The 2022 Winter Olympics and the environment

photo of the Olympic Rings
Peter Burgess/Creative Commons

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The Olympics are a time of celebration and friendship. The Olympic opening ceremonies are always a sight to see, and the games are the perfect time to gather together with friends and family to root on our country’s athletes in stunning displays of athleticism. However, the accomplishments of the athletes and the grandeur of the Olympic stage often hide an underbelly of undesirable side effects. In every case since 1960, the Olympics have run over budget at an average of 172%, and the expensive infrastructure that was built inevitably falls into disuse. In many cases, residents of hosting Olympic cities are often displaced to make way for the urban upheaval that is necessary to support the logistical nightmare that is the Olympics. And, most importantly, the Olympic Games are an unsustainable practice that wreaks havoc on the host city.


For the 2022 Winter Olympics, China has made an effort to create a sustainable venue. China and the International Olympic Committee consider this Winter Olympics the “greenest and cleanest ever.” The Beijing Organizing Committee cites various claims such as 100% green energy and sustainable construction processes that allow their operation to be the first carbon-neutral Olympics. However, the absence of third-party monitoring, lack of clear objectives and threat of sanctions allow China to be the arbiter of environmental success. Despite the claims touted by China, many experts still feel that China’s efforts to host a sustainable Winter Olympics are inadequate.


For one, Beijing is a particularly inadequate location for a Winter Olympics as a geographical location which does not receive adequate precipitation to naturally support the Winter Games. As a result, Beijing has resorted to the resource-intensive artificial snowmaking process to compensate for the lack of natural snow. According to Carmen de Jong from the University of Strasbourg, the snowmaking process at the Beijing Olympics will require up to 500,000,000 gallons of water. This incredible demand for water places even greater stress on an area that suffers from water scarcity as Beijing is one of the most water-scarce cities in the world.


Although each passing Olympic event touts its commitment to sustainability, the ever-growing ambition of the events coupled with the ever-growing effects of climate change outcompete any sustainability efforts. In fact, according to a study covering the Olympics from 1992 to 2020, the Olympics are becoming less sustainable despite the various claims touted by host countries such as China. The study suggests that three actions would be necessary to making the Olympics more sustainable: reducing the size, rotating the Olympics among the same cities and enforcing third-party sustainability standards.


While the Olympics present a chance at increasing prestige and international exposure, the hosting country must similarly view the Olympics as a commitment to sustainability. As the effects of climate change increase, the world will be forced to grapple with hosting the Olympics and other similar mega-events. 

Contact Adrian Fontao at [email protected].