FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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

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
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail