirds when something new was being trialled… “It will be a great disaster”…

  11. I still don’t get how the Olympic (TM!) Committee agreed to hold the Olympics (TM!) in Beijing. The only way I can figure it is that a hearty exchange of money was involved.

  12. I was in China last September; the first week we got there, Beijing was sunless, literally not a single moment all day where you could see the sun, let alone a patch of blue. We left Beijing for Shanghai and the countryside, then came back a week later– and lo, Beijing was under a blue sky. At the time, the government had imposed rules where private cars with a designated series of numbers were not allowed on the road. But I doubt it was just cutting the traffic by half, something else they’re doing seems to be working.

  13. What are they gonna do, ban all private automobile traffic for the entire duration of the games? And when hundreds of marathon runners collapse in spasms before the 10-mile mark, what will the authorities do to protect China’s public image?

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