The widespread environmental calamity in China, as portrayed in the New York Times series "China: Choking on Growth," is a stunningly depressing thing to behold. But the world's most populous country did not become a global juggernaut overnight. Lester Brown and others have been warning about the looming catastrophe for decades. While the country's authoritarian controls put the clampdown on runaway population growth, most other environmental ills run rampant. Most troubling, from a climate perspective, is the fact that China, Inc. runs primarily on coal. It's not just the coal-fired power plants, which are coming online at the mind-boggling rate of roughly one per week, but also the steel mills, the cement plants and other factories that power the mightily expanding economy.
As Orville Schell explains in the Times, when it comes to actually doing something about reining in emissions, "the US hides behind China," and "China hides behind the US"; that is, each country points to the other's inaction as a reason for its own do-nothing stance. If that stalemate is to end, Schell says, it will have to be through US leadership. "It will not do to blame China."
Perhaps the Olympics are the very thing needed to call the world's attention to the horrendous situation. Attention isn't enough of course, but attention must be paid all the same. The motto of the modern Olympics is citius, altius, fortius, ("faster, higher, stronger"). It seems we need to muster similar aspirations for the world's future. Perhaps "Smarter, Cleaner, Better."
What's that in Latin?