A Treehugger headline last weekend: “Powerwash Graffiti shows Chicago is Grey, Not Green,” taking snarky note of the city’s smoky in-town coal plants (covered in the Reader by Mick Dumke last December and Kari Lydersen in 2003) and the American Lung Association’s ongoing campaign against them. Commenters at Treehugger debate whether the Crawford and Fisk plants are that big a deal, and in the new Atlantic James Fallows (paid subscriber only) turns an appalled eye on Beijing, where the smog is so bad he expects 2012 Olympians to fall like ninepins, clutching their chests.

Critics can always contrast Chicago’s extravagant claims to ultimate greenness with its reality. But in intercity competition lies hope, whether it’s for the Olympics or not.  After all, the U.S. took better care of its poor and minorities back when a Communist enemy stood ready to publicize every failure.