The shameful, polluted Olympics

You can’t criticize awarding the Olympic Games to China just because their rapacious coal-building policy has now made them the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions (see “The immorality of China’s coal policy is breathtaking (literally).” By that standard, America should never have been awarded the games.

But awarding the games to a city that is one of the most polluted in the world — let alone in a country that has such a shameful record on human rights — is simply unconscionable. And quite unfair to the athletes. Consider this literally staggering story from the Newshour:

ADAM CRAIG, USA Cycling: I’ve never had any experience even remotely close to what I had in Beijing last fall. BETTY ANN BOWSER: Last September, he was in the Chinese capital to compete in a series of pre-Olympic warm-up races.

ADAM CRAIG: It’s like — it’s a weird bronchial spasm thing that I was getting, that just like — whenever you tried to take enough breath to give your muscles that fuel of oxygen they need, your bronchioles just start spasming and you just like physically can’t do it.

And it’s like akin to drowning, or something, just not being able to take that full breath. And, you know, having your body really require that oxygen and not being able to get it is a pretty unique and pretty terrifying situation, I think.

[Kudos to the International Olympic Committee, its U.S. corporate sponsors — General Electric, Coca-Cola, Visa, McDonald’s, Kodak, and Johnson & Johnson — and the Chinese for turning outdoor endurance sports into torture — almost literally re-creating the experience of water boarding. I guess it is appropriate that President Bush is attending the games after all.]

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Just 30 minutes after the starting gun of the race, Craig had to quit, but he had lots of world-class company.

ADAM CRAIG: The current world champion and the current Olympic champion, Julien Absalon, same deal, about the same point in the race, 20 or 30 minutes in, actually was sick to his stomach, and threw up, and was hacking, and wheezing, and had to pull out.And, yes, I think there were 46 starters and eight finishers. So that’s a pretty high attrition rate for a two-hour mountain bike race around a fairly easy course.

China’s much-vaunted air pollution index presents a bizarrely rosy picture of the dirty reality. As the Post noted:

Despite the absence of any hint of blue above the horizon, the environmental ministry released a statement headlined, “Blue Sky over Beijing with Olympics 5 Days Away.”

Experts have questioned the reliability of the air pollution index, noting that China does not include two of the most dangerous pollutants, ozone and small particulate matter, known as PM2.5, in the readings. A Chinese news agency reported Monday that China will begin monitoring those pollutants after the Olympics.

A discussion of China’s censorship and human rights abuse is beyond the scope of this blog, so I will simply excerpt a terrific piece today by Post sports columnist, Sally Jenkins, “Partners in Grime”:

Anyone who believed the Chinese government would use the Olympics as an opportunity to become a human rights beacon and environmental model was either softheaded, or lying. Capitalism is not the same thing as democracy. China’s interest then and now was the consolidation of state power via economics. The government is merely behaving as it always has.

But the bad air here has shown the IOC and its commercial sponsors in an especially ugly and damning light. They have been conspicuous cowards in dealing with Chinese officials, and maybe even outright collaborators, on every issue from human rights to the environment to censorship. The silence of IOC President Jacques Rogge in the face of the continuing dissident sweeps amounts to complicity. “In view of my responsibilities, I have lost some of my freedom of speech,” he said last week. Rogge’s idea of a solution to the thorny problems of these Games is to hope “the magic” will take over once they begin.

Most disgraceful of all is the fact that six of the 12 worldwide Olympic partners are American companies. This has to heart-sicken any patriot. These companies will reap the full exposure of the Summer Games, swathing themselves in the flag, and rationalizing that their business is helping uplift the Chinese people. Don’t buy it — or them. You should know exactly who they are: General Electric (which owns NBC), Coca-Cola, Visa, McDonald’s, Kodak, and Johnson & Johnson. (The others are Canadian-based Manulife Financial; Lenovo, the Chinese personal computer maker; the French information technology services company Atos Origin; the Swiss watch manufacturer Omega; Panasonic; and Samsung.) When these acquiesced to the Chinese government’s crackdown, and effectively accepted the censorship of the press during these Games, they fell into a special category of profiteers that Franklin Delano Roosevelt described in his “Four Freedoms” speech.

“We must especially beware of that small group of selfish men who would clip the wings of the American eagle in order to feather their own nests,” Roosevelt said.

One would like to think that this travesty will encourage China to clean up its act. But more likely is that China will take this as evidence that the Almighty Dollar trumps all other human concerns.

Shame on everyone involved in this charade — except the athletes, who devoted years and years of their lives to training for this singular moment. I hope they are able to perform at their best, which, after all, is the central point of the Olympics.