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Eco-Eye on the Olympics

Planet Drum Foundation has opposed the environmental impacts of the Winter Olympics since 1996, when wildlife biologist Kimiharu To from Nagano, Japan  contacted Peter Berg for assistance to inform the local residents and others about the consequences they would suffer from the 1998 Winter Games. After monitoring the1998 Games, they formed Guard Fox Watch (GFW) to safeguard safety for the near-wild watershed areas threatened by media spectacle sports destruction. GFW has observed and critiqued successive Games at Salt Lake City, USA (2002), Turin, Italy (2006) and Vancouver, Canada (2010). 

Guard Fox Watch (GFW) is sponsored by Planet Drum Foundation.

GFW prepared a thorough list of ecologically sustainable practices to carry out before, during and after the Winter Olympics that covers: NATIVE SPECIES HABITAT AND OTHER NATURAL FEATURES / WATER / SEWAGE / FOOD / WASTES / TRANSPORTATION / MATERIALS / EMPLOYMENT. Most of these were dismissed as "not feasible" or addressed in only a minimal, foot-dragging way by Olympic Committees. 

Before the Salt Lake City (2002) Olympics, a major story based on our findings broke in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and other major newspapers. Since then Guard Fox Watch has actively worked with concerned local citizens before the 2006 (Turin, Italy) and 2010 (Vancouver, Canada) Games. In preparation for the 2014 Games (Sochi, Russia), local citizen activists corresponded with GFW and examined articles on this website for guidance. GFW recommendations have influenced the UN Environment Program to criticize the lack of wildlife and habitat policies at Sochi. 

Index of Articles for Bioregional Olympians
(Click on links to read articles.)

2014 Sochi, Russia

Already there are concerns about the ecological impacts of The 2014 winter Olympic games. Links to articles are: UN criticizes Russia over Sochi Winter Olympics , Winter Olympics threatened by Bad Planning (link to this article no longer exists), Putin Faces Green Olympic Challenge

2010 Vancouver, Canada

The upcoming 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada neglect to monitor ongoing environmental impact: VANOC will violate International Olympic Committee mandate for ecological sustainability according to the international ecological monitoring group Guard Fox Watch. This press release details the dismal state of environmental safeguards for 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, BC, Canada.
                                             (Press Release: September 2007)

2006 Turin, Italy

Winter Olympics Won't Avoid Environmental Damage (March 2004)

Bioregional Impacts, Ecological Implications, and Recommendations for Olympic Winter Games is the latest summarized overview from Guard Fox Watch. (October 2003)

Bioregional Impacts, Ecological Implications, and Recommendations - 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy is a Guard Fox Watch Report which advocates specific actions. (August 2003)

Impatto Bioregionale, Implicazioni Ecologiche E Raccomandazioni Per I Giochi Olimpici Invernali Del 2006 A Torino — Italia (August 2003). Italian language version of GFW Report August 2003. 

2002 Salt Lake City, USA

Why Take on the Winter Olympics, and What Came of the Effort? by Peter Berg (February 2002)

OLYMPICS; Greenest Games Ever? Not! by Martin A. Lee (February 2002)

Help Stop The Greenwashing  Of The Winter Olympics! (December 2002)

Roots of Action Date to Nagano Olympics

Environmental Recommendations Go Unheeded by Salt Lake City Olympics Organizers Th is is a wrap-up about actions surrounding the Salt Lake Olympics (2002) with references to the related  Background Documents.

Nobody Wins If Nature Loses by Martin A. Lee (Summer 2001)

Background documentation for 2002 Winter Olympics

1998 Nagano Japan

Guard Fox Watch Communiques 1998

 

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Call to Action:

Help Stop The Greenwashing  Of The Winter Olympics!

Make The 2002 Games In Salt Lake City Ecologically Sustainable!

The 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah represent a precedent-making opportunity to transform one of the most popular sports events on the planet into a model of environmental sensitivity and sustainability. Many of these competitions are outdoors and have direct impacts on natural surroundings. They have a worldwide following, and serve as a standard for other outdoor sports spectacles. The Winter Olympics should stand up to the responsibility and potential for creating beneficial ecological changes.

The last Winter Games in Nagano, Japan were not only notoriously destructive to the environment, they were also "greenwashed" for the media and general public. Plastic and paper waste supposedly gathered for recycling was actually burned in smog-producing local electricity generating plants. Five times the normal amount of snow- melting chemicals ran off roads into streams and rice fields. Thousands of vehicles turned snow banks black and filled the air with exhaust fumes. Trees were clear-cut for ski runs and native snow monkeys and birds were run off. Local water, sewage, electrical, and waste systems were overwhelmed.

Guard Fox Watch (GFW), a Japan-USA organization which monitored and reported on horrendous environmental conditions during the Nagano Games, visited Salt Lake City sites and prepared a list of ways to measure impacts in 2002. The Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) told the media "We’re planning to improve environmental conditions, not just keep them the same", but refused to carry out the studies we recommended that could verify this claim.

We don’t want another Nagano "greenwashing"! We can still make SLOC environmentally responsible.

GFW prepared a thorough list of ecologically sustainable practices to carry out before, during and after the Winter Olympics that covers: NATIVE SPECIES HABITAT AND OTHER NATURAL FEATURES / WATER / SEWAGE / FOOD / WASTES / TRANSPORTATION / MATERIALS / EMPLOYMENT. Most of these were also dismissed as "not feasible" or addressed in only a minimal, foot-dragging way.

Put Guard Fox Watch's safeguards and sustainable practices in place before the Winter Games begin. Join a widely diverse international group of endorsing environmental leaders including:

  • Arne Naess, Center for Development and the Environment, University of Oslo, Norway 
  • Betsy Lehrfeld, National Institute for Science, Law and Public Policy, Washington DC, USA 
  • Gordon T L Ng, The Conservancy Association, Kowloon, China
  • Juan-Tomas Rehbock, Ecological Farmers Association, USA
  • Santiago Villanova, Una Sola Terra, Spain 
  • Kris Nelson, The Climate Trust, USA 
  • Giuseppe Moretti, Rete Bioregionale Italiana, Italy 
  • Lee Hudson, California Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, USA 
  • Josep Puig, Alternativa Verda, Spain

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Why Take on the Winter Olympics, and What Came of the Effort?

By Peter Berg
February 11, 2002

Planet Drum Foundation has opposed the environmental impacts of the Winter Olympics since 1996. It was then that wildlife biologist Kimiharu To who was studying ptarmigan birds in the Hakuba Mountains of Nagano, Japan and working as a part-time ski guide and rice farmer contacted me for assistance in informing the local residents and others in Japan about the consequences they would suffer from the 1998 Winter Games.

Together we held informational sessions with farmers and resort operators, led tours of Hakuba Valley where skiing events were scheduled, joined up with other protesters who were more economically oriented, met with Olympics representatives to register complaints, and issued a written statement as a prescription for avoiding environmental calamities. The latter was ignored as we expected considering the appalling conditions we incidentally observed, so we next adopted the name Guard Fox Watch to thoroughly monitor infrastructure activities such as transportation, water, sewage, energy, wild habitat, and so forth immediately prior to and during the Winter Games. This resulted in a set of findings with demands to improve problem areas. They were also disregarded, but at least we had called the Olympic's bluff and established a precedent for insisting on beneficial watershed/bioregion changes, besides not kowtowing to public relations misrepresentations. Some courageous media sources even took up our story in spite of a punitive attitude by Olympics staff that implied betrayal of the high-flown and unimpeachable goals of the Games.

When the 2002 Winter Games were scheduled for Salt Lake City, Kim and I went there two years early to meet with representatives of local environmental protection groups. Official Games staff showed up at the meeting as well and although we two pressed hard for an allied association of concerned groups, those who appeared expressed the sentiment that they had already stated their objections, had done what they thought they could do, or were satisfied with a few concessions.

Guard Fox Watch was left with the Salt Lake Organizing Committee environmental staff. The local press described us incorrectly as "partnering" with it. We were never confident of this in-house group's dedication to transcending the horrific conditions at Nagano because their public relations statements kept getting in the way of discussing problems: "We're going to have the greenest Olympics ever!" and "The environment will actually be improved by holding the Games." After touring the outdoor facilities, we saw situations that scarily resembled Hakuba and decided to test the SLOC's environmental commitment. After several month's background study, I wrote and Kim approved a set of baseline measurements for studying conditions such as air and water quality, transportation density, energy consumption, sewage volume, and other factors. I submitted it nine months before the study should be made to be able to have identical conditions as when the Games would be held a year later. The data gathered would be compared with that from during the Games and differences could be noted. The effectiveness of environmental sanctions could actually be measured instead of relying on positive intentions or "feel good" statements. The study would have been an invaluable guide for not only Salt Lake Bioregion but all future Winter Games anywhere. Our proposal was completely rejected with the suggestion that Planet Drum Foundation should do it instead! As though we were the ones claiming that the environment would be better off for holding the Winter Games.

Even though SLOC's refusal showed a clear intention to drag it's feet if not totally abandon concern about the environment of the Salt Lake Basin, we decided to take another step that would demonstrate undeniable culpability. We wrote a guide for official ecological practices before, during and after the Games in major areas of impact similar to the baseline concerns. Natural systems and habitat, water, energy, pollution, transportation, wastes, sewage, food, and employment were listed. While the date for our ignored baseline study rolled by and the Games were still a year away, we were informed that our copious new suggestions would also go largely unfulfilled except for a few that had been previously covered. Guard Fox Watch's recommendations weren't "feasible".

Without any other recourse, Planet Drum sent a summary of the entire history of the Guard Fox Watch-Olympics relationship to the media and also its membership asking them to remit protest letters to SLOC. Finally, a week before the Games began, a major story based on our findings broke in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and other major newspapers. Since then other significant stories have appeared about land development violations, health- endangering smog from air inversion, slow and polluting traffic, and other predicted problems. We have no idea how many Planet Drum letters were received by officials in Salt Lake but saw copies of those sent to us from Arne Naess, founder of the philosophy of deep ecology, and various places including China, Mongolia, Japan, Australia, Italy, England, Canada, and Mexico. We assume that they are being read and will be part of the record for considering future Winter Olympics. Long live safety for near-wild bioregional areas threatened by media spectacle sports destruction!


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"[Peter] Berg homes in on the example of the Nagano Winter Olympic Games to illustrate how a bioregional way of thinking would bring benefits to the community. He describes the Olympic Games as a facet of global monoculture, similar to McDonalds, Coca Cola, et al., which have no relationship to the place they go, and, since the media advertisers and land developers make their profits irrespective of future land use, leave only waste and abandoned stadiums in their wake. Aside from the estimated Olympian burden of $30,000 per Nagano City taxpayer over the next 20 years to pay for the party, Peter highlights the damage to natural systems: watersheds suffer chemical pollution from snow-bonded auto exhaust and overuse of highway salts. Soil erosion from 115 km of newly built roads in the geologically sensitive Nagano mountains is acute.
Native plant and animal communities are disrupted by both habitat destruction due to building and crowd noise during their most difficult survival season. He gives a first hand account of the 87 metric tons of extra Olympic garbage being incinerated and the increased auto pollution which now sully the air at Hakuba. With a bioregional approach to planning the Games, the organizers could have, for instance, developed solar, wind, and hot spring steam power sources to generate the required extra electricity, thus building sustainable facilities which would remain to benefit the region. A few well-devised policies to subsidize and create genuine and thorough recycling programs would help provide new long-term employment and wealth for the area, and Berg laments the lost opportunity with the words "The real loss of the Games is to Nagano." The Guard Fox Watch slogan sums it up: "Nobody wins the Games if Nature loses!"
—Renate Suzuki, "Peter Berg's Olympic Message," Japan Environment Monitor, Feb/Mar, 1998.

Last updated: 10 Feb 2015