Blue Skies Return To Beijing For The First Time In Years

The skies over Beijing

Say what you want about strong central governments, they do get things done. In Italy, Mussolini made the trains run on time and in China, the Communist Party can make the sky turn blue — when it wants to. Recently, the Chinese government planned a celebration to mark the end of World War II. The only problem was, it wanted clear skies for the occasion, rather than the heavy smog that usually hangs over the city.

China decided it wanted to become a market based economy about 30 years ago. It built hundreds of coal fired electric generating plants and bought millions of tons of soft brown coal from Australia to run them. Then it built thousands of factories to produce consumer goods — everything from armaments to automobiles. Suddenly, its streets were crowded with millions of vehicles with low tech internal combustion engines under their hoods. Emissions standards? We don’t need no stinking emissions standards!

Before long, the skies over China’s cities turned a shade of industrial strength gray and stayed that way for months at a time. It took the solons in charge a few decades to figure out that all this industrial activity was slowly poisoning the people it was supposed to benefit. Since then, China has embarked on a massive campaign to harness renewable energy, especially solar  power. It is building enormous solar panel facilities in the trackless Gobi Desert, closing its coal fired generating stations as quickly as possible, and pushing hard to make electric cars the basis of its transportation system. Geely Motors, which owns Volvo and the London Taxi Cab Company, announced this week that 90% of its cars will be electric just 5 years from now.

So what did government officials do to make the the skies over Beijing turn blue in time for the big celebration? According to Inhabitat, it ordered local factories to close starting one month in advance of the occasion. Two weeks prior, it ordered the drivers of all 5,000,000 cars that regularly crowd the city’s streets to leave their cars at home. It’s fair to say such heavy handed government action would not be well received in most countries these days. But the plan worked. On the appointed day and at the appointed hour, the skies over Beijing were a beautiful shade of blue, punctuated by lots of puffy white clouds.

The celebration went off without a hitch. Afterwards, all those factories were allowed to resume production and all those cars were allowed back on the streets. Within a few days, everything was back to “normal.” Could there be any clearer example of how direct the connection is between carbon emissions and the environment?

Photo credits: CNN via Inhabitat

The skies over Beijing


Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.