Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Take Cover!

Rachel and I were taking a cab home from a day in the big city Monday night when all of the sudden what seemed to be anti aircraft missiles started going off all around us. It was dark and pouring rain but the flames from the rockets were less than 50 yards away and the noise was deafening. We quickly realized that these were cloud seeding rockets.

My first thought was they were practicing inducing heavy rainfall here in the hills west of town to reduce the amount of rain from falling on Beijing. Olympic planners have launched a full scale assault on the weather to try to prevent rain from ruining the opening ceremonies and other outdoor events.

Talking with our hosts the next morning, however, they informed us that the rockets in our neighborhood are for hail prevention. They say the anti-rain rockets are further west into the hills and the rockets launched here are to prevent hail stones from forming and taking out the fruit trees in the many nearby orchards.

So the Chinese use cloud seeding rockets to induce rain, to prevent rain in other places, and, it seems, to prevent hail stones from forming.

Pretty savvy weather commanders here in the Middle Kingdom, eh? Perhaps not.

William Langewiesche has a great article in Vanity Fair profiling the country's top rainmakers and tracing the long history of cloud seeding back to its roots in the States. His final conclusion is it likely has little to no affect but sure packs a powerful sense of control.

[Photo by Calum MacLeod, lifted from USA TODAY]. Click Here to Read More..

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Big Sur Blaze

In a brief departure from our time in China, I just wanted to point out a link on the fires that are burning in Big Sur, CA. I just saw a slide show from the Monterey Herald that shows my former employers, Joe and Kelly of the Ventana Wilderness Society. In the slideshow they return to Big Sur after a mandatory evacuation to find their condor release facilities burned to the ground. It looks like lots of rebuilding is in store, but, fortunately, they were able to get themselves and all of the birds out in time.

Phil Click Here to Read More..

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Beijing Smog Blog

The Olympics are exactly one month away and the games have already begun.
We’re told that on July 1, 300,000 heavy polluting trucks, most of which roll into the city at night, were banned from Beijing.

Yet so far, nothing seems to have changed. If anything, it may have gotten worse.

Beijing smog watcher and reporter James Fallows suspects factories have increased production in recent months in order to reach their quotas before a forced 2-month shut down begins on July 20. Fallows has been taking semi-regular picture’s of Beijing’s air from his apartment window since moving to town last fall. Based on his images—see a couple pasted here—he may be on to something.

For a bit of contrast I’ve included a photo, taken July 2 from our little Shangri-La here in the western suburbs. Visibility changes day by day—more a reflection of humidity than anything else, though it’s often hard to tell when you’re swimming in it.

The real test for the city will come after July 20 when, in addition to closing factories, half the city’s cars will be pulled on any given day,
major construction will halt, and, supposedly, even spray painting
will be banned. If local measures don’t clear the air, it seems that factories across much of northern China will also shut down.

As fun as it is see if such a polluted city can clear its skies for a fleeting moment, I’m also encouraged to read that not all of the measures are temporary. Again, Fallows tells us that between 2000 and 2006—a time when Beijing’s population increased by 50 percent and paved roads doubled—the levels of all major pollutants—including ozone, nitrous oxide, benzene, etc—dropped. He attributes much of this to both a closing-or relocating-of the heaviest polluting factories and, more significantly, the introduction of tough auto emissions standards that surpass those of the US.

One month to go and part of me is counting down the days, anxiously waiting for the skyline of the city to magically open up before me. Another part of me saw the above satellite image (also from Fallow’s blog) showing all of northern China obscured by a thick haze and wonders if such a feat is really possible.

Phil Click Here to Read More..

Monday, July 7, 2008

Great Wall

So much for my plans to be the first photographed doing a push-up in the buff on The Wall this summer...
From Xinhua's "Odd News";
"Guangdong TV host Ou Zhihang does pushups on the Great Wall. He said in his blog: 'I love my country, I also love my body. I contrast my tiny body with the 'miracle of the world' through the popular exercise -- pushup.' (Photo: Ou Zhihang blog)"

Phil Click Here to Read More..


Great Article in today's New York Times on the Buddhist Caves of Dunhuang, a true treasure of the Silk Road in northwestern China.
I spent a few days biking out to the caves from Dunhuang in June of 2000 and was sad to read that opening the caves to tourists has caused the artwork to rapidly deteriorate. If you get a chance, get there before 2011 when, according to the article, they will close most all of the caves and turn the experience into a virtual tour. (Photos by Sun Zhijun and Lois Conner of the Dunhuang Academy as lifted from the Times)

Phil Click Here to Read More..

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th!

Here's a few photos from the Fragrant Hills park and our new local pub. The woman with Rachel on the chairlift is Barbara, a yoga teacher from Montreal who just arrived for the summer and whose son will compete in the Olympics on the Canadian water polo team.

Phil Click Here to Read More..