Turin Aims to Host Greener Games

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"We committed ourselves to designing and building venues and infrastructure with [minimal] impact on the environment and landscape."

The organizers calculate that the games, which run from today to February 26, will generate the equivalent of just over 110,000 tons (100,000 metric tons) of carbon dioxide.

The main sources of emissions will come from transportation and the operation of the Olympic venues.

To offset these emissions, organizers are investing in a variety of renewable-energy projects not just in Italy but also in such far-flung places as Mexico and Eritrea.

The offset involves a system of carbon credits, tradable units of "saved" carbon emissions that allow groups, companies, or countries to "pay for" greenhouse-gas emissions they make elsewhere.

"We expect [to generate] about 300,000 tons [272,000 metric tons] of carbon credits, allowing us to offset also the emissions produced by spectators," said Pretato.

But Theodore Oben of the United Nations Environment Program in Nairobi, Kenya, says carbon emissions are just one way of looking at the environmental impact of an event.

There is also the issue of waste generation and the use of water and energy prior to the games.

"The ecological footprints are extensive," Oben said.

Tracks and Jumps

Environmentalists have been generally positive about the green credentials of the Turin Games.

"I think these games show that if the political will is there, you can have events of this magnitude without inflicting insufferable damage on the environment," WWF's Savoia said.

"Still there will always be an impact," he added.

One advantage of the Turin Games is the city itself, he notes.

"For once the Games were not set in some far-off mountain resort or medium-scale Alpine town," Savoia said.

"Turin is a real city, and this has made it easier to accommodate people and infrastructure without impacting pristine areas or fragile Alpine habitats."

But he is critical of the decision to build new bobsled tracks and a ski jump for the event because they will be of little use after the games.

"Did we really need a ski jump facility in Piedmont, Italy, when a seldom-used one is lying idle in Albertville, [France] just across the Alps?" Savoia said.

Higher Ground

Keeping the Olympics green may have little impact on the ongoing environmental problems facing the Alps, however.

Global warming is expected to become stronger in the Northern Hemisphere during the winter months, making mountain-based winter tourism particularly vulnerable.

Scientists estimate that half of the glacier ice in the Alps has disappeared in the past century. (Read an excerpt of "Meltdown: The Alps Under Pressure")

Scientists also say the levels of snow falling in lower-lying mountain areas will become increasingly unpredictable over the coming decades.

"Low-altitude ski resorts will simply go out of business, and skiers will have to go higher and higher to find snow," Savoia said.

He believes ski-resort operators have a responsibility to reduce carbon dioxide and other emissions linked with global warming.

"I think they're slowly waking up to the fact that global warming has serious local consequences, not only in environmental terms but also in cold hard cash," he said.

"In the future the ski industry could become a de facto ally in the struggle to fight climate change globally and in adapting to its consequences locally."

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