Over at the Atlantic, James Fallows noted a NASA study, presented at the December meeting of the American Geophysical Union, that shows that China’s efforts to clean up the air pollution during the Olympics did improve air quality.

Though the reductions in air pollutants seems to be specific to the Beijing area, the report noted:

During the two months when restrictions were in place, the levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) — a noxious gas resulting from fossil fuel combustion (primarily in cars, trucks, and power plants) — plunged nearly 50 percent. Likewise, levels of carbon monoxide (CO) fell about 20 percent.

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The release that accompanied the report noted that the "steep decline in certain pollutants surprised the researchers," and in all fairness, it surprised me too. My coverage of the Beijing air was decidedly pollution-heavy. Though it’s hard for me to swallow that Beijing may have gotten the air-pollution measures right — an API of 95 is bad no matter how you spin it — I couldn’t agree more with Fallows:

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… it shows that corrective steps can improve even the most hopeless-seeming environmental disasters. It’s worth trying to do something, rather than just hunkering down in bed and trying to take very, very shallow breaths — my strategy in the months from April to July.

In other words, Yes We Can.

NASA images below the fold:

An average of August 2005-2007 NO2 levels over eastern China (red indicates a higher concentration):

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August 2008 NO2 levels: