for National Geographic News
Organizers of the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, promise that their games will be "the greenest ever."
They have vowed to put together a "carbon neutral" eventmeaning it will have no net impact on climate changeby investing in forestry, energy efficiency, and other measures to offset carbon dioxide emissions from the event.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas blamed for trapping heat in the atmosphere and causing global warming.
"This is the first time an Olympic event will be able to offset all the carbon emissions produced during the event," said Ugo Pretato, the head of environmental programs for the Turin Games.
Environmentalists have generally applauded the green credentials of the Turin games. But they also warn of a larger environmental crisis looming in the Alps, the region in which this year's games are held.
As snow linesthe lowest edges of snowfieldsclimb higher due to global warming, many low-altitude ski resorts may risk going out of business.
Some experts say the ski industry itself is partly to blame.
"Ski-related tourism is responsible for heavy traffic on Alpine roads, for the growth of urban sprawl encroaching [on] valley floors and high plateaus, and for the waste of energy for construction work and artificial snow," said Sergio Savoia, director of WWF's European Alpine Program in Bellinzona, Switzerland.
The environmental impact of the Olympics has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, prompting the International Olympic Committee to publish a guide last year designed to help event organizers become "greener."
The Turin games are the first sporting event to be environmentally certified for measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions, minimize water use in snowmaking, and promote eco-friendly hotels, among other things.
"Environmental protection was considered a high priority since the very beginning of the games' organization," the Turin Games' Pretato said.
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