Friday, July 23, 2010

Summer in the City

Beijing is in the middle of a summer heat wave, just like most other major cities in the northern hemisphere. Last month we had several days in a row in which temperatures hit 40 Celsius, over 100 Fahrenheit. Few people I know like the weather this warm. In Beijing, the discomfort is due to more than just the temperature. It's hot, it's humid, and it's polluted.

Prior to the Olympics, the Chinese government limited traffic in Beijing and closed factories close to the city in an effort to improve air quality during the games. That was my first summer here, but friends who have lived here for years tell me that the number of blue sky days was higher than in recent years.

Blue sky days. Those are the days when we look up and the sky is blue, with perhaps a few clouds in the sky. We've had a good number of them this year, but we've also had periods over a week long when the sky was just gray and we could tell it wasn't due to the weather. In the morning you can usually look outside and see what the weather will look like, but there's also a Twitter feed that broadcasts information on the air quality in Beijing. Twitter, like Facebook, blogs and other social media, is blocked within China but some people are still able to access it to get the latest information on the air quality. We can use this information to moderate our exposure to the pollution, limiting our time outside on days when the air quality is bad and spending more time outdoors on days when the air quality is good.

Today is a a blue sky day and the air quality is good. I'm going to go sit under a tree by a canal near my apartment and read. I hope you can go and spend time outdoors with safe air too.

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