The 2008 Beijing Olympics sent a shockwave through the world. Visitors and watchers expected a post-communist developing country and discovered huge, clean, modern and secure cities, top-notch facilities and organization, interna¬tional brands of everything in huge shopping malls, Chinese brands producing world-level quality tech products, and (perhaps doped, but undetectably so) sportsman able to reap medals in almost any discipline… The new superpower was proudly showing its muscles. It event took advantage of the event’s dyna¬mics to announce it was abandoning its 1-Child per family policy, in order to stimulate long-term growth and limit its future aging problem. This huge success made China feared rather than loved. People were impressed, but also stunned by seeing how little of old Beijing remained standing. The death of two marathon runners was attributed to the capital’s foul air, whereas tourists and journalists who travelled within the country reported far worse si¬tuations in inland cities. The violent squashing of social protests before or during the Olympics, reported despite the police’s best efforts at Internet censorship, incensed global public opinion.

Wake-up call

In a way, the surprise election of a Republican as President of the United State in November, 2008, was part of the aftershock. The successful candidate won by defending the American Way of Life against the threatening giant from the East, although how he would do so remained unclear. More unexpectedly (for a Republican), the president-to-be also played the sus¬tainability card. More and more erratic and extreme climate events was making climate change a palpable reality in the voters’ minds; But the candidate made it clear that whatever (unspecified) efforts the U.S. made, if 2.5 billion Chinese and Indians had it into their minds to built coal plants, manufacture chemicals wi¬thout environmental protections and buy big cars, it would make no difference for the planet.

With that agenda, the Kyoto II discussions soon ground to a halt, boycotted not by the U.S., but by all major emerging economies who felt they were being as¬ked to slow down their path to wealth in order to allow post-industrial countries to preserve their living standards. Environmentalists and scientists were disheartened. There seemed little hope, at least on the political front, to do anything at all against global warming, nor to prepare a smooth transition away from exhaustible and pollutant energy sources.