When the Olympic fire was set alight during the Games’ opening ceremony, there was a giant wave of smog hanging over Beijing. Like any other day of the year, the air pollution was several times above what the World Health Organization considers safe. Many competitors were so concerned about their personal wellbeing that they restricted their visit to the Ancient City to the days on which they compete, thus missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime chance to inhale the legendary Olympic spirit for the duration of the games. Overpopulation was not amongst the problems the athlete village faced. And however clean, colorful, and crystal-clear the opening ceremonies were – when the cameras conveyed the first images of spectators with masks over their mouths, the hosts’ delight soured rather suddenly. Most of us, however, were not surprised. After all, this is the China we imagine. A political apparatus so keen to receive world recognition and a population so eager to catch up with the wealthy elsewhere have unleashed such a thriving economy that there is no room for environmental concerns, least of all protective regulation.
It is this dusky image of China that has to a large extent shaped our diplomatic attitude towards this rapidly industrializing giant. Nowhere more so than in the United States, the continuous finger-pointing at China has been used as an excuse for not taking more vigorous action on global environmental problems at home. READ THIS EXCLUSIVE OP-ED FOR WWW.ALEXANDEROCHS.COM