Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Beijing Olympics as shock therapy for the environment

Wanting China (and indeed the planet) to win the fight against pollution, one might hope for a demonstration on the world stage that would graphically highlight cost of today's development-at-all-costs global economic agenda. I'm talking about a kind of shock therapy. But when and where might such an occasion arise?

Within a fortnight in Beijing. Those of us who would be content to spotlight catastrophe then and there by no means harbor anti-China sentiments. Rather, we may fear for the long term health of the Chinese people and their environment more than we worry about the success of any Olympics.

But is this outlook naive? James Fallows has provided firsthand observations about the air quality tends in Beijing throughout the past twelve months. More recently the journalist has posted an ominous new report (quoted in this post, since echoed in various news media). Fallows firmly believes that any spectacle of failure is most unlikely to prove positively instructive to the Chinese. Far from it. Fallows blogs from Beijing:
I know that some people outside China have a kind of schadenfreude wish that the pollution, or the mishandling of protests, or the logistics, or something else will backfire on the organizers of the Olympics and stand as a protest for whatever is objectionable in government policy. This is related to the previous idea that it would make sense to boycott the opening ceremonies or the Games themselves.

Unt-uh. As my correspondent points out, the only thing that will happen if these Olympics somehow go bad is a concerted focusing of blame, inside China, on the foreigners who want to "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people" and hold China down. Outsiders who think that a pollution emergency or a spiraling protest would focus domestic blame on the Chinese government are dreaming. No kidding, everyone should want these games to work well, including with the air.
Supposing Fallow's characterization of the situation is correct, there may yet be a bright silver lining here. Even if Beijing proves itself too proud to take international criticism in stride, and, as Fallows anticipates, the state encourages the Chinese people to blame foreigners for a tainted Olympics, any environmental lesson to be taken from the Games of the XXIX Olympiad is not likely to be lost on the other five billion people on the planet. The rest of the world might decide to take to heart any environmental lessons to be gleaned from the spectacle of China's pollution-wrought Olympic misfortunes.

As Matt Steinglas points out,* it probably doesn't make much difference what we wish for. Nevertheless, I think the world is in need of a "wake up call" to the devastating effects of pollution on human health and performance. And if fate should have it that the Beijing Olympics are to provide such a demonstration, might it not be a jolt we all needed?

The Beijing Games need not be a mere vanishing blip on history's Doppler Radar. Perhaps the event could make a positive difference.
* h/t Patrick Appel

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

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    Our site:

    Title: Beijing Olympics

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    Best Regards,



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