November 19th, 2008

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Shanghai Air Zero

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

If you’ve been around in Shanghai today you might have noticed there was a Beijing nip in the air. One could almost smell the 烤鸭 as the temperature got rapidly freezing by midday. In the same time, the air felt clean like it does in the clean Northern winters, and it’s been a great day for a walk if this weather suits your clothes.

This is how it looked down the line of Nanjing Lu seen from the French concession:

A little search on the internet confirms that it is indeed the North Winds that are sweeping the pollution out of Shanghai and bringing us the blue skies. I found this cool weather site that is  more technical than the usual mainstream ones, and more enjoyable with lots of buttons and levers for all the geeks to play with.

This is what I got for Shanghai winds today:

I always love to google up “Shanghai Air Pollution Index”. It doesn’t give you a clue about the real state of pollution, but at least it shows some typical difference in perception.  These are the 3rd and 4th results:

Shanghai’s Air Quality Improves .China Daily

Shanghaiist: Shanghai air quality now sucks even harder .Shanghaiist

Whatever. The intention of this post is to start monitoring the air quality in Shanghai. During these past years leading to the Olympics, foreign residents in Beijing have been insistingly complaining about the pollution and have finally managed to have the government take some serious action.

Having lived in both places, I’ve always held that pollution in Shanghai is as bad as in Beijing. We have the World Exhibition coming, so now’s the time to start building the pressure to get the authorities do something about Shangai too. In case you are thinking that the EXPO 2010 is not as important as the Olymics, you might want to check out this article from the October issue of CER. The EXPO will have more than 10 times the visitors of the Olympic games, that is, 180 million lungs breathing in the Shanghai air in 2010. There’s clearly a critical mass to try some lung lobbying.

I also found that the blog “Mad about Shanghai” started some time ago a particular pollution scale, and for some reason gave up after a year. I will not apply the same scale, but I have a simplified one that I developed the first week i got to Shanghai: the Plaza 66 scale. It is simple, visibility index = the number of floors you can see when you look up at this building on Nanjing XiLu. Today we had a Full 66 (albeit with some browinsh hue in the horizon).

Now, I know if we really want to get technical you might say that visibility doesn’t equal pollution, and that Shanghai being in a more humid area, worse visibility is to be expected. There are also the famous API measurements done by the chinese authorities, and shown in this interesting  website for any day in the last 7 years. It shows that Shanghai has no problem with pollution.

But I have been an engineer for long enough to know that numbers are the most powerful tool of deception. I’m not buying the “blue sky day” statistics of the Shanghai Environment Monitoring Centre (SEMC). I have compared it with My Nose Monitoring Centre (MNMC), which says that, everytime you get back to Shanghai from a trip in the country, you can actually smell the air the minute you step out of the train in any one of those yellow “blue days”

I will be posting once in a while to see if there is any improvement from now to the EXPO. For more information on how China measures the pollution, you can read this very interesting post by an environment engineer explaining all you don’t want to know about API.

If you are not scared of the hard numbers, you can also check out the Shangzilla measuring scale, although judging by the number of reads, you probably have seen it before. As for me, I will stick to my Zhongnanhais while they are in stock. At least the air I breath in goes through a filter first.