The potential for national humiliation stemming from foreign protest is one of China's great fears ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games. The Chinese have unsuccessfully attempted to define the Olympics as apolitical, but like it or not, the Olympics present too prominent a staging ground for activists to declare a temporary cease-fire. In fact, the protests have already begun -- over Tibet, family planning and animal rights -- and others are sure to follow.
Unlike many of the issues seeking political spotlight at the Games, greenhouse gases do not recognize national borders. The pollution China emits affects the temperature in Los Angeles just as much as it does Beijing, and emissions from the U.S. similarly affect the rest of the world. As the world's leading emitters of greenhouse gases, the U.S. and China must work together to meet this global challenge.
We are right to call attention to China's pollution problems and their growing carbon footprint, but China is also correct in pointing out that we in the U.S. emit more than our fair share. Although China is now the largest greenhouse gas emitter by volume, it remains far down the list of per-capita polluters. On that front, America is still number one. As two nations that are, and will remain, heavily dependent on abundant coal, the U.S. and China need to start thinking about collaborative solutions to the climate change problem.
"Why should I care what China does with its air? Why should China care what we do with ours?" Asia Society's "Clearing the Air" multimedia project answers these questions by demonstrating that we are facing a common enemy. To address the problem of climate change, we should use these Olympics as an opportunity to connect with China and begin creating collaborative solutions.
Andrew Smeall is an Assistant in the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society. His work focuses on environmental and media issues.