Great news: Beijing air quality upgraded to "hazardous"

Hey, it’s a step up from “off the charts,” as CNN’s Steven Jiang reports from China’s capital. After being buried in smog so thick that even the Chinese media began to report it, residents lined up at hospitals and worried parents kept their children indoors:

The Washington Post reports on the new openness in Chinese media, which may reflect the desperate straits of Beijing residents more than it does actual reform by the government:

One of Beijing’s worst rounds of air pollution kept schoolchildren indoors and sent coughing residents to hospitals Monday, but this time something was different about the murky haze: the government’s transparency in talking about it.

While welcomed by residents and environmentalists, Beijing’s new openness about smog also put more pressure on the government to address underlying causes, including a lag in efforts to expand Western-style emissions limits to all of the vehicles in Beijing’s notoriously thick traffic. …

Even state-run media gave the smog remarkably critical and prominent play. “More suffocating than the haze is the weakness in response,” read the headline of a front-page commentary by the Communist Party-run China Youth Daily.

Government officials — who have played down past periods of heavy smog — held news conferences and posted messages on microblogs discussing the pollution.

The wave of pollution peaked Saturday with off-the-charts levels that shrouded Beijing’s skyscrapers in thick gray haze. Expected to last through Tuesday, it was the severest smog since the government began releasing figures on PM2.5 particles — among the worst pollutants — early last year in response to a public outcry.

Check out the pictures to see just how bad it got before abating somewhat today.  I grew up in Los Angeles during an era with frequent Stage 1 smog alerts and occasional Stage 2 alerts, and there were days when it hurt to breathe – especially when spending time in the foothills.  I never saw anything like this as a child or adult, and can’t imagine how it feels to breathe in Beijing now.  I doubt the masks help much, either.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, either.  The issue of air quality came up during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, too, with considerable concern over the health of athletes competing in an atmosphere that looked like this:

It’s too bad that Beijing isn’t run by the kind of government that Tom Friedman thinks can solve all its problems because of a lack of dissent and obstruction by political opposition, huh?  Or for that matter, Ray LaHood.