Beijing Olympic Law Targets Car Pollution

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BEIJING - Chinese officials are hoping to keep the air clear during the games.

One measure they're taking is to enforce a law that requires people to leave their cars at home and find another way to travel. That's because the pollution there is so bad that even the athletes are complaining.  

Cars, Cars, and More Cars

Beijing's streets are busy with bicycles, buses, taxis, and trucks. Each day city drivers register about 1,300 new cars, and this number keeps growing.

But many of the city's 3.3 million cars won't be leaving their driveways. A new Olympic traffic measure will only allow cars with even or odd numbered license plates to drive on any given day.

Many experts worry that Beijing's intense pollution from cars and nearby factories will cloud out Beijing's $17 billion investment to improve the environment during the Olympics.

"You can have beautiful new stadiums, but if they're all completely clouded in carbon dust and coal and other sorts of bad smog pollutants that is going to ruin the picture that they try to present to the world of where China is today," said Victor Cha, director of Asian studies at Georgetown University.

Beijing's smog is a huge concern for athletes like Haile Gebrselassie who won't even compete in this year's Olympic marathon. Many locals say the pollution is a high price for China's rapid development.

"The more developed we are in material, the worse we are mentally. Why? That would be great if every person owns a car, but who will breathe the polluted air? Human beings," Gebrselassie said.

Development versus Environment

But environmental concerns haven't stopped Beijingers from dreams of car ownership.

"A few years ago, people didn't think about having a car, but now every family, every people dream to have a car," Dr. He Dongquan of China Sustainable Transportation Center.

"It's a good development. It's a reflection of our country's development. We have more cars," said Beijing resident He Xiao Qiang.

Balancing development and pollution will remain an Olympic-sized task, long after Beijing passes the torch on its hosting duties.

Even with the growing pains of overcrowded buses and the metro, Beijingers hope these environmental investments will pay off for the next generation.

*Originally aired on July 21, 2008.

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