theres no such thing as a green beijing

‘One World, One Dream” is the motto of the Beijing Summer Olympics. But “Impending Doom” might be a better way to describe…

‘One World, One Dream” is the motto of the Beijing Summer Olympics.

But “Impending Doom” might be a better way to describe the vision coming into focus as China’s summer event grows nearer.

Every day, news reports foreshadow what’s ahead in that utterly desperate city for athletes and for the watching world. It’s like a years-long movie trailer that is giving away everything but the ending.

Oh, but what an ending.

For those not boycotting the 2008 Summer Olympics, there is a good chance our television sets will show us athletes wearing face masks to protect them from Beijing’s filthy air.

They will be lucky not to collapse in it — many are training there now to prepare for the challenge.

So long environmental green, the new unifying colour could very well become environmental-disaster white.

The white mask will symbolize China — while China itself embodies catastrophe, greed and hubris.

Behind the white mask, millions of Chinese citizens, who have been sacrificed for the sake of the sporting event, will peek out, despite few of them speaking up.

According to this week’s news from the Associated Press, China’s rural farmers are the latest lambs to be offered up for the Summer Olympic cause.

“But the individual interest submits to the state interests,” says a 56-year-old farmer in communist dogmatic fashion. “I have no objection. I support it for the success of the 2008 Olympics. China must win!”

To provide the game’s 16,000 athletes and officials this summer with running, drinkable water — something few Beijing residents have ever enjoyed — the city is draining surrounding regions and robbing poor farmers of their livelihoods.

Beijing’s 12 million residents pose enough of a strain on the country’s water.

Add to that below average rainfall since 1999 and the result is a water-resources-per-person quotient 1/30th of the world average, according to Associated Press.

To cope with this, China is digging up the southern countryside and constructing a canal that will bring water from China’s longest river, the Yangtze, and its tributaries to the arid north by 2010.

But to supply the world this summer with what it expects from an Olympic city — drinkable water straight from the tap, China is accelerating the project.

In nearby Hebei province, enough water to provide 363.2 billion litres — what Tucson, Arizona, uses in one year — will be funneled from four reservoirs.

To make Olympic rowing possible, the dried-out Chaobai riverbed will borrow precious water from the Miyun reservoir.

Meanwhile, a 13-kilometre underground tunnel will divert water from the Wenyu River to keep the surrounding landscape green.

Farmers have been ordered to grow only corn because it requires less water than other crops. Corn, however, fetches a lower price then other vegetables or rice.

In this race to clean itself up, if only superficially, Beijing is also counting on blue skies to show the world things aren’t so bad.

Every day, 27 monitoring stations across the city measure air pollution to determine on a scale from one to 500 if the skies are blue or grey.

“In the West, pollution this bad might qualify as an emergency,” writes Jim Yardley of the New York Times. “In Beijing, doctors advised people to stay indoors, but residents here are accustomed to breathing foul air. Earlier this year, the city actually recorded a 500.”

To win the Olympic bid, Beijing promised a “Green Olympics.” But if it was green the world was looking for, it shouldn’t have wasted its time on China.

More importantly, it shouldn’t have put Chinese residents in jeopardy by asking the impossible.

With accelerating construction and urbanization in preparation of the games, “Beijing is like an athlete trying to get in shape on a treadmill yet eating double cheeseburgers at the same time,” writes Yardley.

Like I said: “Impending Doom.”

China is pulling polluting cars from the road by the hundreds and shutting down polluting factories in the hopes of scoring more “blue skies.” But it is all a temporary solution and citizens know that when the Olympics end, so will the Green Revolution.

Pollution in China is already a tragedy. According to that country’s ministry of Health, pollution has made cancer the leading cause of death.

Ambient pollution alone is blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year.

And 500 million people lack safe drinking water.

China’s accelerated growth for the sake of the Olympics is powered almost entirely by coal — the dirtiest fuel there is.

The International Energy Agency predicted China would surpass the United States as the world’s leading producer of greenhouse gas emissions by 2010.

But that has already happened, thanks to an industrial boom precipitated by the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Scientist report 40 per cent of all mammal species in China are endangered and 70 per cent of non-flowering pant life and 86 per cent of flowered plant species are also considered threatened.

Although 2,000 pandas live in reserves in China, last year the Yangtze River dolphin was declared extinct and the last living Yangtze giant soft-shelled turtle is only being protected now — behind bullet-proof glass.

The human rights situation linked to the 2008 Summer Olympics is even more worrisome.

Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.