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Feb 172010

By Harriet Blake
Green Right Now

The David Suzuki Foundation, a well-regarded Canadian environmental organization, has awarded the Vancouver Olympic Games a “bronze” award for environmental progress.

Canadian skier Kelly Vanderbeek, speed skater Ingrid Liepa and David Suzuki at the presentation of a bronze medal to the Vancouver Olympic organizers.

Canadian skier Kelly Vanderbeek, speed skater Ingrid Liepa and David Suzuki at the presentation of a bronze medal to the Vancouver Olympic organizers.

Despite the hype that these are the greenest Olympics ever – and they may be – the  Davud Suzuki Foundation believes the Vancouver Games could have done more.

In its climate scorecard, the foundation applauded the Vancouver Olympics for doing several things right, such as setting clear goals on energy efficiency and renewable energy; being transparent to promote accountability; making improvements over previous Olympics in measuring climate impact; leaving a legacy of energy-efficient arenas and buildings; using primarily clean energy; and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent.

Areas that need improvement, according to the foundation, include local transportation and shipping that could have had more lasting reductions in their emissions, and carbon offsets, which should have been higher (118,000 tons were offset but this represents less than half of all emissions).

In addition, Vancouver organizers should have been more vigilant in engaging the public and inspiring people with solutions to climate change. The report notes that despite the opportunity to reach out to billions, Vancouver’s Olympics are having little impact in providing much-needed inspiration to fix global warming.

“Climate change is a defining issue of our time, and the winter Olympics are an opportunity to show leadership by reaching and inspiring billions of fans and spectators with solutions to global warming,” noted the foundation’s Paul Lingl. “Despite some missed opportunities, the positive steps taken by the 2010 Olympics demonstrate that climate solutions are doable, affordable and can have a lasting legacy.”

Many of the athletes agree. Former Olympic speed skater Ingrid Liepa said, “The winter Olympics depend on snow and ice… It’s encouraging to see that the Vancouver Olympics are making a contribution, and I hope that future Olympic Games will raise the bar even higher for the sake of our winter sports culture – and our planet.”

Canadian Alpine Ski Team member Kelly VanderBeek added, “As a winter Olympian I see global warming firsthand: melting glaciers, changing snow patterns and the closing of lower-elevation hills. Winter sports are threatened by global warming and Canadian Olympic athletes are stepping forward and calling for action.”

Both athletes are members of Play It Cool, which is a collaboration between the Suzuki Foundation and the Climate Project of Canada. Liepa and VanderBeek have joined forces with more than 70 Canadian athletes who have called upon the Vancouver Olympics to address the games’ climate impact.

Canadian skier Jennifer Heil, who just took silver in the 2010 women’s moguls competition, also is a member of Play It Cool.  “ I have now traveled for 8 years on the World Cup Ski Circuit and I have witnessed first hand extreme recession of glaciers in Europe and at home in Canada where I train during the summer months.” she says on the website. “I can’t imagine a winter in Canada without skiing, the sport I love. But scientists say that this could be a reality if we don’t take action today.”

The connections are clear. “The fate of winter sports, and the potential to host winter Olympics in the future,” says Foundation founder David Suzuki, “depend on choices we make today to address climate change.”

Earlier the foundation had prepared a discussion paper for the Vancouver Olympic organizers, to show how the games could reduce their carbon imprint, how the Olympic committee could buy offsets for air travel and other carbon-emitting activities, and why the winter sports event should the public on climate change.

It noted that ski venues are already being affected by climate change, with mountain glaciers are shrinking three times faster than in the 1980s and Switzerland’s glaciers losing one-fifth of their surface in the last 15 years.

“It is expected that snow-making costs will increase considerably as temperatures warm and even artificial snow will not be viable if temperatures rise above a certain threshold.”

For more information on how climate change threatens winter sports see Suzuki’s report On Thin Ice, Winter Sports and Climate Change.

See also Green Right Now’s Global warming threatens ski industry with meltdown.

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