How Green Are These Olympics?
Kicking off today, the Vancouver Olympics are being touted as “the greenest games ever.” Initiatives include everything from LEED standards for new construction, various incentives for public transportation, community energy systems that include heat recovery from sewage and wastewater, and alternative power. Ninety percent of the energy used for the games will be from renewable hydroelectric sources. All of this will result in about a 15 percent drop in the total carbon footprint, compared with past games.
Of course, none of this will help alleviate the effects of thousands upon thousands of people funneling into British Columbia from around the globe. The carbon emissions related to air travel to the games is estimated to be the equivalent of the annual output for nearly 30,000 cars, and voluntary programs for carbon offsets reportedly have not been very popular.
Most alarming is the impact the Olympic Games will have on the landscape. A new study out of UC Davis shows that graded ski slopes, like those at Whistler, where the games are being held, have significantly more harmful environmental consequences than cleared slopes. Clearing opens ski paths by removing vegetation above ground but leaves intact the top layer of soil, the root beds, and the seed banks. Grading, however, scrapes the land and removes these vital subsurface systems, virtually preventing seasonal plant life recovery but also exacerbating erosion, storm water run-off, and water pollution. Bulldozing is quicker, so it speeds up the availability of slopes in winter, but any additional revenue goes away in summer because of higher landscape maintenance costs. That's just bad calculus.
These may be the greenest games ever, but let’s hope the next ones are better. London, anyone?