Monday, July 28, 2008

China Olympics: Smoke and Mirrors, But Mostly Smoke

The 2008 Olympics will be taking place very soon in Beijing, China. In July of 2001, the city was selected to host the games, and they’ve had several years to prepare the venues and for lodging. But one thing it seems that they haven’t prepared for is the environment. Right now, China doesn’t look ready for its close up.

Despite its recent efforts to curb the choking smog by closing factories and restricting traffic, the smog levels remain high. Athletes are concerned, and rightfully so, that their performance, if not their health, will be affected.

It seems that while China put all its focus on preparing the infrastructure, it won’t be much help if people won’t be able to see any of it through the gray, smoky air. And even if China takes drastic measures and closes all the factories in or near Beijing, and forbids any vehicle traffic on its roads leading up to and during the Olympics in an effort to clear the air, the damage has already been done. Images of the smoky air have been circulating around the world via high profile media outlets. The perception that China cares little for the environment, and the population that lives in it, seems to have been reinforced and validated.

One can only wonder why the US always seems to be vilified about pollution from gas-powered vehicles and coal burning power plants, when China clearly looks more polluted than the US was in the 1950s and 1960s. The United States has come a long way, and Americans are eager to continue to do even more, especially if it means using fuels for their cars that don’t depend on foreign oil.

But all the beauty and marvel of the new structures that were built for the 2008 Olympic Games are just part of the smoke and mirrors – pun intended – to put a modern face on China. As an article that appeared in the Washington Post yesterday stated, it looks like there is” A Long Wait at the Gate to Greatness.” Besides the problem with pollution in China, they face challenges with an aging population. There are increasing numbers of companies that are manufacturing in China that are companies owned by countries outside of China, which mean the foreign companies - the US included – reap the profits, not the Chinese people. As far as the environment, according to the Washington Post article I linked above, China will pass the US this year and become the #1 emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. It’s hard to imagine that they haven’t done so already, at least on a city-by-city basis. And I haven’t even covered the issues with water pollution in China.

So while China braces for its close up, it looks like the first impression with the world has already been made. The country needs to become serious about its environment and the welfare of its people. It shouldn’t just worry about those things while they think the world has its eye trained on it. Because, in this day and age, the world’s eye never closes.

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