The true impact of the 2008 Beijing Olympics was not quite what China expected. China had expected the world to stand in awe of its accomplishments, and it had every reason to. But the world chose to question how so many formerly unknown Chinese athletes could reap so many medals; tourists and journalists travelled around and brought back reports of polluted rivers, of dangerous chemical factories operating in the middle of newly built cities, of massive expropriations and exploitation; whereas 10 marathon runners almost suffocated in Beijing’s hot and toxic air.
None of this should have surprised keen observers, but billions of people had it thrown in their face right between a 100 m race and the gymnastics final. And it got them thinking: Is this what the world is turning into? Which was, of course, what a small group of Chinese intellectuals and entrepreneurs, with connections at the very top of the Communist Party, had in mind.
Media, bloggers and common citizens began connecting facts. Oil had passed $ 150 a barrel, pushing gasoline and other prices up, pulling growth down. Seemingly aberrant and local climate events, such as near-tropical rains in Britain while Europe’s South-East suffered draughts and scorching heat, began to form a pattern. The web was abuzz. People started collecting, sharing and cross-analyzing data in innovative ways; papers and analyses, some serious, some not, circulated and made their way into traditional media; climate specialists opened up some of their models for public use and even, improvement. One provocative website, SUVtheplanet.org, asked its visitors to expose anyone’s, from their neighbour’s to celebrities’, irresponsible environmental behaviours, forcing many individuals and some corporations to issue public apologies and commitment to better practices.
Barak Obama was quick to feel the shift in public feeling. He brought AL Gore onboard his campaign trail, switched his pitch from Iraq to environment – and won the November 2008 U.S. presidential election.