As mentioned last week, I was amused by the Wall Street Journal’s editorial (“Olympic Pollution Games”) decrying environmental conditions in China. The gist of the editorial was that only democracies have done a good job of controlling pollution. What amused me was the fact that the Journal’s editorial page seemed to be praising the very U.S. environmental regulations that they routinely denounce. The editorial inspired me to write a letter to the editor that was published in the August 9-10 weekend edition of the Journal. Here is what the letter says:
"How refreshing to read a Journal editorial decrying a government’s failure to control pollution – even if the government is China’s (“Olympic Pollution Games, Aug. 2-3). Having lived in Beijing for the past six months, I can attest to the severity of China’s pollution problems. The editors also are correct that democracies “have for the most part been able to accommodate green priorities without sacrificing growth.” But the editorial fails to explain why. Democracies allow citizens, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and an independent judiciary to ensure that strict environmental laws are implemented and enforced. These features of U.S. law often are the targets of harsh criticism by the Journal’s editorial page (particularly when a court rules against big business or in favor of an environmental group). But they are the envy of those who wish to clean up China’s environment, as I know from a semester teaching environmental law as a Fulbright scholar in Beijing." [The Journal editors cut out the sentence: "But the editorial fails to explain why").
I have been fascinated watching the Olympics because I can recognize virtually every Beijing venue from which a broadcast occurs. This morning’s New York Times Sports section has a photo of Nike’s basketball courts with the apartment complex where I lived in Beijing visible in the background. I planned to watch the Olympic Opening ceremonies on Friday morning, but was outraged to discover that NBC not only refused to cover them live, unlike the rest of the world’s media, but also that the network sought to shut down all foreign sources of live information about them. I think what was most offensive to me is the notion that any TV network thinks it can fool people into thinking that an event is not occurring at the time it actually occurs. Most amazing was to discover that portions of NBC’s “Today” show which purported to be live and were broadcast at the time the Opening Ceremonies were taking place, actually had been taped in advance so that Matt Lauer could attend the Opening Ceremonies and tape the commentary that was shown in the U.S. 12 hours later. The idea that any network thinks it truly can control what information people receive in this age of the Internet and instant global communications seems rather archaic. Oddly, it actually reminded me of the Chinese government’s inept attempts to control broadcasts from international media like CNN & BBC when they are viewed in China.
The rain in Beijing actually should improve Olympic air quality fairly significantly for a day or so. Tomorrow the forecast high in Beijing is 78 degrees, which is unusually cool for this time of year. Thus, the Chinese may luck out. While 54 of the 144 competitors failed to finish yesterday’s grueling cycling road race, one should remember that in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens fully half the competitors failed to finish this race when it was held in 102 degree weather with lots of air pollution in Athens.
National Public Radio ran a great program this week on the continuing litigation over pollution of Ecuador’s Oriente caused by shoddy environmental practices by Texaco when it was invited by Ecuador’s government to develop oil resources there. The program “Oil and Justice in the Amazon” can be viewed online at http://www.onpointradio.org/shows/2008/08/chevron.