The Olympics represent the best of athleticism, training, dedication and competition. For those of us who enjoy sport, especially non-commercial, non-mainstream sport, the Olympics are riveting and exciting.
I have no problem acknowledging both these realities at the same time. One thing is certain: the Olympics are happening whether we like them or not. So just as last year's spectacle in Beijing was an opportunity to highlight China's horrific record of human rights, labour and environmental abuses, the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver are an opportunity to highlight climate change, and what we can do about it.
Treehugger did a "Greenwash" piece on the 2012 Olympic flame being carbon neutral. That's right, just the flame!* That seems largely symbolic, and I hope the London Games go further than that. But athletes calling for the entire Olympics to go carbon neutral strikes me as a really good thing.
More than 70 Canadian athletes have signed on to the idea through the David Suzuki Foundation.
Canadian snowboarder Justin Lamoureux is doing what he can to save winter.
The 32-year-old from Squamish, B.C., sold his gas-guzzling truck to buy a small car. He bought $400 worth of carbon offsets last year to compensate for the carbon-producing flights he took competing around the world.
Written on the nose of his snowboard are the words "Ride Carbon Neutral."
And Mr. Lamoureux was one of 74 Canadian athletes who co-signed a letter yesterday to the 2010 Olympic Games organizing committee in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., urging chief executive officer John Furlong to do more to make the Winter Games green.
"Being in the mountains most days of my life and seeing glaciers retreat over the years and things like that, I want it to stop," Mr. Lamoureux said in Calgary yesterday. "I want future generations to be able to play in the snow."
The athletes are asking the public to endorse their letter via the David Suzuki Foundation.
One of Mr. Furlong's stated goals is to stage a carbon-neutral Games, which means zero net greenhouse-gas emissions.
Carbon neutrality is achieved by reducing emissions and buying carbon offsets to compensate for emissions that can't be avoided. Carbon offsets are projects such as wind farms or solar-panel installations.
When the Vancouver Olympic Committee asked the David Suzuki Foundation to estimate the impact of the 2010 Olympics, which run from Feb. 12 through Feb. 28, the answer was about 328,000 tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions, or the equivalent of 65,600 cars on the road for one year.
Mr. Lamoureux, cross-country skiers Chandra Crawford and Sara Renner, Boston Bruins defenceman Andrew Ference, speedskater Kristina Groves, Paralympian Chantal Petitclerc and kayaker Adam van Koeverden are among the athletes who asked Mr. Furlong to adhere to his commitment of a carbon-neutral Games.
While VANOC has reduced its carbon footprint by making venues energy efficient, the athletes want to know how the organizing committee will address energy use at venues, local transportation and travel to the Olympics by athletes, officials and spectators.
"VANOC is on the right track in terms of its vision with respect to a carbon neutral goal," said Deborah Carlson, a climate-change specialist with the David Suzuki Foundation. "We need more specific, concrete action."
The athletes find the biggest part of their carbon footprint comes from air travel and the Olympic Games are no different.
The foundation estimates 69 per cent of the 2010 Olympics' carbon footprint will come from air travel by participants, officials, sponsors, employees, media and spectators. The foundation says VANOC could buy carbon credits for less than $5-million to compensate for those flights.
Read more about a carbon-neutral Olympics here (pdf), view the athletes' letter with full list of signatories here, and endorse a public letter here.
* Check out the funny exchange in comments there. "I'm going to boycott anything having to do with the 2012 Olympics in China." . . . "China is in 2008. London 2010. Check your facts." Don't you love when people say "check your facts" and then get it wrong?