Who here has been moderately addicted to Olympic coverage this year?

Come on, admit it – you’re going into work bleary-eyed from watching Michael Phelps win eight gold medals and breaking all sorts of world records, just like the rest of us.

In the Water Cube, it’s difficult to see what I’m about to talk about, as it also is in the Bird Nest. However, in such events as cycling or the marathon, or when NBC cuts away to a shot of the city, you can see it.

The pollution levels. It’s so thick, you can see it.

According to this article the average PM10 levels in Beijing hover around 89, making it the 13th most polluted city in the world. You’ll notice, too, there are no western cities on this list – this could be due to a number of factors, however the rapid industrialization of Eastern nations coupled with the high concentrations of population are likely contributing to these levels. Even still, this average is WAY over the World Health Organization’s recommended air quality levels. True, the level is under the recommended level for “developing” countries, but China hardly falls into that category. You’ll also notice that since the games have started, save a couple of days, these levels have been WAY above average.

In fact, according to Wikipedia, “An outpouring of dust layered with man-made sulfates, smog, industrial fumes, carbon grit, and nitrates is crossing the Pacific Ocean on prevailing winds from booming Asian economies in plumes so vast they alter the climate. Almost a third of the air over Los Angeles and San Francisco can be traced directly to Asia. With it comes up to three-quarters of the black carbon particulate pollution that reaches the West Coast.” (For those who hate Wikipedia, it cited this Wall Street Journal article.

For those who are wondering, the World Bank listed three citites for the US in it’s comparative tables: Los Angeles (34), Chicago (25), and New York (21). Based on the above data, one could argue that the higher levels in LA are not entirely their fault.

Even still, the US is no prize, having the largest share of carbon emissions (22%) than any other country or region in the world. However, just because my country has got major pollution problems (thank you urban sprawl), doesn’t mean that we should be silent when we see these same problems developing in other countries around the world. Soot levels in American cities continue to shrink, whereas in the East, they continue to grow – in other words, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. And, if the soot levels are so concentrated that we can see it on our TVs, it’s already far worse than it ever should have been to begin with.