Air reputation in Beijing

Measuring something as basic as air quality and posting it frequently can have reputational effects, demonstrated by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

France24 posted today, Beijing air goes from ‘hazardous’ to off the charts, literally,

Two years ago, Chinese officials asked the US Embassy to stop tweeting about pollution in Beijing on the grounds that the information was “confusing” and could have “social consequences”, according to a confidential US State Department cable made public by WikiLeaks.
Hm, so measurement can affect reputation and have social consequences….

The measurements postings didn’t stop, and the pollution got worse:

For most of this week the air in Beijing has been rated as “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” by the US Embassy air monitor, reputed as the most reliable indicator of pollution in the city. On Sunday it posted a new record: “beyond index”, as it registered 522 micrograms of particulate pollutants per cubic meter of air.

More and more Chinese citizens – and not just expats – are turning to the US Embassy’s BeijingAir Twitter account for precise data on pollution, especially since Chinese authorities continued to describe the situation as “moderate” despite the thick cloud of smog — “fog,” according to them — that envelops the city. In fact, Beijing’s health authorities insist that the air is perfectly safe 80% of the time, even though the US monitor has rated the air as good only 13 days this year.

Is that like the “haze” in L.A.? Except if it’s off a U.S. chart, Beijing’s air is much worse.

What is measured makes a difference:

There is a reason for such a big difference: the air monitor located on the US Embassy roof measures fine particles of 2.5 micrometers in size, deemed by scientists as the most harmful because they can penetrate the lungs easily. Local authorities only measure coarse particles of 10 micrometers in size, and average the results from several air monitors, including one 20 miles away from the city.
Maybe somebody should do a side-by-side reputational ranking of major world cities. Ah, WHO does. But only annual averages. And, interestingly, WHO’s PM 2.5 list does not include Beijing or any other city in China.

Meanwhile, BeijingAir posts PM2.5 and ozone hourly. Hm, maybe Wikileaks can find some PM2.5 data from elsewhere to release….