Photo diary records air pollution and belies China’s official count of “Blue Sky Days”
December 21, 2010Jing Gao7 CommentsAir pollution, Air quality, art, Beijing, Blue sky, Environmental Issues, Environmental protection, Environmental Protection Agency, Lu Weiwei, performance art, photo diary, photography
365 Days of “Blue Sky Diary” by Two Beijingers
Two people, a foolproof film camera, a heart that embraces a blue sky, and above all, perseverance that carries them on for 365 days. What can these do? Let’s count how many purely “blue sky days” Beijing has in a year.
Photographers Lu Weiwei and Fan Tao wrote in the preface of the photo diary:
“We were both born and brought up in Beijing. We love our city. Faced with problems such as air pollution, we want to do more than simply complain every day. We want to take proactive steps.
For those who live in Beijing, ‘Blue Sky Index’ is very familiar. This is an indicator that the authorities use to give a quick summary of air quality. In 1998, Beijing records 100 “blue-sky day;” in 2009, it is said there are 285! Though the measuring methods and standards are somewhat controversial, but to find out how many on earth there are, we decided to make a count ourselves.
Therefore, from June 1, 2009 to May 31, 2010, we took a picture of the sky over Beijing each day. In the picture, there is invariably a road sign. When the sky is blue, we will also invite a passerby to appear in the picture wearing a pair of funny glasses.
We use an outdated foolproof film camera, because shooting photos for an environmental protection cause shouldn’t require expensive equipment. Moreover, the film has a factual nature. Digital photos can be retouched and manipulated.
From our photo diary, we finally count 180 days on which the sky looks genuinely blue, which accounts for 49% of a year.Even though dates of our photos didn’t fall in a calendar year, it is still too far away from 78%, the figure that the authorities announced.
From the 365 photos that Lu Weiwei and Fan Tao took, we unmistakenly see grays and blues within a year, with a clear dividing line. Blue is bright; faces smile like a blooming flower. Grey is gloomy; emptiness and oblivion fills the air.
Lu Weiwei and Fan Tao said emphatically that they didn’t think of challenging anyone with the factual figure.
They simply wanted to keep a diary of a year for the sky over Beijing using their camera.
According to Lu and Fan, white-collar workers between the age of 20 and 40 are mostly inclined to turn down the photo request. Lu Weiwei felt a bit sorry for that, “This demographic is the group of people who can have the biggest influence on the society and environment. Maybe stress of surviving in this city and setbacks have given rise to people’s vigilance and nonchalance.”
The photo diary has drawn much attention after being posted on the Web. Experts at China’s EPA responded that
The Blue Sky program measures inhalable particulates, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and airborne particulate matter. Pollutants are measured on a scale of 1 to 500, with 500 considered the worst score. Any rating below 101 meets national air quality standards and is considered a “Blue Sky day.” That is to say, even if the sky doesn’t look blue, or it is raining, as long as it meets the standard, it is a blue sky.
Selected comments from QQ.com
The government only knows how to brag.
I have been in Beijing for two years. When it comes to the environment, it is terrible. Blue sky can be seen only in the autumn or on windy days, so I rarely use my solar-power heater. Every day there is traffic congestion on my way to work. Beijing is the least livable place for human. I don’t like that you can’t enjoy the basic clean air in Beijing. Beijing’s Tongzhou has a Langshui River. It stinks and the smell can spread to miles away. Color of the water is even black. Too many people, too many cars, too much carbon dioxide. Farewell, Beijing. I never want to see you again.
On seeing a blue sky, I felt great and bright. But now blue sky is sort of a luxury to us. The only place where we can truly appreciate Mother Nature’s pure and blue sky is remote and undisturbed villages!
I always divide the official figure by two, or by ten, sometimes even by a hundred.
I support you guys. You have my back. You have, in the best way, explained to us that the actual air quality and air pollution is worth everyone’s attention, and actions, starting from every little thing, should be taken by every one.
I have been living in Beijing for eight years. Each day, under the gray sky, I felt like weeping, but had no tears.
I am touched by this. What kind of spirit this is! We young people should learn from this. Cheer up!
I hope that my nose is no longer filled with dust after I am back from morning jogging. I hope that the sky is no longer gray when it is noon.
They have given us back a blue sky that we’ve almost forgot. An admirable deed!
Beijing has indeed seen more blue sky days in the past two months. I mentioned this to my colleague just yesterday…