Running in Paris, Bon! Running in Beijing, Cough!

By November 5, 2007Energy

Our man in Asia, J.P. Fielder, e-mailed an idea back from the first leg of the Japan-China trip with NAM President John Engler. Fielder, a communications guy, suggested he go running in Beijing at the same time as Doug Goudie, one of the NAM’s trade experts and a marathon man, did his morning run in Paris. That way we could compare Beijing’s air pollution — China adds a new coal plant every week — to that of France, where 80 percent of electricity is generated via nuclear energy.

Great idea, J.P. So here’s Doug’s somewhat soggy report. Better sog than smog, we always say.

Anyone with a betting instinct is going to put their money on the guy in Paris. It’s not even a contest. You can’t see the end of the street in Beijing because of air pollution. Here in Paris, at 7 a.m. on November 3, you can’t see the end of the street – because it’s pouring rain. Yes, I’m suffering from bad karma. It always catches up. Go to Paris and it rains. It’s probably sunny in Beijing.

But as far as the air goes, there ain’t no irritants here. Not only is 80 percent of all French electricity (and 100 percent of Paris’) generated by nuclear power, but the average French automobile — cars are a big source of local, quicker-disapating air pollution — is roughly the size of an Escalade’s front seat. It’s not just the profusion of tiny, toy-like Smart cars, which are everywhere. Nearly every car is under 2,000 cc of engine size. Only six models out of over 350 available in the U.S. have a similar displacement. And over 50 percent of the cars sold in France are powered by next-generation clean diesel engines, which means less emissions, better fuel economy than even hybrids, and less refinement pollution at the beginning. No hybrids on the streets of Paris, by the way. Gas going for 1.54 Euros per liter, diesel for 1.36/liter…

For Doug’s entire report, please check the extended entry below.

And J.P. is still in pain. His report:

Much has been written about the air quality, or lack thereof, in Beijing in recent years, but upon touching down here yesterday I didn’t notice a distinct umbrella of haze overhanging the city. Thus, determined to outlast Mr Goudie, I laced up the Asics and at 3:30 p.m. on a sunny Saturday, I pushed off on the recently developed East Chang An Ave (Coach, Max Mara, Tag and Tiffany’s are dotting the storefronts… Mao would be so proud!).

Well, apparently poor air quality doesn’t begin to engulf your lungs until they are stressed. I discovered this about a half mile into the run along this crowded six lane boulevard while jogging in the sparsly populated biking lane. The run came to its first grinding hault when a bus accelerated in front of me and I literally stopped to gag. Despite the move toward more restrictive auto emissions, at least half the cars on the road appear to have been built before the advent of the catalytic converter. It’s not so much the size of the cars (these are far from PDiffy’s Escalade-like SUVs) just the amazing number of cars on the road. Every street is packed with a contrast between soot-covered jalopies, soot-covered American and German made cars and incredibly overcrowded buses. With that said, a quick nod to GM for gaining a solid marketshare with the Malibu, which is quite prevelant around town. Apparently “the car you knew America would rent” is actually “the car GM knew the Chinese would buy.” Oh, and if you’re wondering where all the Nissan pickups with no mufflers go after we’re done with them in the states… I found them!

Nonetheless, after my first bus encounter I picked myself up and pressed on, making good time (6:55 to 7-minute pace) past the Forbidden City and across Tiennamen Square as Mao smiled down. Yet with each passing step it became more painfully obvious that the air had overtaken my lungs. For perspective, it was like a having a large man press against my chest and every attempt to gasp for more air only made him heavier. Finally, as I reached the teeming streets of the Lotus Market, I had taken in enough and made a turn for the hotel. With Springsteen on my iPod and donning a Chicago Marathon shirt, this American headed for home, feeling defeated by the Chinese.

Atlantic Monthly writer James Fallows a runner himself — says he regards China’s air pollution as a serious threat to the country’s economic growth and a major problem facing the upcoming Beijing Olympics. He was blogging about the air quality at the same time J.P. was out on the road. With photos. Disturbing, disturbing photos.


Doug Goudie’s entry:

Anyone with a betting instinct is going to put their money on the guy in Paris. It’s not even a contest. You can’t see the end of the street in Beijing because of air pollution. Here in Paris, at 7 a.m. on November 3, you can’t see the end of the street – because it’s pouring rain. Yes, I’m suffering from bad karma. It always catches up. Go to Paris and it rains. It’s probably sunny in Beijing.

But as far as the air goes, there ain’t no irritants here. Not only is 80 percent of all French electricity (and 100 percent of Paris’) generated by nuclear power, but the average French automobile – cars are a big source of local, quicker-disapating air pollution- is roughly the size of an Escalade’s front seat. It’s not just the profusion of tiny, toy-like Smart cars, which are everywhere. Nearly every car is under 2,000 cc of engine size. Only 6 models out of over 350 available in the US have a similar displacement. And over 50 percent of the cars sold in France are powered by next-generation clean diesel engines, which means less emissions, better fuel economy than even hybrids, and less refinement pollution at the beginning. No hybrids on the streets of Paris, by the way. Gas going for 1.54 Euros per liter, diesel for 1.36/liter.

And due to this huge series of air-quality advantages, I will spot my good friend and colleague J.P. a serious handicap – last weekend I ran the Marine Corps marathon in Washington. This is my first run since finishing, and I have yet to completely recover. As full disclosure, the two of us have plans to run Chicago’s marathon next year (he’s done so already). But — J.P. is going up against a guy who has the distance of the marathon tattooed on his ankle.

My hotel, in the 7th arr, next to the Rue Cler market, is steps away from Paris’ most recognizable landmark, the Eiffel Tower. My route, briefly, took me under the Eiffel Tower, over to the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs Elysses, thru the Tuilleries gardens, through the Louvre courtyard, along the Seine to the Conciergerie and Notre Dame, through the Latin Quarter, up to the Partheon, through the Luxembourg gardens, down to the river again, and then back along the river past the Musee d’Orsay to the Place du Concord, Invalides and my hotel. Probaly 7 miles.

I was soaked at the completion and will probably get a cold. However, I ran a good, 6:30 minute pace and found no problems breathing as far as air pollution or airborne irritants. In fact, other than every Parisian who owns a dog, I saw hardly a soul. Not much traffic, no tourists. But the lungs felt the same as they do after similar runs in Silver Spring, Maryland (not as many medieval landmarks on those runs, however). When J.P. makes it back from Beijing, coughing and hacking, I’ll be sure to offer him one of the cigars I bought. It’ll do him good.

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