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
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail