What do climate deniers and the Olympics have in common?

Written by aditya trivedi


For one thing, they seem to have their science wrong (or at the very least, need to hire a better publicist).

A couple of weeks ago, Bloomberg reported that the London 2012 Organizing Committee (LOCOG) is “dropping” its carbon offset scheme, which it had formally pledged as part of its bid to host the 2012 Olympics. I don’t know that “dropping” is really the right term – if one reads a bit deeper into the details, LOCOG is “passing” some of the offsetting responsibilities to a partner organization (BP’s non-profit arm, Target Neutral), but LOCOG decision makers have definitely made a conscious, deliberate decision to back away from its previous proposal for hosting a carbon neutral event.

David Stubbs, the head of sustainability at LOCOG, reportedly said:

“Officially, if you want to go down [the route of] certified carbon-offsetting, all projects have to be overseas, so if we plant a lot of trees in Essex that just doesn’t count. Because the games are in the U.K., we wanted to maximize the Games locally. Doing formal offsetting would be diverting things.”

There are so many issues with this statement, it’s hard to know where to start. First, if there aren’t any verified carbon offset projects in the UK, that’s quite a shame. What have all those originators in the UK been up to? Still, with the carbon footprint of the London games, I would guess that developing a new verified carbon offset project from scratch could be quite cost effective. It would be cost-effective here.

Second, while keeping spending local is an admirable goal, the world is not, actually, flat. We are talking about a global event contributing to global climate change. You know, there’s one planet, which is why it’s a global effort to protect it. I can’t think of an event for which it would be more appropriate to choose an international selection of carbon offset projects.

Third, planting trees down the road “doesn’t count” not because it’s down the road (literally). It’s because planting trees is an exceptionally slow way to reduce atmospheric carbon. Athletes from around the world will be jumping on planes in the here and now, while those trees in Essex will start to have a measurable carbon reduction impact in 20 years or more. That’s why you can’t get verified carbon offsets from Essex trees in time for the games. It’s because there won’t be any carbon to verify.

Now, I don’t want anyone accusing me of hating on trees. I think tree planting is great and forestry conservation is of paramount importance. I also sympathize with Stubbs’ desire to promote local initiatives. But even beyond Stubbs’ unfortunately misleading rhetoric, there are some deeper issues here…

Going Deep:

Stubbs’ comments imply that we either choose offsets or something else, which is a false premise. Purchasing offsets should always be part of a comprehensive solution. Companies, organizations, and event planners need to understand their baseline footprint, and then take steps to reduce that footprint. Not to pat ourselves on the back or anything, but we’ve been saying that for some time now.

Establishing a carbon footprint reduction strategy is the fundamental premise of any strong sustainability effort, not to mention, it’s the only way to be as cost-effective as possible. But in the end, there will be a remaining footprint. If you choose to do so (and we would argue, you should!), you can then acquire offsets to account for the remaining emissions.

Local initiatives are great. I wish everyday that we planted more trees, picked up more trash, and replaced old light bulbs with more energy efficient ones. But some of these initiatives simply aren’t “offsets” because they don’t produce quantifiable emission reductions. And there are good reasons for why that is – the bodies who came up with verification standards are making them as rigorous as possible so that they can truly hold offsetters accountable for the emissions reductions they proclaim to achieve.

Going Even Deeper:

In a comment to Bloomberg, Stubbs remarked: “We never said we would have a total offsetting program. It’s a wider approach to compensate for residual emissions.”

Making excuses won’t fool anyone, least of all the people who actually follow and care about sustainability issues. The Bloomberg reporter more or less accused LOCOG of backing down in order to avoid the heavy financial burden: an estimated $4.4 million. It’s not an unreasonable possibility – offsetting the event (e.g., travel for athletes coming to the conference) is an inherently expensive task. It’s also not unlikely that, having run the numbers, LOCOG realized that the budget did not account for such a substantial expenditure and therefore, decided to “divert” its attention (and finances) to something else.

Regardless of what the reasons are, even if financial justifications aren’t the primary driver, it is truly a shame to see such an organization as public and well known as an Olympic committee back down from its original conservation commitments. There are other large-scale events who have made similar pledges: the America’s Cup sailing competition, to be hosted in San Francisco and the Baltimore Grand Prix, to name a few. It would be a real disappointment if other leaders were to retreat from their commitments in a similar manner.

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  1. Michael

    Why is anyone that disagrees called a “climate denier”? Talk about closed minded. And focusing on carbon as the only “greenhouse gas” is short sighted.

  2. RMR

    The absense of contributions from other factors such as the Sun, natural phenomena, natural cycles, what is happening on other planets,
    The gross and criminal distortions of the scientific methods, data, etr.,
    The lame and hysterical cries of deleterious impacts to populations that A. are doing well or B. are declining by other causes, but are in all cases attributed to damage by AGW. e.g. polar bears are thriving, but the epa wants them listed as endangered,
    The absurd conjecture the all warming is apriori caused by man. This in the face of statistically insignificant climgate aberrations,
    All serve to eliminate any credibility to what, if anything, is happening to the Earth. Leaving this notion of climate change as a bunch of hot air and hypocricy. Certainly more politics than science.

  3. London 2012 expert

    This article is inaccurate on a number of counts. You should check your facts directly with London 2012 before writing such tosh.
    Clearly you know nothing about London 2012’s carbon management strategy or their original offsetting commitment.
    Also, you dont seem to understand the difference between a certified CDM carbon offset and a domestic investment in carbon reduction.

  4. Michael

    See what I mean? Closed Minded.

  5. Michael

    You are worried about semantics. I point to CO2 because that is all we hear about. Carbon “offsets”, EPA now focusing on Carbon, Carbon, Carbon. 93% of greenhouse gas is water vapor and we are focusing on Carbon which is less than 1%?

  6. ian clarke

    What do “climate fundamentalists” have in common with religious cults. Blind faith. No criticism allowed. Insulting behaviour to all who don’t agree completely with them. No tolerance. No reasoning with them. Scary!
    The closed minds of climate “fanatics” like autoidea, turn off the majority of the rest of us, actually turning us into climate deniers. Well done!

  7. rmr

    Closed minded? Not at all. We need to study the earth and our environment. But not rush to judgement because of statistically insugnificant data haphazardly collected. Stick with good science not bad politics!

  8. Julia

    I welcome criticisms, but don’t knock my fact-checking abilities unless you’re prepared to point me to your own sources. So let’s get the facts straight… from the horse’s mouth.
    From the current Sustainability Plan, (which I downloaded from the London 2012 website), this is what it says in the section entitled “Carbon Offsetting”:
    Carbon offsetting has been part of London 2012 proposals since the original bid, specifically with reference to offsetting international travel of athletes and officials coming to the Games. During the last three years various mechanisms and schemes have been investigated. However, during the course of finalising this carbon management report, London 2012 has decided no longer to pursue formal offsetting schemes as part of its core Carbon Management Strategy.
    We recognise that carbon offsetting is a controversial topic. For example, some critics state that buying offsets does not deliver carbon emission reductions. We are also aware that there are many credible and official carbon offset schemes on the market, and these are potentially valid options given there are significant unavoidable emissions resulting from the Games.
    In addition, after a lengthy process of digging, here’s the original pledge from an article published by London 2012 titled “London pledges to offset carbon emissions.” So please enlighten me on where I (and hundreds of other reporters) went wrong.
    On your second point, I very much understand the difference between a certified offset (CDM is only one such methodology)and a domestic investment. One is an actual offset, i.e., a reduction that is purchased to balance out resulting emissions that could not be avoided, and the other one are investments to enable reductions. They are different and not interchangeable. As I mentioned in my post, first you reduce, and then you offset. That’s how we understand it, and that’s how the UK has defined it. Even Stubbs wouldn’t disagree with that statement, so I’m not sure I understand your comment.

  9. Julia

    Matt is not making an argument based on semantics; it’s based on science. For a detailed, scientific explanation, see here (summary below).
    Yes, without question, there is way more water vapor in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide or any other greenhouse gas. Water vapor is also, without question, the gas most responsible for the greenhouse effect (trapping of the sun’s radiation and warming of the earth).
    However, both of these facts don’t underscore the importance of rising CO2 levels; they actually support it. Water vapor is directly related to temperature: as temperatures rise, evaporation increases and more water vapor accumulates. Water absorbs more heat, further warming the air, and further causing more evaporation.
    So in other words, there’s more water vapor when it’s hotter. And it’s hotter because…
    When CO2 is added to the atmosphere, it has a warming effect. From what we just explained about water vapor, this in turn causes more water to evaporate and warm the air more to a higher level (what is known as a positive feedback loop). In essence, the presence of water vapor amplifies the effect of CO2 warming by itself, DOUBLING the amount of CO2 warming.
    So the fundamental problem is not about water vapor at all; it’s about the very high levels of CO2 (and other gases) that are a direct result of greenhouse gas emissions.

  10. London 2012 expert

    London 2012 ARE offsetting the “international travel of athletes and officials coming to the Games”. This is being down in partnership with BP Target Neutral. As I am sure you are aware all Olympic Organising Committee funds (in this case LOCOG) come from commercial sponsors. In this case, the deal struck between BP (as a lead sponsor) and London 2012 is to provide fuel and offsetting of Olympic Family travel and offsetting.
    The Carbon Management Strategy – covers commitments IN ADDITION to the initial plan to offset Olympic Family travel. So, London 2012 have not reneged on any prior offsetting commitments. Hence, there was no ‘diversion of funds’ or any other of the sinister skullduggery you suggest.
    You criticise London 2012 for its failure to create verified schemes in the UK; “First, if there aren

  11. richard schumacher

    Your remark might have been accurate around 1970, maybe as late as 1980. But now global warming is extremely well established. You might as well attack plate tectonics or the Big Bang as “bad science”; doing so makes you sound like a crank.