FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

In a Time of Climate Change, Boston–and the World–Can’t Afford the Olympics

by

The U.S. Olympic Committee’s decision last month to make Boston its candidate for the right to host the 2024 Summer Games has generated much excitement within the city and its environs. It has also engendered considerable opposition.

Although Boston Mayor Martin Walsh has pledged to expend no public funds except for upgrading city infrastructure, critics have raised myriad concerns. These include worries about gentrification and displacement, qualms about billions of dollars in “homeland security” spending and the creation of what would effectively be a police state, and fears that efforts to ready Boston will divert energy and resources needed to address long-standing problems in the city.

Yet also vital to scrutinize are the considerable ecological costs the Games will inevitably incur, especially relating to climate change. These costs should lead Boston—and the many other cities around the world seeking to host the 2024 Summer Olympics—to abandon its candidacy. More broadly, these costs should bring an end to international sporting “mega-events.”

Invoking the ties between climate change and the Olympics happens almost exclusively in regards to the Winter Games. The question of adequate cold and snow has become a regular concern for the quadrennial gathering. As the title of a segment on Public Radio International’s “The World” asked in the run-up to the opening of the 2014 Games in Sochi, “Will climate change kill the winter Olympics?”

As is typical, the question ignores the damage done by the Olympics to the climate, but it is well founded nonetheless. Europe has seen half of its alpine glacial ice disappear since the mid-1800s, for example. In the more recent term, the U.S. ski industry has lost an
estimated $1 billion in revenues over the last decade due to low snowfall. An academic study predicts that the trend this embodies will lead half of the 103 ski resorts in the U.S. Northeast to close in the next 30 years.

As for what such developments mean for the Winter Olympics, a study released last January by scientists from Canada’s University of Waterloo looked at the 19 host cities over the last 100 years. Combining climate data with a range of projections, the study found that only 10-11 of the cities would be “climactically reliable” by mid-century to host the Games; that number shrinks to as low as six by 2080.

On this basis, the Waterloo team calls for “striving to host the Olympic Winter Games in harmony with nature” and champions “carbon neutral” gatherings. These are to be accomplished, they suggest, via energy conservation, renewable energy sources, and highly dubious carbon offset credits.

Boston’s organizers will most likely pursue a similar path and promise “green” Games—today’s standard pledge for athletic mega-events with huge environmental footprints. FIFA, for example, vowed that the 2014 World Cup in Brazil would be a “sustainable event”— one which saw one million visitors from abroad and necessitated that Brazilian aviation regulators allow approximately 2,000 additional flight permits. The architects of London 2012 proclaimed it the greenest Olympics in history, a gathering that resulted in the equivalent of 3.3 million metric tons of CO2 (carbon dioxide).

To put such numbers in perspective, a roundtrip flight between New York and Rio de Janeiro generates a warming impact equivalent to 3.1 metric tons of carbon dioxide per passenger—an amount 50 percent larger than what an average denizen of Brazil produces for an entire year. As for the Summer Olympics in London, its carbon footprint exceeded that of Zambia, a country of more than 14 million inhabitants, for all of 2012.

One might contend that in a world which produced 36 billion tons of carbon emissions in 2013, the impact of a sporting event, even one the magnitude of an Olympic Games, is too small to be of concern. However, as Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the United Kingdom’s Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research states, such thinking can serve as an excuse for inaction. “Divide the world into a sufficient number of small parts,” he writes—say, California, Beijing, or London—and everything fits into the “classification of ‘miniscule’, i.e. so small as to be irrelevant.”

Like the Olympic Games, Boston is a small part of a much larger world. It is also, like countless other places, vulnerable to the ravages of a warming planet. As the city’s official website states, climate-change-induced “sea-level rise, heat waves, and increases in storm intensity or frequency, pose major risks to Boston.” Indeed, climate scientists project that sea levels in the Boston area could rise by as much as 7.5 feet by the end of the century.

NASA’s Jan. 16 verdict that 2014 was the hottest tear on record and publication the previous day of scientific research that finds that humans are “eating away at our own life support systems” serve as dire reminders of the need for radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. For these reasons and more, efforts to bring the 2024 Summer Games to Boston—or elsewhere—are a fool’s errand of Olympic proportions.

Joseph Nevins teaches geography at Vassar College. He is the author of Dying to Live: A Story of U.S. Immigration in an Age of Global Apartheid (City Lights Books, 2008) and Operation Gatekeeper and Beyond: The War on “Illegals” and the Remaking of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary (Routledge, 2010).  Along with Suren Moodliar, he is working on a book project entitled “A People’s Guide to Greater Boston.”

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
Osha Neumann
A White Guy Watches “The Black Panther”
Stephen Cooper
Rebel Talk with Nattali Rize: the Interview
David Yearsley
Market Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail