Why Take on the Winter Olympics, and What Came of the Effort?
Planet Drum Foundation has opposed the environmental impacts of the Winter Olympics since 1996. It was then that wildlife biologist Kimiharu To who was studying ptarmigan birds in the Hakuba Mountains of Nagano, Japan and working as a part-time ski guide and rice farmer contacted me for assistance in informing the local residents and others in Japan about the consequences they would suffer from the 1998 Winter Games.
Together we held informational sessions with farmers and resort operators, led tours of Hakuba Valley where skiing events were scheduled, joined up with other protesters who were more economically oriented, met with Olympics representatives to register complaints, and issued a written statement as a prescription for avoiding environmental calamities. The latter was ignored as we expected considering the appalling conditions we incidentally observed, so we next adopted the name Guard Fox Watch to thoroughly monitor infrastructure activities such as transportation, water, sewage, energy, wild habitat, and so forth immediately prior to and during the Winter Games. This resulted in a set of findings with demands to improve problem areas. They were also disregarded, but at least we had called the Olympic’s bluff and established a precedent for insisting on beneficial watershed/bioregion changes, besides not kowtowing to public relations misrepresentations. Some courageous media sources even took up our story in spite of a punitive attitude by Olympics staff that implied betrayal of the high-flown and unimpeachable goals of the Games.
When the 2002 Winter Games were scheduled for Salt Lake City, Kim and I went there two years early to meet with representatives of local environmental protection groups. Official Games staff showed up at the meeting as well and although we two pressed hard for an allied association of concerned groups, those who appeared expressed the sentiment that they had already stated their objections, had done what they thought they could do, or were satisfied with a few concessions.
Guard Fox Watch was left with the Salt Lake Organizing Committee environmental staff. The local press described us incorrectly as “partnering” with it. We were never confident of this in-house group’s dedication to transcending the horrific conditions at Nagano because their public relations statements kept getting in the way of discussing problems: “We’re going to have the greenest Olympics ever!” and “The environment will actually be improved by holding the Games.” After touring the outdoor facilities, we saw situations that scarily resembled Hakuba and decided to test the SLOC’s environmental commitment. After several month’s background study, I wrote and Kim approved a set of baseline measurements for studying conditions such as air and water quality, transportation density, energy consumption, sewage volume, and other factors. I submitted it nine months before the study should be made to be able to have identical conditions as when the Games would be held a year later. The data gathered would be compared with that from during the Games and differences could be noted. The effectiveness of environmental sanctions could actually be measured instead of relying on positive intentions or “feel good” statements. The study would have been an invaluable guide for not only Salt Lake Bioregion but all future Winter Games anywhere. Our proposal was completely rejected with the suggestion that Planet Drum Foundation should do it instead! As though we were the ones claiming that the environment would be better off for holding the Winter Games.
Even though SLOC’s refusal showed a clear intention to drag it’s feet if not totally abandon concern about the environment of the Salt Lake Basin, we decided to take another step that would demonstrate undeniable culpability. We wrote a guide for official ecological practices before, during and after the Games in major areas of impact similar to the baseline concerns. Natural systems and habitat, water, energy, pollution, transportation, wastes, sewage, food, and employment were listed. While the date for our ignored baseline study rolled by and the Games were still a year away, we were informed that our copious new suggestions would also go largely unfulfilled except for a few that had been previously covered. Guard Fox Watch’s recommendations weren’t “feasible”.
Without any other recourse, Planet Drum sent a summary of the entire history of the Guard Fox Watch-Olympics relationship to the media and also its membership asking them to remit protest letters to SLOC. Finally, a week before the Games began, a major story based on our findings broke in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and other major newspapers. Since then other significant stories have appeared about land development violations, health- endangering smog from air inversion, slow and polluting traffic, and other predicted problems. We have no idea how many Planet Drum letters were received by officials in Salt Lake but saw copies of those sent to us from Arne Naess, founder of the philosophy of deep ecology, and various places including China, Mongolia, Japan, Australia, Italy, England, Canada, and Mexico. We assume that they are being read and will be part of the record for considering future Winter Olympics. Long live safety for near-wild bioregional areas threatened by media spectacle sports destruction!
February 11, 2002
Next: Impatto Bioregionale, Implicazioni Ecologiche E Raccomandazioni Per I Giochi Olimpici Invernali Del 2006 A Torino, Italia (Italian language version of GFW Report August 2003.)