Environmental toll of Olympic proportions

The mind-blowing greenwashing of the games in Rio, and the effects on our planet

The author, an activist and longtime Chico resident, is a frequent writer of letters to the editor.

Rio de Janeiro is riddled with slums inhabited by over a million people, and the city dumps 50 percent of its raw sewage into Guanabara Bay. In that context, it’s mind-blowing that $30 billion was thrown at the Olympics.

As mind-blowing was the Olympic opening ceremony: a chartreuse “environmental themed” laser show, chock-full of photon forests and a voice booming: “The heat is melting the ice cap; it’s disappearing very quickly!” True—and I wonder if the Olympics has anything to do with it.

A round-trip flight to Brazil, from either the U.S. or Europe, is about 10,000 miles—and from Asia, about 20,000 miles. With 500,000 international visitors attending the games, air travel has a price tag of 1.7 million barrels of oil. That’s a hundred Olympic-size swimming pools, up in smoke—producing the CO2 weight equivalent of two Empire State Buildings.

But air travel is a fraction of the total impact. Setting aside the issue of energy-gulping facilities construction, the games are an advertising orgy. Networks spend billions for the rights to air the Olympics, knowing they will generate more billions in advertising revenue. Wanna throw napalm on an environmental holocaust? Stimulate consumer demand with as much advertising as possible.

The games are sponsored by a who’s-who of ecocidal corporations. McDonald’s, for instance, a company that has nearly torn a gluteal muscle doing PR gymnastics, straining to burnish its environmental credentials. Inconveniently, McDonald’s still sells factory-farmed meat—marketing the most greenhouse gas intensive product of all time. Along with his seat at the Olympics, Ronald McDonald should get 23 gold medals for methane production.

Meanwhile, winning Olympic athletes morph into corporate whores, promoting more consumerism. Medals have become licenses to practice corporate prostitution—the environment be damned. Michael Phelps is both a champion swimmer and champion consumer, with a 7,000-square-foot house and net worth of $55 million.

So, about those Brazilian kids living under a few sheets of corrugated metal, carrying their little trees on day one of the festivities? I fear they were swept into Guanabara Bay, by a greenwash Tsunami.