Olympics 2022 China: the ecological disaster of the Beijing Games
We are a few days before the launch of the Beijing Olympics and some athletes confide to go backwards. “I would have clearly preferred to go elsewhere”, says the Swedish biathlete Sebastian Samuelsson in an interview on the Swedish public television (SVT). “I don’t think we should organize championships or Games in this kind of country”.
It is certain that the political question and the absence of a culture of the winter sport in China disturb but it is especially the environmental weight of these games which also tenses the spirits. Because their holding has already all the air of an ecological disaster, in spite of the assertions of the Chinese government.
“I saw a ski resort being created from scratch, a thing which is really not ecological whereas there are stations and infrastructures, already, in other countries”, regretted in November near the AFP the French Perrine Laffont, Olympic champion of ski of moguls in 2018. “There is no snow, it does not make sense,” she added.
The problem is that there is no snow and that is what is missing for these Winter Olympics. The region of the Olympic sites is known for its winter drought and it almost never falls snow despite the cold. For example, between January and March 2021, the National Alpine Ski Center in Yanqing, about 90 km northwest of Beijing, received only 2 centimetres of snow, less than Paris, London or Madrid in the same period, according to data from the site worldweatheronline.
It is necessary to know that these Games will depend entirely on artificial snow, whose production is expensive in water and energy. It has been calculated that Beijing 2022 would need approximately 222.8 million liters of water to create the required artificial snow. If Beijing has ensured that the electricity consumed during the Olympics would be entire of renewable origin (wind turbines, solar panels …), the production of artificial snow is still harmful to the health of the soil, causing their erosion.
And it is not all because to spike the bill with the carbon balance of these Games. China, which is not known for its ski areas, has chosen to build one, the Songshan nature reserve in Yanqing. It has cut down more than 20,000 trees in recent years on the equivalent of more than 1,000 soccer fields to install the Yanqing slopes, where the alpine skiing events will be held. “It hurts the heart to see that they have razed the mountain, it is a forest of streetlights, it is not very natural,” lamented with AFP the biathlete Chloe Chevalier.
The statement of the Beijing Olympic Committee (BOC), which is committed to transplanting the trees, as well as 81 hectares (over 200 acres) of topsoil, to another location in the mountains north of the city. It claims that more than 90% of the trees survived the move.
It appears that the survival of these trees is on track, but the survival of the entire ecosystem that they mediated in the nature reserve is less certain. Interviewed by the BBC, Dr. Carmen de Jong, professor of hydrology at the University of Strasbourg, explains that the removal of the topsoil could significantly increase the risk of erosion and landslides, water pollution and damage to animal habitats. “The nature reserve has lost about 25% of its surface… which has a very high biodiversity and protected species like the golden eagle,” she laments.
The Beijing Organizing Committee responded to the British channel in a terse way that “Beijing 2022 has done its best to protect the ecosystems in the competition areas.