And First Place Goes to...

Looks like China isn't just going for the gold in athletic events--the host of the 2008 summer Olympics recently received LEED®-Gold certification from the United States Green Building Council for its Olympic Village, the temporary home to 17,000 athletes from around the globe.

The village is one of eight developments--and the only international one--under the USGBC's new pilot program, LEED for Neighborhood Development, which aims to incorporate the principles of sustainable building design into housing communities. Beijing's is the first Olympic Village to receive LEED certification.

Among its "green" attributes, the village boasts solar cells and geothermal heat pumps that help regulate temperature, according to China Daily.

Of course, this recent award may seem to lose a bit of its luster after one considers that China already holds another world title as the leading emitter of carbon dioxide, and Beijing itself is infamous for its smog. In a major push to spruce up the air before the games started, the government ordered an environmental crackdown, pulling at least two million of the city's 3.3 million cars and ordering factories in the capitol and surrounding provinces to cut emissions by 30 percent or close entirely, according to several articles appearing in Time.

But before you get too hopeful that China might be cleaning up its act, consider these two, somewhat opposing ideas: 1) According to Time, the restrictions on pollution are only interim measures and will end on September 20th, after the Paralympics. 2) While China's smog  makes breathing more difficult, some of the pollutants it contains might actually be helping to offset global warming by forming atmospheric clouds that reflect sunlight back into space. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a researcher at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego, CA, is currently testing just how China's air pollution can cool the earth.

So, is cleaning China's air another "darned if you do, darned if you don't" case? Perhaps. Whatever the verdict, one things for sure, as Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO, and Founding Chair of USGBC, observed in the USGBC press release: “China’s growing population, its emerging economy, and the opportunities and challenges it represents ensure that China will play a key role in the future of our planet.”

“The views expressed in user comments do not reflect the views of Audubon. Audubon does not participate in political campaigns, nor do we support or oppose candidates.”