Everyone who’s anyone made a show of going green during the
‘00s—sometimes literally. Cameron Diaz had her Trippin’ series on MTV, kicking off a trend later embraced by stars like Brad Pitt and Adrian Grenier. Leonardo DiCaprio whipped up both a TV show and a documentary, the Discovery Channel launched Planet Green TV, and NBC declared that “Green Is Universal.” Countless other celebs “went green” in their own little (sometimes very little) ways. The media jumped all over this trend, with Julia Roberts and George Clooney joining Al Gore and RFK Jr. on the cover of Vanity Fair‘s first green issue in
2006. Then other glossy mags like Glamour, Outside, and Sports Illustrated hopped on the green-issue bandwagon. Elsewhere in pop culture,
The Day After Tomorrow turned climate chaos into a big-screen blockbuster. Musicians from Madonna to Miley crooned about the climate, and Live Earth made a spectacle of eco-music. Fashion, design, TV, art—they
all embraced the environment. But when Paris Hilton sported a “think green” T-shirt, this cause celeb officially became a cause parodique.
As the world fretted over its sweaty fate this decade, it suddenly realized there were two sleeping giants huddled in the corner of the sauna: China and India. With billions of people calling these countries home and globalization converting them first into gewgaw-makers and support call-takers, then into tech giants, their appetite for energy is ravenous. Fueled largely by coal and unthwartable ambition, China overtook the U.S. as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases (though it’s not quite that simple), while India rose to the No. 4 spot. At the same time, China is giving the U.S. a serious run for its money in the cleantech sector, with its formidable and fast-growing wind and solar industries, and India is getting into the game as well. At the Copenhagen climate
talks in December 2009, China, more than any other nation, was the big impediment to a meaningful global agreement—any yet any agreement that doesn’t include China simply won’t get the job done. Whether the task at hand is polluting the planet or saving it, China and (to a lesser extent) India are now calling the shots.