Fake snow at Beijing Games signals serious climate crisis

via Olympics.com

Technically, the Beijing 2022 Olympics started already. Luge and curling, which is my favorite event, began competition on Wednesday, and alpine skiing, freestyle skiing, ice hockey and ski jumping followed suit on Thursday.

However, the Olympic opening ceremony happens, or happened, today.

It’s slated to take place at 7:30 p.m. local time in China. 

Of course, that means, depending upon when you read this, the ceremony is already underway or finished since Beijing is 13 hours ahead of the United States east coast. 

If you are trying to keep up, the opening ceremony started at 5:30 a.m. for those of us in Kansas, but NBC will re-air the event in prime time, meaning you can still see everything you might have missed.

Regardless, I’m excited. I shared my love for the Olympic Games last summer when we finally got to see the postponed 2020 Olympics, and I will be glued to the television as much as possible to take in the competition.

However, I will watch with a different perspective this time.

That’s because of the snow.

Beijing — host of the Summer Olympics in 2008 and the first city to host both Winter and Summer Games — is relying on completely man-made snow.

Manufacturing snow isn’t new. Ski resorts have to do it from time to time, and the same goes for the Olympics. 

According to USA Today, the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, used about 80% fake snow. The amount jumped to at least 90% for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, according to NPR.

This year seems different, though. Like it could be a tipping point.

Bloomberg discussed how making snow likely will disrupt Beijing’s water supply, and the machinery used to pump out the powder can emit “planet-warming gases.”

Using a projected 49 million gallons of water, such machines create the more than 1.2 million cubic tons of snow needed for the 2022 Winter Olympics, according to Sports Illustrated.

“These could be the most unsustainable Winter Olympics ever held,” Professor Carmen de Jong, a geographer at the University of Strasbourg, told The Guardian in 2021. “These mountains have virtually no natural snow.”

CNN also reported how artificial snow could be dangerous for competitors.

None of this would be of concern, though, if it wasn’t for climate change. The planet is warming, and the ramifications are serious.

This became even clearer to me when I heard journalist and Columbia University Porter Fox speaking on NPR’s “Here & Now” on Jan. 24.

Fox recently wrote a book titled, “The Last Winter: The Scientists, Adventurers, Journeymen, and Mavericks Trying to Save the World,” which looks at climate change causing snow and ice to retreat around the world.

In the “Here & Now” interview, Fox mentioned a study by Daniel Scott from the University of Waterloo, which he conducts before each Winter Olympics. According to Scott’s most recent findings, only one of 21 cities that have hosted the Winter Games in the past will be able to do so again because of climate change, and that city is Sapporo, Japan, which hosted in 1972

That’s alarming.

Of course, what the loss of snow and ice means for the planet is worse.

“So much snow has melted from the poles on this planet that the rotational axis of Earth has shifted,” Fox said during the interview.

That’s jaw-dropping.

Then factor in the alteration of drinking water for 2 billion people around the world, permafrost melting and releasing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, and sea-level rise, and we have an absolute crisis on our hands.

I trust science. I’ve believed in climate change, and I’ve even tried to be a better steward of our environment, even though I recognize my efforts are a drop in the bucket compared to what factories and other large entities could do to cut emissions and pollution.

But hearing what Fox found through his reporting blew me away. It shined an even brighter light on the situation, making me look at the issue in a whole new way.

We can’t reverse the damage that has been done, but Scott’s research suggested the climate could be kept as it is if countries adhered to the Paris Climate Accords’ low emission standards.

There’s no fixing the problem, but we can stop making it worse.

So as I watch the Beijing Games and find myself impressed with the athletic ability of the Olympians, I’m also going to be thinking about the snow that makes the winter sports possible. 

If we, as a global population, aren’t careful, we could be watching one of the last Winter Olympics. Witnessing history is also fun, but this is the type of history I would rather not see happen.

Todd Vogts is a native of Canton, a resident of McPherson County, and an assistant professor of media at Sterling College. He can be contacted with questions or comments via his website at www.toddvogts.com.

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About toddvogts 840 Articles
Todd R. Vogts, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of media at Sterling College in Kansas. Previously, he taught yearbook, newspaper, newsmagazine, and online journalism in various Kansas high schools, and he ran a weekly newspaper in rural Kansas. He continues to freelance as a professional journalist from time to time. Also, Vogts is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the Journalism Education Association (JEA), and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), among others. He earned his Master Journalism Educator (MJE) certification from JEA in 2022. When he’s not teaching or writing, he runs his mobile disk jockey service and takes part in other entrepreneurial ventures. He can be reached at twitter.com/toddvogts or via his website at www.toddvogts.com.