Monday, June 23, 2008

Climate Change and the Olympics

As Betty and Bimbo and Cocoa (the dog, not the clown) watched the 7 o'clock news on CNN last night, they caught depressing story after depressing story, each registering a different degree of sadness, but striking a common chord: climate change. From the floods in the Midwest to the fights over Brazilian forests to the latest typhoon in the Philippines, to the tanking (no pun intended) of economies everywhere, we may draw the a common conclusion: climate change is upon us, and accelerating towards an unknown future.

Last week Betty read that the coach of the Australian Olympic Track & Field team would be forbidding his athletes from attending the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Games for the very simple reason that Beijing's air quality is unquestionably harmful to human lungs. International agencies like the World Bank and the United Nations consistently rank Beijing's air among the world's worst. So the Australian coach is forbidding his athletes from arriving in Beijing until the second week of the games, when they'll be competing.

Last year, IOC Chief Jacques Rogge had said that endurance events could be postponed or cancelled to protect competitors' health during the August 8-24 Games. In startled response, hoping to avoid this kind of embarrassment, Beijing announced that it will ban around half the city's three-million-plus cars from the roads during the Games. Plus, many factories will be closed down and all construction work ordered to halt. Needless to say, many Chinese workers who depend on construction for paltry incomes are unhappy about this, and this official temporary ban on construction offers no long-term solution to anything.

More guest-host trouble broke out last week, when even more Australian teams followed the track squad's lead and announced -- with great delicacy -- that they, too, will refrain from the opening week's events, including the opening ceremonies. The teams will either stay INDOORS in Beijing and prepare to compete all week (gymnasts, basketball players) or arrive in Beijing for the second week only (cyclists, runners, and all other outdoor athletes who need to breathe air that is not the color of mud).

The Olympic organizing committee in Beijing is pissed, and has issued statements attempting to guilt-trip the Australian Olympians into appearing (for the world) at the opening ceremonies.

One spokesman said: "We need, as a human family, to be together in a place and not think about all the things in the world that divide us." Click on the link above for more - the same spokesman even suggests that Australia owes China an appearance at the opening ceremonies, since China posed no embarrassing problems as a guest at the Sydney games in 2000!

I can only conclude from all this pussyfooting and the frantic, extreme, and temporary anti-smog measures imposed by the Beijing organizers that the spirit behind the 2008 Olympic games is hollow, hypocritical and corrupt. On the part of the Chinese or the local Beijing government, there is no intention of taking measures to fight climate change in a sustainable way -- say, by encouraging less consumption or discouraging new polluting factories that are spreading like wildfire across the country. Of course, this is all linked to the global march of capitalism that is exploding in China right now, but that's a blog post (or a dissertation) for another day.

Right now, we need to acknowledge the absurdity of sending athletes -- not mere diplomats, but ATHLETES -- to compete in a place that does not have enough clean air for people -- let alone Olympic runners -- to breathe safely. We need to understand that the organizing committee is panicking because one team has decided that they are going to compete with their lungs intact. We need, as a human family, to be together in our constant and vocal opposition to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

And if we do tune in for the sports, let's remember to root hard for Australia -- although they probably won't need it.


Nancy D., Girl Detective said...

China presents a frightening environmental picture, and they've eclipsed us on greenhouse gas output...but keep in mind that their per capita pollution is still well below that of the United States. I think it's fair for them to want to grow their economy, but we better find some pretty enticing incentives for them not to pollute their way to wealth, because that country has got a hell of a lot of coal to burn.

betty said...

Well said, NDGD.

The blame lies squarely with the Chinese government and its "build n' burn" rabidity, not so much with the people and their (per capita) choices/spending abilities. But as China becomes wealthier, we'll see them approache us in per capita waste.