VANCOUVER, B.C. – The fuel feeding the Olympic flame won’t be the only thing burning when the torch relay begins at the end of October, with its 45,000-kilometre journey by air, land and water into every corner of Canada generating its own share of carbon emissions.
But the chance to include the entire country in the excitement of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics will be worth the environmental impact the relay might have, the B.C. cabinet minister in charge of the Games said Wednesday.
“The 2010 Winter Games that are coming to Canada, it’s a big deal, and it’s not just Vancouver’s Games,” Mary McNeil, the province’s secretary of state for the Olympics, told reporters after an announcement by Coca-Cola on its own sustainability plans for the relay.
“This is a huge opportunity for us,” McNeil said.
She acknowledged that the relay will have an impact, but she said it’s also a chance to lead by example as Olympic organizers and sponsors find ways to reduce their impact on the environment.
“It also is a good opportunity for us to create public awareness, to get out there and say, ‘We do have an issue, we need to be environmentally sustainable,”‘ McNeil said.
“Sometimes you need large events in order to get the message out.”
The torch will be lit in Olympia, Greece, on Oct. 22, and arrive in Victoria on Oct. 30 to begin the Canadian leg of the relay.
For the next 106 days, it will travel by vehicle, plane, boat and train to visit every province and territory on a route that includes 1,000 communities and extends into the Far North.
Vancouver Olympic officials say they are updating their estimates of the torch relay’s carbon footprint, but pointed to a report released in January 2008 by the David Suzuki Foundation.
The report, using figures from 2007, put the figure at about 1,500 tonnes.
Vehicle travel represented about half of that preliminary estimate. The rest included air and plane travel for the relay, as well as travel for the torch bearers.
The report estimated that the flame itself – which will be fuelled by a blend of propane, iso-butane and hydrocarbons – will be responsible for about five tonnes of carbon emissions.
To put those numbers in perspective, the David Suzuki Foundation says driving a mid-size car for a year produces about five tonnes of carbon dioxide.
The relay will make up just a small fraction of the total emissions associated with the Games – representing about half a per cent – but it’s not insignificant, said Deborah Carlson, one of the authors of the David Suzuki Foundation report.
Carlson said organizers need to ensure that both the relay and the Games are run in the most sustainable way possible, but that more importantly they should use the Olympics to bring that message to Canadians.
“It’s understandable that Olympic organizers want to share the torch relay with as many Canadians as possible, but they also have this excellent opportunity to speak to Canadians about climate solutions,” Carlson said in an interview.
“It sounds like they (Vancouver Olympic organizers) are taking action in their own backyard – they’re looking for the fuel efficient vehicles, they’re trying to reduce their climate impact – but the second part of this is to communicate that.”
The local organizing committee, known as VANOC, has boasted about its efforts to ensure the Games are sustainable and carbon neutral.
The 2010 Olympics are estimated to produce more than 300,000 tonnes of carbon emissions, from the direct staging of the Games in Vancouver and Whistler to indirect sources such as athlete and spectator travel.
The Games are the first with an official carbon offset supplier, which VANOC will use to offset an estimated 110,000 tonnes of what it considers direct carbon emissions, including the torch relay.
Sponsors, competing nations and people coming to watch the Games will be encouraged to buy offsets to cover the rest.
Olympic organizers say they’re also doing other things to lower the emissions, including sustainable venue design and construction, an environmentally friendly transportation plan and the use of fuel efficient vehicles.