And other greenwashing schemes

That’s it, it has been decided – these Olympics will go down in history as by far the greenest on record. This isn’t necessarily a reference to an unprecedented dedication to limiting the environmental impact of the games. It refers to grass, yet not to British Columbia’s notorious fondness for marijuana.

It is essential to differentiate between acute weather patterns, such as the already-infamous warm spell of Olympic proportions that Vancouver has been experiencing, and global climate patterns that continue to trend towards hotter summers and warmer winters. However, the amount of (admittedly thriving) grass and other assorted greenery in Vancouver raises a few questions.

I can’t stress strongly enough my resentment for those willing to link each unusually balmy winter or blistering hot summer’s day to climate change. Weather will vary day-by-day and year-to-year. However, these sweaty Olympics do pose an opportunity to ponder a few subjects of utmost importance. Where we draw the line between simply seasonally scorching weather and dangerous warming climate trends is a key question.

Even if Vancouver doesn’t receive a snowflake until next winter, yes, it’s always possible to argue that this winter is a blip on the weather radar. Now, at which point do we stop accepting that argument? Whether a decade of warm weather is acceptable evidence or not, depends on who you ask. Various global warming deniers will argue that it is not. Some will go as far as claiming evidence of global cooling.

While El Nino was a term virtually unknown amongst our grandparents’ generation, it seems to now be a nearly bi-annual occurrence. Traditionally, El Nino conditions were seen once every five years. In the last two decade its perspiring head popped up nearly four times every ten years. Publications in various scientific journals have linked the increase in El Nino occurrences to global warming, while others refuse to rule out the possibility (Science 2000, 2006 and Geophysical Research Letters 1999).

We must also ask ourselves continually, now that mega-marketers and corporations have realized the land mine that ‘environmentally responsible’ products are, to what extent are each product, each business, and yes, each Olympic games sustainable.

The David Suzuki Foundation issued the Vancouver Olympics a bronze medal for VANOC’s environmental efforts. This may have been a little enthusiastic, and the Foundation received criticism for various reasons – for both being too lenient on the games’ massive carbon footprint, and for linking the grassy slopes of Cyprus to climate change. The collective impact of thousands of attendees flights, trucking snow in from Manning Park, and the overall energy requirements of entertaining such a large influx of people could not possibly be off-set by a few hydrogen-fuelled buses and encouraging the masses to take public transit. These are among the examples of ‘green’ initiatives that VANOC seems to have adopted more for optics sake than the environment.

However, VANOC has not been the most blatant example of greenwashing in Vancouver these past two weeks.

Coca-Cola unleashed its much-hyped PlantBottle for its water and sparkling beverages during the games, made from 30% ultra-refined Brazilian sugar cane. When compared to the baseline of a completely petroleum-derived plastic bottle, perhaps this is an improvement. However, compared to tap water, these bottles become 30% unnecessarily potentially cleared Amazonian rainforest and water-intensive sugar cane, and 70% unnecessarily consumed petroleum. Of course, that doesn’t even begin to address the environmental costs of shipping the sugar-cane products from Brazil, and then the finished product from a bottling facility to Vancouver. In a world where even such seemingly enviro-proof materials such as bamboo textiles have been recently questioned for requiring such chemicals as caustic soda, carbon disulfide and diluted sulfuric acid in the production process, it pays, environmentally, to do your homework.

Hopefully, as individuals and consumers, that means that we won’t end up paying too much in the future, or as suckers to a green marketing campaign, be it for t-shirts, water bottles or a really big sporting event.

// Jens Ourom
environmental columnist

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com