Skip to content

🗣️ "Greenwashing at the Beijing Olympics"

The Carbon Copy

Photo by Christian Lue / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Stephen Lacey
Guest: Christian Shepherd | China Correspondent | The Washington Post
Category: 🗣️ Opinion

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[0:51] SL: “Days before [her] disqualifying fall, [US skier] Shiffrin raised concern about the conditions high winds, a very steep grade, and for the first time ever 100% artificial snow. When the cameras are zoomed in on the skiers, it looks like there's a lot of snow, but [...] in the mountains in the region around Beijing are barren. The ski courses are just strips of white against brown. And that's because the location of this year's Winter Games is more akin to a desert than a winter wonderland. […] Artificial snow […] is becoming more common at the Olympics as the planet warms, but it can bother athletes, the snow can be harder, icier, less forgiving, and environmental experts are bothered for other reasons.”

[2:22] SL: “Nearly 50 million gallons of water are being piped in to serve the Beijing Games, possibly setting reserves in this water stressed region back by hundreds of years. This year's Olympics were supposed to be China's chance to brand itself as an environmental champion on the world stage. But not everyone is buying it.”

[2:40] CS: “There's a lot of skepticism internationally, and groups that are observing China from afar, whether it's geologists looking at water use, or its environmental activists, who are considering the carbon footprint, a lot of them just think this can't quite be as good as it all sounds.”

[6:09] CS: “China says these will be the first ever carbon neutral […] Winter Games. […] There's a whole host of different efforts that are being made to try and bring that about in terms of electricity, or buying from renewables using this green exchange that Beijing has set up. […] They reused some of the venues from the Summer Olympics to try and reduce the footprint from construction. The transport, the buses, that we get moved around, and a lot of those are hydrogen. Again, these are things that are very much kind of the cutting edge of what China is trying to do for its overall economy. But the rest of the city around it and the rest of the country is a very different story.”

[8:23] CS: “The IOC doesn't have the tools in place to check up on whether or not the Olympics hosts are meeting their commitments. There haven't really been independent checks carried out in a sort of consistent way. […] And this is one of the big problems that you have around the idea of sustainability in the Olympics. So the people who are in favor of this idea that the Olympics can promote sustainability, they say, well look at it as a kind of a showcase. It's an exemplar of the best the country can do. And after that, it will help to promote this broader shift. But people on the other side say, it's still a mass sporting event, you start to do a lot of construction, there's going to be a huge carbon footprint and more often than not, it's a way to kind of spread the idea of being sustainable without actually making it happen in the long run. So it's the usual concern around greenwashing. And without any independent checks, we can't really say for sure, which of those two sides has it right?”

[10:11] CS: “You have this situation, where a lot of developed liberal democratic countries […] are less and less keen to host the Games. I think in particular the Winter Games, when it's already known that there are potentially significant impacts to Alpine regions, water stress. So when it came to these Winter Olympics, the last two countries running were Kazakhstan and China. Oslo pulled out, a number of countries at the last minute decided, we don't want to do this, we don't have public support. And so the IOC has a bit of a difficult balancing act that if they start pressuring countries to really hold true to their promises, then they might turn off the already dwindling number of host countries that are willing to put on these events. It's very difficult for the IOC to bring independent verification at a time when what they need is to stay on the good side of host countries.”

[13:52] SL: “Last year, a group of researchers took a look at the claims of event organizers. If everyone's talking about sustainability, are the games getting more sustainable? So they evaluated the Summer and Winter Games between 1992 and 2020. They looked at the environmental footprint of construction, the displacement of people, and the way infrastructure was reused after the games. What they found was surprising. The 2002 Salt Lake City Games earned the best score, Sochi in 2014, and Rio de Janeiro in 2016 were the two least sustainable. Overall sustainability across a few metrics has declined over time.

Rating: 💧💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify | Google
🕰️ 22 min | 🗓️ 02/02/2022
✅ Time saved: 20 min

Additional Links:
Article: “In parched Beijing, claims of a ‘green’ Olympics may not hold water” (Christian Shepherd, The Washington Post)