By Arya Bari
As always, the Winter Olympics are a series of riveting stunts, magnificent wins and theatrical drama. This year is no exception. But it seems that the Olympics is more than it presents, or that’s what fans have noticed after industrial ruins were spotted in the background of the Big Air event.
Built at the foot of an abandoned steel mill and almost entirely dependent on artificial snow, the Beijing 2022 Big Air venue exposes the concealed yet immensely harmful effects of hosting the Olympic games.
The Capital Steel Campus, otherwise known as Shougang, was one of China’s largest manufacturing hubs. The steel mill was a source of national pride until it was decommissioned and relocated in 2005.
But, while it was recognized for the steel alloy it produced and its economic benefit, the mill itself caused great amounts of pollution. It filled Shougang, the city in which it was located, to the brim with smog. Annually emitting 18,000 tons of pollutants into the air, it emanated some of the worst air quality in the world.
As Eileen Gu, the gold medal winner of the women's skiing Big Air event, hauled herself off the ski jump, her award winning performance was accompanied by a unique backdrop: huge furnaces and cooling towers that once belonged to Shougang’s steel mill.
“The ‘Big Air’ showcases a perfect combination of urban industrial heritage and Olympic culture,” said Li Sen, an official of the Beijing 2022 Olympics Organization Committee. “The venue is an example of sustainable development.”
Viewers of the Olympics, however, are not convinced that the venue is an example of sustainable development, considering the new infrastructure that needed to be built, the artificial snow that needed to be created, and the once-polluted air that needed clearing.
It is said that 350 snow machines were required to make the event possible, costing nearly $28,000-$35,000 each, and using about 730,000m³ of surface water in total (300 Olympic swimming pools).
Furthermore, looking at the lack of snowfall in Beijing itself, the reason the Winter Olympics were held in the city is strange. Why would a snow-dependent event be hosted in a city with barely any annual snowfall?
Cost and politics.
Many cities and regions that fit the traditional winter venue withdrew due to financial and political reasons. The latter move is attributed to the fact that hosting the Olympics is unsustainable for both the host country and the environment. Far too often, brand new infrastructure is built to accommodate the Olympic Games only to be neglected once the event has finished.
Rio de Janeiro’s 2016 Olympic Park is one of the many derelict venues. Six months after the Olympic Games had finished, the park had already been abandoned. The numerous venues and constant infrastructure lay ransacked and useless.
Due to the forsaken state of Rio’s Olympic Park, mosquitoes and other insects that carried a myriad of viruses had begun to nest. A Brazilian judge was obligated to order a closing of the park to the public; there was no longer a use for it.
The construction of venues, unsustainable building practices and toxic waste disposal for the Olympics are contributing to the climate change problem. For this reason, many developed democracies are withdrawing from the Olympics since there is no longer an appeal.
Is the glory worth the global warming?
The disdainful approach to hosting the games, however, does not stem uniquely from global warming. Costing a large sum of money, citizens of countries hosting the Olympics often bear the burden of rippling financial issues.
Frequently, when a country loses money, taxes are raised. Alongside this, citizens are forced to give up certain resources or disperse themselves at the convenience of the Olympics.
In the 2008 Summer Olympics in China, millions of farmers were forced to convert 6,800 hectares of rice paddies into cornfields against their will to provide water for the games. That same year, many citizens were evicted and uprooted from their homes because the country wanted to make room for Olympic venues and hide overpopulation from global broadcasts.
That being said, the concept of the Olympics is a double-edge sword, it is both detrimental and uplifting. Not only does it bring the world together through sport, but it gives aspiring athletes a reason to soar.
Practically airborne until she landed a left-side 1620, Eileen Gu, the gold medal winner of the women’s 2022 Big Air final, did just that. Her goal was to inspire young girls to pursue skiing and other Olympic sports.
The structure of the Olympics, and the way the event is planned almost ensures further contribution to climate change that consequently harms humanity; perhaps it is time to modify the way we conduct the Olympic games.
In the end, it seems that if the Olympics continue their current trajectory, the pride of winning gold will lose its glory. The inevitable wrath of climate change will lead to the inescapable: if the environment loses, so do we.