2007 — A
giant clock outside the Vancouver Art Gallery should remind passersby that
the Winter Olympics, to be held in Vancouver and Whistler Feb.12-28, 2010,
are coming closer every day. From Feb. 12, the clock will count
down the "days, hours, minutes and seconds" until the Games’ opening
| Construction of Olympic venues,
such as Whistler's bobsled and luge run, must take long-term environmental
effects into consideration.
Every city that bids to host the Olympics "has some storyline
about how unique they are," says Elvin Wyly, an associate professor
with the University of British Columbia's geography department.
He is involved with the Impact on Community Coalition, an independent
group that tries to get the public involved in planning the Games. Vancouver's
main storyline, he says, was sustainability.
Yet some 2010 environmental sustainability plans are already falling
short. Critics also say the massive construction required to mount an
Olympic-sized event can never be environmentally friendly.
Highway hits the brakes
One plan that has run into problems is the "Hydrogen Highway." Originally
billed as a chance to showcase hydrogen fuel-cell
technology, the plan
was to have fuel-cell vehicles provide public transportation to Games
sites. Canada's Ballard Power Systems and several government organizations
As time has passed, that plan has run up against reality, says David
Chernushenko, deputy leader of the federal Green Party who
advised the Vancouver Olympic committee back in the bid stage. "The
supply of hydrogen and the cars that would run it are not yet available," he
|David Chernushenko says the Sea-to-Sky Highway
could cause problems for organizers.
Representatives of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010
Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) were unavailable for comment.
The Sea-to-Sky Highway, the main road between Vancouver and Whistler,
could also give Games organizers environmental headaches. Protestors
have questioned Games-related highway expansion plans that eat away
at rare ecosystems.
Also, mudslides make sections of the route quite dangerous. One blocked
the route for hours in early February.
Setting up water ferries to bypass dangerous sections and connecting
the ferries to public transit could help, Chernushenko says. However,
that would likely require environmental assessments to consider potential
problems, which means the ferry plan's future is uncertain. "That's
still up in the air," Chernushenko says.
Constructing a greener Games
The venues where Olympians will skate, ski, curl is one area
where the organizing committee hopes to help the environment. It plans
to construct all the new buildings, such as the curling centre, with
energy-efficient materials and systems that meet the LEED
Silver sustainability standard.
It's a notable effort, but almost common sense for large buildings
"LEED Silver almost gets a shrug," says Chernushenko. "Who
wouldn't build to that standard, with today's energy prices?"
All the new construction for the Olympics also consumes large amounts
of both resources and land. That means trying to have a green Olympics
is a question of "developing these rather grandiose schemes and
doing it in a relatively intelligent, forward-thinking fashion," says
Brad Kasselman, president of the Association of Whistler Area Residents
for the Environment.
|'They're very good at trying to
do the right thing, and they deserve a lot of credit for that.'
The committee is definitely choosing green options, he says. "They’re
very good at trying to do the right thing, and they deserve a lot of
credit for that."
Yet why does Whistler need a bobsled and luge run, Kasselman asks?
Calgary’s, built for the 1988 Olympics, is a short plane ride
away. After the Olympics, the Whistler track will be an unnecessary
extra, he says.
"Until they really get serious about…reexamining the business
model," he says, any green Olympic plans are "not going to
mean all that much."
Having a lasting impact
Chernushenko says the committee has been trying to create a lasting
legacy for the region, one that goes beyond large sports facilities.
One example is the Vancouver athletes' village, to be built on downtown
industrial land cleaned up for the Games. Post-Games, about one fifth
of the homes will be sold as subsidized housing – down from a
planned one-third due to reduced government funding, says Wyly, the
British Columbia geography professor.
There has not been enough consultation on Olympic legacies, Wyly says. "There’s
not a broad-based, public discussion of what does this particular event
Dr. Rob VanWynsberghe, an assistant professor in the university's School
of Human Kinetics and Department of Educational Studies, heads the Coalition
that includes Wyly.
The organizing committee is not doing all it can to turn its sustainable
plans into reality, VanWynsberghe says. "I don’t think they’re
pushing themselves," he says. "We’ve got to push them."
"You cannot wait until the weekend before," he says. "The
legacies have to be hammered out now."