GOOD

Vancouver 2010: The Most Enviromentally Friendly Olympics Yet?

Environmental friendliness has been a major concept at recent Olympic Games. Both Salt Lake City, in 2002, and Torino, in 2006, claimed that their...


Environmental friendliness has been a major concept at recent Olympic Games. Both Salt Lake City, in 2002, and Torino, in 2006, claimed that their events were carbon neutral. Beijing was, temporarily at least, able to clean up its almost unbreathable air in 2008. Tokyo used its bid for the 2016 Summer Games to offer a green Games that utilized solar power, pollution controls and a minimal amount of new construction. They, of course, lost out to Rio de Janeiro.London, meanwhile, promises to eclipse all other previous Olympic eco-efforts in 2012 with construction projects using sustainable timber, nature preserves near the Olympic Village and the reuse of 80 percent of the materials from demolished buildings. Take into account plans for renewable energy (which will supposedly provide 20 percent of the power for the Olympic Village and Olympic Park) and practices aimed at reducing carbon emissions by 50 percent and it is hard to argue with the self-awarded "greenest ever" label.But London's hosting duties are still more than two years away. Critics have already been dissecting the ambitious promises for several years.Vancouver experienced similar controversy (as has every city to host the Olympics in recent memory) but has pushed through some impressively green measures as it prepares for the opening ceremony in February. Some environmentalists laud Vancouver's efforts while others claim that they are merely cosmetic and more should have been done. Sustainable buildingsDespite scandals and budget troubles, Vancouver's new structures are ready for the Games. The Olympic Village in the city's False Creek area will be seeking LEED gold certification (second highest level of certification) for all of its buildings, except a community center, which will qualify for the highest platinum rating. The village is the first of a three-phase plan to create a new, sustainable neighborhood in an area that was formerly an industrial zone.The village's buildings will be fitted with solar panels and "green-roofs" that will use a rainwater collection system to become self-sustaining. In-slab hydronic heating systems have been installed in the building's floors. This system relies on high-efficiency boilers to heat water, which is then circulated under the floor to create a warming effect. Energy efficiency is part of the attraction of this type of heating, but it carries other benefits as well. Since fans are not used to blow warmed air, there are fewer particles (such as dust) circulating through the rooms.Half of the athletes will stay in a second village in the Whistler area. The Whistler Olympic Village will have many of the same features as its False Creek peer. Both villages will be converted into housing complexes once the Games are complete. According to the Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC), all Olympic venues have undergone a sustainability assessment. Many newly constructed buildings used locally sourced wood from trees that were destroyed by storms. The Richmond Oval, where the speed skating competitions will take place, was constructed using wood from trees that had been destroyed by a beetle infestation. Green wheelsThe hydrogen-powered Chevy Equinox will be the official automobile of Vancouver 2010. With the use of 20 hydrogen-powered buses as part of the Olympic transportation scheme (see below), hydrogen will sit squarely in the limelight during the Games. Flex-fuel vehicles, hybrids and traditional, fuel efficient cars will be part of the official fleet, which will number more than 4,500. Two Chevy Volts are also slated to be part of the show. Of course, this is a huge promotional opportunity for Chevrolet, but the choice of such an aggressively green car by VANOC fits with Vancouver's desired green image and British Columbia's planned development of a better infrastructure for hydrogen power. Environmental give and takeThe expansion of the so-called Sea-to-Sky Highway that connects Vancouver with Whistler, where many of the Olympic alpine events will be held, caused concern among some environmentalists. The project threatened to alter fragile wetland and forest eco-systems along the route. Though the construction work was arguably destructive, it was a necessary upgrade, according to VANOC. They note that the newly revamped road will be used by a fleet of 20 hydrogen-powered buses (worth $89 million in total) and will be part of Vancouver's new hydrogen infrastructure.Another controversy arose when critics took a closer look at the Olympic's carbon offset program. Vancouver has made good on its promise to offset the carbon that it produced in preparing for the Games (110,000 tons). However, over half of the total carbon count attributed to the Olympics will come from the hundreds of thousands of people flying from all over the world to Vancouver. VANOC will not account for these emissions with its investments, but will rely on visitors and competing countries to voluntarily invest in a fund. The fund is overseen by Offseters.ca. If enough people do not volunteer (they need to account for at least 190,00 tons), Vancouver's goal of offsetting 300,000 tons of carbon may be in jeopardy. The final result of the carbon neutral efforts will probably not be known until after the Games are completed and all the carbon credits have been counted.But it's already a green city…Vancouver has a lot in common with Portland, Ore. Both were well-planned and are known for their user-friendliness. Vancouver's central area is compact and pedestrian-friendly. The public transportation system makes it easy to get around the city without having to rely on a car, and the surrounding natural areas have not been completely eaten away by urban sprawl.The proof of Vancouver's commitment to the environment may lie in the small steps that are being taken to lessen the impact of the Games. Simple measures like encouraging public transit use by offering free unlimited rides to Olympic ticket holders on the day of their event may go un-noticed by environmentalists impressed with hydrogen and LEED certification. But these "little things" show that it is not all about PR. Maybe there is some substance to VANOC's green Olympic claims after all.
Josh Lew covers travel stories for the Mother Nature Network.
Related Articles on Mother Nature Network:
Photo courtesy of ZUMA Press
Articles
Pixabay

Two years after its opening in 1914, the Baltimore Museum of Art acquired a painting by Sarah Miriam Peale — its first work by a female artist. More than a century later, one might assume that the museum would have a fairly equal mix of male and female artists, right? But as of today, only 4% of the 95,000 pieces in the museum's permanent collection were created by women.

The museum is determined to narrow that gap, and they're taking a drastic step to do so.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Alan Levine / Flickr

The World Health Organization is hoping to drive down the cost of insulin by encouraging more generic drug makers to enter the market.

The organization hopes that by increasing competition for insulin, drug manufacturers will be forced to lower their prices.

Currently, only three companies dominate the world insulin market, Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi. Over the past three decades they've worked to drastically increase the price of the drug, leading to an insulin availability crisis in some places.

In the United States, the price of insulin has increased from $35 a vial to $275 over the past two decades.

Keep Reading Show less
Health

Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Since the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, whale populations have been steadily recovering. However, whales in the wild still face other dangers. In the summer of 2018, four Russian companies that supply aquariums with marine animals captured almost 100 beluga whales and killer whales (aka orcas). After a public outcry, those whales are swimming free as the last of the captive whales have been released, the first time this many captured whales have been released back into the wild.

In late 2018 and early 2019, a drone captured footage of 11 orcas and 87 beluga whales crammed into holding pens in the Srednyaya Bay. The so-called "whale jail" made headlines, and authorities began to investigate their potentially illegal capture.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet