1. The unsustainable games
London’s bid for the Olympic Games revolved entirely around sustainability. Their concept, “Towards a One Planet Olympics”, was based on the notion that if the entire world’s population lived a typical British lifestyle, people would require the resources of three planets.
London’s Olympic plan included green building measures like water recycling, halving the carbon footprint of all construction projects, and sourcing 25% of each project’s materials from recycled sources. Unfortunately, as the games have drawn closer officials have been noticeably distancing themselves from their original targets and have been focusing on “reducing” and “mitigating” the carbon footprint of the games.
2. 3.4 million tons of CO2
Energy company EDF has announced plans to sponsor the olympics by providing 24 MW of energy produced through renewable sources such as wind power. The Olympic park will also feature on-site combined heating and cooling in addition to a power plant with biomass boilers. It will have the capacity to switch from natural gas to other low-carbon and renewable fuel sources.
The problem is that no one knows exactly how much energy the games will actually use – conservative estimates have stated that the games will probably produce 3.4 million tons of CO2. By comparison, the UK’s total annual emissions are around 550 million tons. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog) has been vague about cutting emissions, saying: “Our first objective is to get a handle on our climate impact and then work out how to avoid our emissions.”
3. The failure of carbon offsets
One major environmental issue with hosting the Olympic Games is the sheer amount of construction projects that are needed. Despite plans to reuse or recycle 90% of construction waste, more than half the CO2 emissions associated with the games comes from the construction process.
In order to make the entire operation as emission-free as possible, the Games have had to do a lot of carbon offsetting. This means that in exchange for creating large amounts of CO2, the Olympics are funding environmental projects to counteract the emissions from their operations. Unfortunately, this ‘pay-to-pollute’ scheme has drawn a lot of criticism – especially from those who see it as a ‘carte blanche’ for developed countries to pollute as much as they like without trying to cut their emissions.
Robin Webster of environmental lobby group Friends of the Earth has said that offsetting “is a false solution. The focus needs to be on emissions reduction, both in the UK and abroad, rather than playing one country off another.”
4. The embarrassing PR gaffes
The 2012 London Olympics have had several awkward PR gaffes on the environmental front so far – including the revelation that metals in the medals came from the Rio Tinto mine, which has caused life-threatening air and water pollution with mining endeavors around the globe. It has also been accused of mistreating workers and driving pay below a living-wage.
The alleged carbon neutral Olympic flame has also received criticism after being flown from Athens to the UK in a gold-painted private jet known as The Firefly.
5. Transportation chaos
Of course, before the Olympics can take place, everyone has to get there. This will mean thousands of people flying to London and, as a result, increased global fight emissions. In fact, the estimated total emissions that will be released into the atmosphere from spectators traveling to the Games are estimated to be seven hundred thousand tons – the equivalent of 143,173 return flights from New York to London. How are these emissions being countered? That’s right, more carbon offsetting.
Meanwhile, in London itself, the cars needed to get athletes and dignitaries to specific events are expected to greatly increase traffic congestion – Londoners have been told to ‘stay off the roads’ for at least a month!
6. The aftermath
In the aftermath of the Sydney, Athens and Beijing Olympics, the countries’ environmental records varied greatly. For the UK, 2012 will be the final year of Britain’s first carbon budget, which commits the UK to legally binding emissions cuts, so if London’s fails to stage a low-carbon Olympics, this would be highly embarrassing.
To quote Shaun McCarthy, chair of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012: “It’s an important year for the environment so London has a real opportunity to show the world what Britain is capable of achieving. Our recommendations are a matter of urgency now, because time is short. It would be a travesty if we couldn’t meet our 2012 goals.”
Yes it would Shaun. Yes, it would.
Images: p_a_h, megoizzy, Mike Knell, KhE 龙, Tamsin Slater