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Can the Winter Olympics withstand the climate crisis?

Can the Winter Olympics withstand the climate crisis?

Bare mountainsides contrast with snow runs

The downhill skiing and snowboarding portions of the Winter Olympic Games begin on February 4 at mountains near Beijing that traditionally have very little snow a problem that also beset the 2014 games in subtropical Sochi in Russia.

The ski events will be held on the snowy mountainsides of Yanqing, Zhangjiakou.

The cannons used to produce the snow are not only energy-intensive, but are fed with water from over 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) away, notes Carmen de Jong, professor of hydrology at the University of Strasbourg who has researched environmental impacts of the Beijing games.

De Jong doesn’t just call this year’s Winter Olympics “the worst ever.” She too describes the heavy erosion caused by tree-felling to create ski runs in nature reserves, despite a large Tree replanting effort; and the fact that villages and infrastructure such as roads and parking lots were mostly “constructed from scratch” using near 10 million tonnes of CO2, a “conservative estimate,” she says.

Beijing Organizing Committee (BOC), have promised aLow carbon eventRenewable energy is the best source of energy. However, de Jong states that there is a strong reliance to carbon offsets in order to equalize the emissions ledger.

Meanwhile, the “energy-intensive” pumping of water uphill to make snow in the arid region has not been included in the climate neutrality calculations, she says.

Ultimately, the “problem is that the climate in Beijing is not appropriate for snow-making,” according to de Jong. The high winds that blow up dust in the dry region, and which settles on the snow, means that double the artificial snow is required than would be produced in European Alps.

“So the snow guns are running longer than usual [and]They have to use a lot of water than is used on average in Alps,” stated de Jong.

This problem is becoming more severe as the games are moved to dry, water-, and snow-scarce Asian locales, with most potential European and North American venues. No more biddingDue to environmental and cost implications, the games will not be permitted.

Global heating threatens future of winter games

Beijing’s dependence upon artificial snow is not something new. 80 and 90%respective machine-made snow cover. At the 2010 Vancouver winter Olympics, helicopters were used to transport snow from high elevations because it was too warm to make fake.

Even if the snow-making equipment are to be powered by renewable energy. new study shows that failure to dramatically reduce global greenhouse gas emissions may mean only one of the 21 previous Winter Olympics host cities can provide “fair and safe conditions” for the games by 2100.

Bare mountainsides contrast with snow runs

Snow runs made entirely by machines for the Beijing ski events contrast with barren mountainsides

If the Paris Climate Agreement emission targets can be met, however, the number of climate-reliable cities increases to eight.

This study is unique because it combines climate modeling and responses from athletes about the safety of skiing in warmer environments. Even within 30 years, current heating trends mean the number of viable Winter Olympics locations will quickly diminish.

“If you go down the high-emission pathway, by mid century we are left four that are climate stable,” said Daniel Scott who is a professor of geography at the University of Waterloo. He was also the lead author of this study. Sapporo in Japan would be the only viable place by the end century.

Scott stated that Solchi did not make sense climatologically for the 2014 games. These games were already unclimate reliable. But global heating will make many once reliable venues untenable. Many ski athletes “have real concern about the future of their sport,” he said.

Future-proofing of games requires systemic changes

However, simply making Olympic venues more climate-friendly will not solve the problem.

“Focusing only on the games’ impacts and reducing the carbon burden of one mega-event per two years alone isn’t going slow global warming,” stated Sren Ronge, coordinator at Protect Our Winters Europe, an Austria-based climate advocacy group.

POW wants to see the International Olympic Committee, along with diverse winter sports stakeholders and enthusiasts, “come together to play a vital role in pushing governments to enact systemic changes to the way that we source, distribute, and consume energy,” said Ronge.

Infografik Schnee Olympische Winterspiele Beijing 2022 EN

US skier River RadamusHe is currently competing in Beijing as a Youth Olympic Games gold medalist and is outspoken about the effects of climate change on his sport. He has also donated funds to POW.

“As an collective we can start pushing the large manufacturers and corporates, and that’s how we really effectuate change,” said the 23 year-old. The International Ski Federation manages the events and the temperatures at races in Europe this season were 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 Celsius). Radamus said, “They couldn’t pull off a racing event because it was too warm in mid-winter.”

Ronge said to DW, “The science is more clear than we think.” “We need to reduce emissions immediately if we want to save winter sports and see future Olympic winter games.”

Felix Neureuther is a former world champion downhill skier and hails from Munich in south Germany. He has also spoken out about the environmental impact of winter sport, critiquing the practice of training at glaciers in the middle of summer; and the destruction of forests to create downhill trails.

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He stated, “The Olympic Games must be more sustainable or they will die out.” In October, while releasing a DocumentaryThe impact of global warming on the European Alps 

Stay local, but act globally

According to Daniel Scott, the International Olympic Committee and ski competition organizers need to localize training and schedule consecutive events in the same regions to minimize travel which for Neureuther, means to stop training on glaciers on the other side of the world.

Scott states that athletes who have dedicated their lives and careers to the sport “feel obliged to compete,” but they also see “contradictions” in the amount of carbon intensive travel they must do both to compete and train for 12 months.

A young man wearing gloves and a ski suit holds his head

River Radamus is just one of many young skiers that fear for the future.

River Radamus says that one benefit of the pandemic was that the US Olympic team had to stay home to train.

He said that it had made him more resourceful and less wasteful in his training process. He also mentioned that he has previously traveled to New Zealand or Chile in the past.[It’s] a small step, but you know a bunch of small steps can make a big difference,” he said of being more “climate frugal.”

But for Soren Ronge of POW, individual effort will not be enough without systemic climate mitigation.

He stated that “if no drastic measures are taken in order to reduce emissions and bring about a 1.52 degree Celsius climate scenario, not just the future of Winter Olympics but also the future of winter sport is at risk.”

Daniel Scott agrees that staying close to the Paris targets will be vital if the industry to survive. “All bets are off when we get into the realm of a plus 3 or 4 degree world.”

Sam Baker provides additional reporting
Edited by Tamsin Walker

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