Two years ago, the New York Times reported that China was "choking on growth," with rapid economic development ravaging its environment. But in a recent column, the Times' Tom Friedman declared that "Red China [has] decided to become Green China," writing that the developing country now outpaces the United States in its pursuit of alternative energy.
The Times example illustrates the schism in how the West regards China on the environment. One side argues that China is a pure environmental villain -- the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and an unmatched polluter. So, this case goes, the U.S. Congress shouldn't commit to capping carbon emissions when Beijing hasn't accepted binding reduction targets. The other side contends that China is already so far ahead of the United States in green technology that Americans should be trembling for their jobs, not to mention their competitive edge in the global marketplace.
On the eve of Obama's first trip to Beijing and with less than a month to go before the United Nations climate change summit in Copenhagen, it's time to think again: Is China the green model of the future, or the brown reminder of our industrial past?