…if not clean air. Smog continues to blanket the capital city, thanks to pollution from cars, illegal factories and uncooperative weather.

That has prompted some athletes to wear masks, which, besides looking silly, actually is silly. Cloth will not protect against ozone – plus, it’s really hard to get enough air through a mask when you’re working out or competing.

It remains to be seen how the atmospheric conditions will affect performance, but the truth is that this is no different than the Los Angeles Games of 1984 or the Athens Games of 2004. More than 10 percent of the U.S. Olympic squad suffered from exercise-induced asthma brought on by the smog in the West Coast city and only Mediterranean breezes helped lower pollution levels in the Greek capital.  Smog is a reality of the modern Summer Games.

And China is making major efforts to clean up: promoting renewables, building the Three Gorges dam, banning cars and plastic bags, and even attempting to capture the pollution from burning coal. And then there's Rizhao--just down the coast from the Olympic event city of Qingdao--which is actually aiming to balance the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by its residents with the amount of greenhouse gases removed by doing things like heating water with the sun's heat rather than coal.

I traveled to China for three weeks in May and was awed by the scale of both development and pollution. Check out a whole host of coverage on China's environment here, from whether there are too many boys in the country's population to Beijing's building boom. Next up is Vancouver for the Winter Olympics in 2010—though that famously environmentally friendly city may be tarnishing its own ideals in preparation.

Let the green games begin!

 Photo Credit: David Biello / © Scientific American