The IOC claims that the 2022 Olympics will be the greenest in history, despite the use of 100% artificial snow.
China has cleared more than 1,000 hectares of natural areas to make way for new facilities.
The environmental issue risks calling into question the legitimacy of the Winter Olympics in the long term, while global warming reduces the number of candidate cities.
In his inaugural speech to launch the 2022 Olympics at the 139th session of the International Olympic Committee on Thursday in Beijing, its president Thomas Bach could not help but tackle his FIFA counterpart Gianni Infantino. and its biennial World Cup project.
If the two main behemoths of world sport seem to disagree on how to manage their respective calendars, they agree on one point: that of organizing their competitions in politically, socially and ecologically questionable countries.
A football World Cup in Qatar under 40° in air-conditioned stadiums on one side, the Olympics in a region of China where the winters are dry and where there is hardly any snow on the other.
100% artificial snow, a first
On the two main sites where the outdoor events will take place, in Zangjiakou and Yanking, we are talking about 2 to 3 centimeters of snow per month to break everything. We confirm it, since our arrival on Monday, not a single snowflake on the horizon. Consequently, the snow on which the athletes will perform their exploits will be 100% artificial, a first in the history of the Olympics. However, it turns out that using fake snow is not without consequences on energy consumption and, ultimately, on the environment. However, the IOC assures us, hand on heart, these Games in Beijing will be "the greenest in history" or will not be. A rigorous speech at a time when global warming threatens our planet (and our species) in the short, even very short term.
To back up its promises, it released a 130-page sustainability report in which organizers pride themselves on “reducing and offsetting carbon emissions, protecting local ecosystems and delivering long-term benefits to local communities and economies.” .
By promoting the construction of huge fields of wind turbines and solar panels or the use of vehicles transporting athletes, journalists and volunteers running on electricity or hydrogen, China ensures that the supply of Games will only be of renewable origin.
So much for the official version for the general public.
As often, when you scratch the first coat of varnish a little, you realize that the truth is a bit different.
“It's pure greenwashing!
A geographer specializing in hydrology at the University of Strasbourg, Carmen De Jong has been studying the environmental impacts of ski resorts around the world for many years.
In particular, she participated in conferences on flood problems in the Middle Kingdom.
It is therefore quite naturally that it took a very close interest in the construction of Olympic sites in the regions of Zangjiakou and Yanqing.
And his observation is clear: “These Olympic Games are, in my opinion, the least sustainable.
It is an ecological aberration”.
But before going into details, she first wants to say a word about this famous report that she scrutinized as soon as it was published last December.
"It's pure greenwashing," she chokes.
But that doesn't surprise me at all, it's a bit of a custom at the IOC.
His reports are usually very long, detailing meticulously, but the truth is that they ignore all the big issues.
Not a line, for example, on the millions of tonnes of Co2 emitted during the construction of hotels, roads, car parks and Olympic villages.
They list a hundred small compensation measures but it is worth nothing if, next to it, we destroy 1000 hectares of natural areas as was the case in Yanqing and Zangjiakou”.
To fully appreciate what has been done by China to host these "greenest Games in history", just take a look at the aerial shot of the Zangjiakou and Yanqing regions between 2017 and today.
It's very simple, five years back there was nothing.
Carmen De Jong: "They relocated entire villages, destroyed agricultural terraces that were the basis of life for local farmers and planted thousands of conifers to recreate a totally artificial alpine landscape".
And pretty ski slopes as far as the eye can see, therefore.
#Beijing2022: satellite images show the scale of construction
I did some "before and after" of the Olympic Games sites from satellite images.
Find it here: https://t.co/VbMCbin2eK pic.twitter.com/Nag0qFpDMq
— Valentin Tombez (@ValentinTombez) February 1, 2022
Water, more water, more water
“What is perverse, continues the geographer, is that it is not only the ski slopes that are snow-covered, but also all the roads nearby to allow vehicles such as snow groomers to access them. And also to make pretty images for televisions all over the world. We can therefore really speak of a huge waste of water”. In question, a ground so dry that the snow does not stick without help. How? 'Or' What ? Guess! By injecting water, more water and more water, to make it freeze. As we know, these regions are already suffering from a shortage of this vital resource. Before the Games, Beijing and its surroundings could already count on only 300 m3 of water per year and per inhabitant, less than a third of the supply recommended by UN standards.
As there is very little water available in the area, "it must therefore be transported and pumped from very far", says the hydrology specialist.
And she added: “I have just learned that for Yanqing, they bring water from 60 km (with 1,700 meters of altitude difference), whereas so far we were told that it came from 7 km.
But it costs a lot of electricity to pump water at altitude.
And the athletes, what do they think of this cannon snow and the choice of Beijing as the host city?
They are as often torn between their sincere ecological conscience and their attachment to the Winter Games.
Co-founder with her brother, sister and four of her friends of the Ecoglobe association, which tries to raise awareness of the need to reduce our carbon footprint on a daily basis, snowboarder Chloé Trespeuch feels particularly concerned by this issue.
“We have no say in the choice of the host city, but let's say that I am happy that the 2026 Games are taking place in a real country of snow, in natural conditions.
There, we chose to do them in Beijing, we have to adapt, we have no choice.
However, we want to change things with regard to the decisions of the IOC, which have a real impact on environmental issues.
Conversely, Martin Fourcade, in the middle of the campaign to join the IOC, has chosen not to bite the hand that will feed him (perhaps) tomorrow, at the risk of disappointing a good part of his fan club who loved in him his freedom of conscience and expression.
When will the Winter Olympics be held in Doha?
Ultimately, these actions will not be without consequences for the region's environment.
Because, if the organizers assure that this water does not contain chemicals and will penetrate naturally into the ground during the melting, the university affirms quite the opposite.
“The ground is now very impermeable on the ski slopes due to the repeated passages of snow groomers, this will cause severe erosion and landslides.
It will also change the quality of the water because there will be a lot more sediment in it.
Strangely (no), none of this is included in the report presented by the IOC and the Chinese Olympic Committee.
The risk (one more!) is that Thomas Bach and his organization will not use it as concrete arguments to push even further the wacky choices of the organizing cities.
At the end of January, Martin Müller, from the Institute of Geography and Sustainability at the University of Lausanne, admitted to AFP that we "were at a crossroads", in a context of scarcity of candidate cities for the organization of Winter Olympics.
“Do we accept the principle of only using artificial snow?
It's a political issue that would expand the number of candidate cities, but also a completely ethical and ecological issue,” he says.
His words resonate all the more today since a recent study has just shown that with the current progress of global warming, it will be increasingly difficult to find a city with enough snow and ice to accommodate future games.
Given the way things are progressing, continues Müller, “the next step is to say: we no longer need the mountains, we can build something artificial in Qatar, for example.
After all, many football stadiums are air-conditioned there.
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