Here's why the China trip matters

Nearly thirty years after he left office, the most important achievement of Jimmy Carter's time as president was his cementing the relationship with China that had begun under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. (Second-most important: Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt. Third: showing that it was possible, at least for a while, to increase the energy efficiency of cars, buildings, power generation, and industry within the US.)

Thirty years from now, the most important aspect of Barack Obama's interaction with China will be whether the two countries, together, can do anything about environmental and climate issues. If they can, in 2039 we'll look back on this as something like the Silent Spring/Clean Air Act moment in American history, which began a change toward broad environmental improvement. If they can't....

Today the Asia Society's "China Green" project ran a full-page ad in the New York Times -- good to see support for the print media! -- and launched another online display dramatizing why such cooperation matters. This one is called On Thinner Ice and documents the accelerating disappearance of the glaciers on the Tibetan plateau that feed nearly all the major rivers of Asia. (Previous Asia Society displays on this topic here.) Sample clip from the display:

For an earlier project by Michael Zhao of "China Green," documenting air quality in Beijing in the year leading up to the Olympics, see this discussion and the Olympic-air site, here. A week ago, according to the BejingAir Twitter feed (background here and here) the city's air quality was in the almost-unbelievable "hazardous" range. My friends in Beijing say that the skies are fresh and blue today, hours before Obama's arrival. Good! Every non-polluted day is a victory. But let's hope the two sides concentrate on cleaning up for the long run.