Olympic Sustainability

November 27, 2016

Behind the explosion of colors, music and happiness, the Rio 2016 opening ceremony had an overarching theme that reinforced the importance of our environment. After sharing their vibrant culture with the world through remarkable performances, Brazil used their spotlight to reveal statistics of climbing carbon dioxide emissions. The stadium’s screen broadcasted images and graphs that quantified the rise of carbon dioxide emissions.

While the screens showed data on global warming, the narrator read the poem The Flower and The Nausea by the famous Brazilian poet, Carlos Drummond de Andrade. The poem narrates the path of a single flower growing in the midst of an urbanized jungle, breaking through the concrete and steel structures that replaced the original forests. Written in the 20th century, Andrade’s poem has a great understanding of our current problems with omnipresent climate change, and Andrade himself is engaged in fighting social problems like this that defy our existence.

The different delegations walked onto the ceremony lead by bikes that carried their country’s name, plants, and tools that added to the sustainability theme. Apart from that, the 10,000 athletes who participated in the opening ceremony were given seeds to be planted in soil cartridges. These trees will then form the “athlete’s forest” in Deodoro, a neighborhood in the north zone of Rio de Janeiro. The reforestation project will reestablish a portion of the Atlantic forest that has been lost due to the Carioca urbanization which occurred during the 1970s and 1980s.

In addition to the Opening Ceremony, the International Olympic Committee and the State of Rio de Janeiro created a Sustainability Committee that aimed to make the Games eco friendly by reducing their carbon footprint. They created efficient public transportation that was basically mandatory for Olympic spectators. The Olympic village, the home of the athletes, had efficient recycling systems and other important facilities that made the athlete housing as a whole eco friendly. Compared to past Olympics, the Committee ensured an environmentally sound residency for all athletes.

Although the Olympics sent an important sustainability message to the world and ensured that the Olympic park was eco-friendly, the Olympic committee and the government did not bother to properly remove the pollution and sewage from the Guanabara bay, the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon, or the multiple lagoons in Barra da Tijuca. Destroyed by raw sewage, bacteria, and factory chemicals, these water bodies were mines to the athletes; they were surrounded by trash while sailing or rowing.

Apart from the Athlete’s forest, the Olympics did not provide legacies for Rio that will boost the environment. After the games were concluded no sustainability changes were seen to the city; for instance, there was no visible investment in renewable energy, large scale recycling systems for the member of the communities, or local organic farmers.

The message sent during the opening ceremony was worthy and important, yet the Olympics should follow through with their word and become an example to their audience around the world. After all, it is much easier to speak than to act. Now, it is time for us to act, and accomplish actual change by setting tangible goals, one step at a time.