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How Sustainable are the London Olympics?

Afro-Eurasia: Assessing SustainabilityAn excerpt from the article on London in the upcoming Volume 9 of the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability:

The bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics was a close match between London and Paris, but London won with its promise to not only “put on the biggest sporting event in the world” but to “hold the world’s first truly sustainable Olympic and Paralympic Games, leaving a legacy far beyond the departure of the Olympic flame.” British Petroleum (BP) is the most prominent sponsor of the 2012 games. As the supplier of the fuel for the 5,000-vehicle fleet (such as limousines for Olympic officials) and the generators powering the event, BP is using the opportunity to test new biofuels, such as cellulosic fuels made from grasses, biobutanol (made by fermenting biomass), and diesel fuel derived from sugar. Through the BP Target Neutral program, BP also plans to offset the carbon footprint of official travel to, from, and around the games, as well as offering to offset those of visitors. In the days leading up to the games, the number of visitors signed up for this program was just above 200,000. This is still a small percentage, however, of the number of people projected to travel for the games.

Some groups, such as Counter Olympics Network and Official Protestors of the London 2012 Olympic Games, oppose the 2012 games for such reasons as the increased budget, BP’s sponsorship (there is widespread skepticism that the company is merely attempting to improve its image after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010), and the Olympics in general as being more about business and corporate gain at the expense of human rights, rather than the spirit of international unity that the Olympic Truce was originally crafted to promote. The Official Protestors provide a list of promises the 2012 games make to London that they are skeptical will be upheld, such as providing jobs for Londonders, providing more housing after the games are done, and even the claim that this will be the greenest games yet.

Doubts about London’s ability to host the games began back in 2002. Most London officials were against the idea of making the bid, concerned that the games would not be an economic benefit in the long run. Barcelona is one of the few examples where infrastructure built to support its 1992 Olympics had long-term benefits by revitalizing the city’s waterfront and improving the quality of life for residents. Some of the strongest reasons London pursued the bid were the hopes that the same would happen for run-down East London, and that the success of the 2002 Commonwealth Games (and the infrastructure such as the Docklands Lightrail to support it) would be repeated with the games, giving the UK minister Tessa Jowell the confidence to pursue an Olympics 2012 bid.

Despite these difficulties, the trend towards sustainability is rising; whether or not the efforts will make a long-term difference in the larger picture is debatable. The 2012 Olympics promise to deliver even greater contributions to sustainability than those made by Beijing when it was required to implement drastic changes in order to host the Olympics of 2008. (In addition to undertaking a massive tree-planting campaign, the Beijing government ordered polluting industries to cease activities two months before its games began, and “seeded the sky” with silver iodide in order to induce rainfall in the city, with the hopes of reducing remaining air pollution.) Time will tell what the legacy of these games will be, but this trend of increasingly sustainable Olympic Games could be a potential leading factor in prospective host cities’ hopes of winning future bids.

(c) Berkshire 2012



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