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Olympic impacts: climate change

Power station [10KB]Our climate is changing. Global temperatures have risen more than 2 degrees centigrade since 1900 and are set to continue rising. Predictions show that this will result in a sea-level rise, with consequence for wildlife, agriculture and human health.

The climate has undergone many natural changes since the earth’s formation, but most experts now agree that human behaviour has contributed to the most recent changes. Since the industrial revolution, humans have pumped large amounts of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and continue to do so through activities such as travel, food production and building.

Climate change and the Olympic Games are linked in numerous ways. Perhaps the most obvious and direct link is the potential for the Olympics to contribute toward environmental instability through the creation of greenhouse gases, or through ill-considered building projects. However, the Games may also have a positive role to play in helping to transform public attitudes towards preventing and managing climate change.

Powering the site

Building and maintaining the Olympic site uses a lot of energy and where this energy comes from can make a huge difference to the carbon footprint of the event. At the Bejing 2008 Games, the Olympic Village used solar cells and geothermal heat pumps to supply energy to the buildings; the Olympic team also established the Guanting wind power station, Beijing’s first wind power generation station capable of generating 100 million kWh of electricity a year


The international nature of the Games means that the host city can expect a large number of people from around the world to descend upon it, with all that that implies for the congested roads that are typical of large connurbations. Most of these visitors will have taken international flights to reach their destination and when they arrive will need to make their way around the host city, and to and from the events. Mitigating these impacts is therefore a key aspect for a Green Games. The organisers of London 2012 have published their vision for the transport aspects of the Games (below), stressing that they do not wish to build more roads to service the events, but to use the Olympics as a "catalyst" to improve London's existing transport networks. Their awareness of the needs of the diverse community of travellers is high, with emphasis on the access needs of disabled people, walkers and cyclists. All types of transport are being looked at, from bus and train, to the Docklands Light Railway and river boats, and people will be encouraged to walk and cycle to the Olympic venues with the provision of new footpaths and cycle paths.

London 2012 transport plan

Food miles

The thousands of athletes and visitors arriving in London will require large quantities of food. These were the figures for certain categories of produce consumed at the Beijing Olympics in 2008:

75,000 litres of milk

  • 330 tons of fruit and vegetables
  • 82 tons of seafood
  • 750 litres of ketchup
  • 31 tons of meat
  • 21 tons of cheese
  • 3 million bottles of beverages

The organisers of London's Olympics will have similar logistical problems to consider, augmented by their stated aim of sourcing produce in a sustainable and ethical way. LOCOG's Food Vision (below) estimates that more than 14 million meals will be served across 40 different locations, and the organisers intend to use food sourced in Britain whenever possible. Local and Fair Trade produce are considered a priority, and firms involved in the catering process will be asked to sign up to a food charter which expresses this good intent. However, some doubts have been raised (by Rosie Boycott of the London Food Board: below) that not enough investigation has been made into such issues as animal welfare standards.

London 2012 Food Vision

London Food Board statement

Getting started with the British Library's collections

Barry, Roger and Richard Chorley. Atmosphere, weather and climate
London: Routledge, 2009.
DS shelfmark: m09/35135

Bert Metz et al. (eds) Climate change 2007. Mitigation of climate change : contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
London reference collections shelfmark: (B) 363.73874

DS shelfmark: m08/31467

Hardy, John. Climate change: causes, effects, and solutions
Chichester: Wiley, c2003.

London reference collections shelfmark (B) 551.6
DS shelfmark: m04/31955

Norberg-Hodge, Helena et al. Bringing the food economy home : local alternatives to global London: Zed Books, 2002
London reference collections shelfmark: YC.2002.a.12831
DS shelfmark: m02/41114

Smith, Ben. The Michael Phelps diet: don't try this at home
The Times, 14 August 2008

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