On the news and social media lately you’ve heard countless things going wrong with this year’s Winter Olympics at Sochi. Most of these things have to do with human rights – which in itself is a great reason to boycott the Olympics. So is Russia’s attempt to slaughter free-roaming dogs. They’ve known the Olympics were coming for a while, why this last-minute massacre? However this is an environmental blog, hence I want to focus on the overwhelming ecological damage these Olympics are costing the environment, despite Russia’s promise that they’d be green.
- Steamrolled Wetlands: Sochi used to be home to beautiful wetlands that were home to vulnerable birds and plants. It was a paradise for over 60 birds that used to overwinter here. Now, thanks to the Olympics, this sanctuary lies under 7ft of crushed gravel and has been paved over for the Olympic Park. Where are these birds going to go now? And what about all these plants? Wetlands provide a valuable service of long-term carbon sequestration. Now these are gone. Thanks, Olympics.
- Razed Forests: Not just the wetlands have suffered from the construction from the Sochi Olympics, but the entire mountain region has – 5,000 acres of pristine forest have been annihilated. The new railroad built to the remote region has disrupted migration and hibernation patterns of all animals. They have built a good portion of the Olympic Park in the National Park – displacing hundreds of trees and animals. What’s going to happen after the Olympics are gone? No one was rushing to go to Sochi before the Olympics. It was a quiet little village on the Black Sea, not a bustling city like previous locations. Odds are this will become a ghost town – at the cost of the loss of biodiversity.
- Toxic Dumps: The hasty building of this new Olympic City has another price – waste. Where is it going to go? In Russia there is surprisingly stringent dumping laws, but all of these are being ignored for the Olympics. Residents have been complaining about an illegal landfill that has polluted the air and contaminated their water – this was evident by a photo tweeted by a reporter in Sochi a couple days ago. The river that runs by Sochi used to be a picturesque, clean, white-water river. Now it runs brown, infected with chemicals, pollutants, and debris thanks to runoff by a wounded environment.
- Make it Snow: Let’s talk about the carbon footprint of trying to create snow in a coastal environment. You walk out of the airport in Sochi and you see palm trees, not snow or ski slopes. Temperature there is in the low 50s in the winter and in the 70s in the summer. Hmm…not quite the obvious place for WINTER Olympics, huh? There has long since been a concern that Sochi wouldn’t have enough snow for the winter sports. In fact they DON’T have enough snow. They have to CREATE snow for the winter sports. A good chunk of the budget for these Olympics have gone to create the snow. And if they don’t have enough snow to create with their snow 400 cannons, they’re falling back on snow they’ve been “stockpiling” in the valleys and canyons in the mountains.
- Blackfish, Revisited: However one of the most offensive and frivolous acts of these winter Olympics is the capture of wild orcas for the sole purpose of entertainment. It has been well documented that orcas are capable of higher emotions and thinking. To rip these animals away from their tight-knit family groups is devastating. To put them in a tank that is equivalent to putting a human in a closet and ask them to perform tricks is equally demoralizing. These animals were caught for the sole purpose to bring in money and people to the games. They will live a lifetime of depression and abuse. All in the name of entertainment.
This all really is only scraping the surface of the environmental impact of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games at Sochi. Russian officials refuse to allow reporters or environmental activists near dumping sites or construction zones – nor have they released any information on full environmental impact. Undoubtedly they have something to hide.
Tomorrow night the opening ceremonies at the Olympic Games start. Dancers will be stomping and twirling flags over the bones and mud of a marshland that had to sacrifice itself for the cause. People will chug in by railroad, built specifically for the occasion. As they come in, they will not see a pristine white river. They will not see brown bears happily roaming the mountains. For dinner people will not eat local salmon – they’ve all but disappeared now from the construction and pollutants. This is the price of the Olympics.