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The Green Olympics

Earth Talk
From the editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: The 2008 Summer Olympics in China are drawing a lot of attention right now for political reasons. I’ve heard, though, that one ray of light is China’s effort to make the event as green as possible. What’s going on in that regard?
– Josh Rogers, Concord, N.H.

It’s true that China is using the upcoming Beijing Olympics as a sustainability showcase, going so far as to dub the event the “Green Olympics.” Through a partnership with the U.S. government and the Maryland-based International Center for Sustainable Development, China is giving Beijing a green makeover to make the city a model for net-zero pollution, green building and sustainable community development.

According to China’s Technology Minister Wan Gang, the Beijing Olympics are expected to generate some 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide, in large part because of the flying the world’s athletes will do to get to and from the games. To offset these potent greenhouse gases, China will take a series of measures, Wan says, including planting trees, closing 1,000 small coal mines before and during the games and banning up to a million cars from city streets.

Beijing’s Olympic Village, where the Chinese government has been busy erecting dozens of stadiums and other structures according to rigorous green standards, is emerging as quite an example of sustainable community development. The steel-looped Beijing National Stadium, for instance, includes a rainwater collection arrangement, a natural ventilation system and a clear roof with inflatable cushions made from ETFE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene), a kind of plastic that increases light and heat penetration.

Another example is the “Water Cube,” a spectacular-looking structure that looks like a building made of bubble-wrap. Officially known as the National Aquatics Center, it is completely surrounded with ETFE pillows and is expected to cut energy use by 30 percent. And when it has finished serving its purpose as an Olympic venue, it has been built to be converted to a shopping area and leisure center with tennis courts, retail outlets, nightclubs and restaurants.

All seven main Olympic stadiums are equipped with solar generators capable of outputting 480 kilowatts of energy at any given moment. Ninety percent of the lighting outside the stadiums, as well as the entire hot water supply for the Olympic Village will be powered by solar energy. Also, the main stadiums will receive power from Beijing’s first wind farm.

While the Olympic Games will only last for two weeks, environmentalists hope the greening of Beijing will indeed continue beyond the summer ‘08. Some proposals include building 14 wastewater-treatment facilities to achieve 90 percent treatment rate in Beijing, and extending potable water to the entire city.

Also, the municipal government of Beijing has invested in expensive energy-efficient heating and transportation equipment that will greatly improve environmental quality for decades hence. Beijing, where 1,000 new cars roll onto the streets every day, also plans to source clean energy from other parts of China and through the purchase of pollution offsets on a quickly expanding international market.


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