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The tale of the “carbon-neutral” Olympics

The Vancouver Organizing Committee (Vanoc) wants the Winter Olympics to be the first carbon-neutral Games, according to a Globe and…

By Doerthe Keilholz , in Blogs Olympics 2010 , on January 28, 2008

The Vancouver Organizing Committee (Vanoc) wants the Winter Olympics to be the first carbon-neutral Games, according to a Globe and Mail article published on Friday, January 25.

That leaves one with the question, how an event that will produce 328,458 tonnes of carbon emission can be “carbon-neutral” in the end? Just for to get an impression of the scale, we are talking about: It would take 328,458 trees, and 40 long years to absorb this amount of carbon.

With 68.9 percent, air travel is the single largest contributor of emissions from the 2010 Olympics, followed by local transportation with 9.8 per cent. Those emissions can hardly be reduced.

A report released by the David Suzuki Foundation, commissioned and funded by Vanoc, suggests a solution of this paradox.

 The David Suzuki Foundation released a report yesterday outlining recommendations worth about $5 million to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions associated with the Games. (….)It [the report] recommends measuring and reducing carbon emissions and purchasing carbon offsets that are verifiable by a third party.

For those who are not familiar with the term “carbon offset”, this is how it works: Instead of reducing your carbon emissions, you can “cancel” your own greenhouse gases by paying for projects that reduce the gases elsewhere like reforestation programs or non-polluting energy companies.

However, not everybody is as enthusiastic as Vanoc and the Suzuki Foundation about carbon offsets.

While questioning the overall idea that all (environmental) sins are forgiven by purchasing emission reduction indulgences… pardon … credits, doubts remain if the money is really put into carbon reducing projects in the end. Offset companies often take a large percentage of the offset fee for themselves or projects are never realized. For instance, the G8 members promised to offset all carbon emissions from meetings and travel in 2005 by providing homes in Cape Town, South Africa, with solar panels and long-life bulbs. No sign of it!

Chris Shaw, spokesperson of 2010 Watch, called the Foundation’s carbon-reduction recommendations a “greenwash”. He fears that the report will give “the false illusion that the Games are green”.

To declare the 2010 Olympics a “carbon-neutral” or even a green event is as misleading as designating diet soft drinks and low-fat crisps as a healthy food alternative. Carbon offsets might compensate air pollution but can by no means “neutralize” it. Neutral means by definition “not causing or reflecting a change in something” but today there is no doubt left that the release of thousands of tons of carbon into the atmosphere definitely causes change.
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