by Gabrielle Pickard
7 February 2012. Cheshire, United Kingdom. One thing that New Year’s Eve 2011/2012 will be remembered for in London is for its spectacular fireworks display. Fireworks of all shapes, colours and sizes lit up London’s skyline heralding the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games year. You didn’t have to be in London to enjoy the remarkable display, as the show was broadcast live on BBC One. Asides creating all the ‘oohs’ and ‘wows’ a decent firework display is supposed to create, another sentiment was generated by this year’s New Year’s Eve firework display in London, which ran well beyond my household – How much is this costing? And how much damage is it doing to the environment?
London never fails to put on award-winning firework displays on New Year’s Eve, but the capital obviously wanted to ‘pull out all the stops’ this year, with the London Mayor admitting the spectacular fireworks marked the start of a unique year for London. For me however, and having spoken to many fellow Britons about the subject I am certainly not alone in my thinking, the show-stopping display was both ironic and irresponsible proof that threatens London’s already uncertain ‘ aim to be the ‘greenest Olympics in history’. I mean just how much smoke and chemicals that are injurious to the environment were pumped out into the environment at midnight this New Year’s Eve as London somewhat childishly attempted to outshine Olympic host predecessors by beginning its Olympic year with a breath-taking display of fireworks – An act that provides critics with greater fuel that London is effectively ‘making a mockery’ out of the prospect of creating the “greenest Olympic Games in history?”
In November 2007, London 2012 Chairman, Seb Coe, proudly announced:
“Sustainability was an important element of our bid and underpins our preparations and our vision for the legacy of London 2012.”
Coe’s ambitious comment was backed up by David Miliband, the then Secretary of State for DEFRA, when he stated:
“The Olympics and Paralympics must be a showcase for the British commitment to sustainability. This early declaration and commitment sets a benchmark for action.”
Despite promises that the London 2012 Olympics will be the “greenest Olympics in history”, the Olympic Committee has been under harsh criticism for failing to meet its green targets.
The original promise made by the Olympic Committee was to produce 20 percent of the Olympic Park’s post-Games energy from renewable sources. This figure was however quickly reduced to just nine percent, with a feeble excuse being made that the original target was made difficult when the Olympic Park wind turbines were decommissioned following an inability of suppliers to meet health and safety regulations. Instead, London’s comparatively less impressive nine percent target is going to be delivered by a range of other methods, including the installation of 50,000 square metres of solar panels on the Media Centre and around the Olympic Park, and by using boilers to burn waste wood. Does a few thousand square metres of solar panels and burning waste wood really preserve the Committee’s earlier promises of putting sustainability ‘at the heart of’ the London 2012 Olympic Games and that the Olympic Park will be a ‘blueprint for sustainable living.’
Talking about the dramatic decrease in the post-Games energy from renewable sources, Darren Johnson, a London Assembly Green Party member, commented:
“This is a miserable result. I know the organisers have had some difficulties but quite frankly this should never have been allowed to happen. It makes a mockery of the idea of green Olympics.”
With global warming rising at ‘unprecedented levels’, the drive for adopting more sustainable environmentally-friendly lifestyles has never been so imperative. Traditionally, huge events such as Olympic Games, due to the large demands in infrastructure construction to meet short-term demands, have rarely claimed to be environmentally friendly. In the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, ‘greening’ was selected as one of the strategies during the bidding. Beijing is ranked as one of the world’s most polluted cities and one of the biggest challenges facing Beijing in the final run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games was how to deal with the city’s pollution problem. Despite the haze of smog that often grounds flights in Beijing, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, the 2008 Olympic Games set new records for eco-friendly mass spectator sporting events by ‘raising the bar’ on many of the high environmental standards set by Beijing itself.
In light of Beijing’s success in raising the standards in creating eco-friendly Olympic Games, London has had a lot to aspire to in its aim to be the “greenest Olympic Games in history”, despite the fact that with its profusion of leafy squares, numerable parks, walkways along the River Thames and the introduction of its notoriously divisive congestion charge for vehicles entering the city centre, London is considered one of the greenest capital cities in the world – Most definitely a more favourable ‘starting point’ in the race to produce the “greenest Olympic Games in history” than smog-ridden Beijing.
By using venues already existing in the UK wherever possible, by making permanent structures that will have a long-term use after the Games, and by only building temporary structures for everything else, London is in a sense eradicating the traditional notion that Olympic Games are far from environmentally-conscious, primarily because of the huge demands in infrastructure construction to meet short-term demands.
It cannot be ignored however that with just over six months left until the Games, London will fall short of its renewable energy targets, by a considerable amount, and by pumping out huge amounts of unnecessary carbon dioxide via fireworks into London’s air as a way of telling the world, “Look at us, this is going to be our year”, was perhaps not the wisest move London has made in its run up to this year’s Olympic Games.
Gabrielle Pickard is a freelance writer based in Cheshire, United Kingdom.