UBC Green College Presents Harjap Grewal and Dustin Johnson on Greenwashing the Olympics
Every Game claims to be green. It's the third pillar of Olympism. But Harjeep Grewal and Dustin Johnson find the green to be a little pale.
The Myth of the Green Olympics on Monday was the seventh in nine lectures in a thematic lecture series called, "The Olympic Games in Myth and Reality." On Monday, the talk focused on how Green the 2010 Olympics games actually are.
Johnson, a softspoken indigenous activist, has a boyish demeanor and a passion for protecting his traditional lands against injustice. Grewal, a charismatic fact-machine, Council of Canadians staff member, seemed to overwhelm Johnson, as he filled in a lot of space Johnson made available by giving a 10 minute talk. Grewal spoke about the connections of Olympic sponsors to the Alberta Tar Sands. He made fun of the cute Coca Cola polar bear sliding down the hill, as if it were a healthy nutritional supplement for atheltes and as if drinking another can of Coke would actually help the environment.
Johnson wore a simple green-colored “No 2010 Olympics on Native Land” t-shirt, dark blue jeans, and work boots. He looked confident during preparation. He is a UBC graduate and a member of the Ts'mkiyen nation. "I cannot call myself Canadian," he said.
Grewal, in wide-rimmed glasses, a wrinkled brown dress shirt and khaki pants, paced from the side table to the front of the room as he arranged leaflets for attendees. He scanned the room quickly to see who would show. Eight minutes before the talk began, it was just the one UBC prep/sound crew and two local television crews.
At 5pm, a professor from the School of Environmental Health, and others, including a few teenagers and young adults looking like they'd come from work or school, trickled in.
The lady who introduced the speakers was from the Olympic Resistance Network and wore a shirt of the five Olympic rings with a slash over each.
Then, to no one's great surprise, the speakers enumerated the reasons why they opposed the 2010 Olympics.
Grewal stated that the media promulgated the illusion that the Games benefit "everybody" economically.
Among the few sponsors of the Olympics like RBC, World Bank of Canada, and CPC Railway, Grewal did not hesitate to rip Green-branding to shreds. He said RBC is not only one of the main sponsors of the 2010 Olympics but is also bankrolling tar sands development projects. They are one of the, if not the main financers of it, Grewal said. He talked at length about what the tar sands projects is, its environmental impacts, rates of cancer among First Nations people in the area. He said he believed that if in Alberta, one in three hundred people came down with cancer, the government would shut the tar sands down, but when it happens in the indigenous community, the government doesn't care.
He didn't address Mayor Gregor Robertson's outline for making Vancouver the "Green Capital" of the world, for instance:
Greenpages.ca reported in October, Robertson's intentions for greening the Games, at least as far as the City was concerned. "The Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we need to do everything we can to help our local economy capitalize on it," said Mayor Robertson. "That means being aggressive in terms of how we market ourselves to the world. The 'Vancouver, Green Capital' branding strategy allows us to define Vancouver on our terms."
And it wasn't all about marketing and hype, the City had plans: The development of a Low carbon economic development zone. Designed to spur economic activity and create jobs, these zones include financing mechanisms, government incentives and technology exchanges. Mayor Robertson has been in talks with US cities in the Pacific Northwest to collaborate on low carbon economic zones, and intends to enter into an agreement with the State of California this year.
Grewal, with his acerbic humor entertained the crowd as he made fun of Premier Gordon Campbell’s infamous flailing of arms to emphasize the Olympic’s environmental protection plan as "a key direction of a Sustainable Vancouver." Both Grewal and Johnson continuously came back to the point that they believe the Olympics are “a corporate green-washing.”
"We know that this is not the greenest games ever. The amount of concrete that went into the Olympic oval and making the highways, not for public transit per se, but for MORE carbon emissions to hit the road, is not the greenest route to take. It’s a really perverse logic to the entire thing. Green sells. Olympics are needed to be pitched as green." Grewal said.
Johnson said that the Games are “exploiting our people, territories, our natural energy, our water, wind, forestry, and human energy. There are displaced people because of the Games."
Grewal made it clear, however, that he did not despise sports and games. "I LOVE basketball," he said, and suggested that the Olympic Games take place at the same location every four years. Quoting George Monbiot, he said the Olympic Games don't need to move in order to have sports. Monbiot suggested rotating them. Go back to Athens. Go back to Salt Lake City. Monbiot suggested that at least the cities that had gone into debt as a result of the Olympics in the past might have the possibility of recouping their losses in the future.
He said the idea of carbon remediation is silly. You're doing something you think is bad and you're trying to pass the buck to someone. You wouldn't kill five people and buy killing credits so as not to be responsible for having killed. You can't do things you know are wrong for the environment and make it okay in this way, he said.
Together, Johnson and Grewal drew the larger picture of the Green-branding of the 2010 Olymipcs and the underbelly of the corporate sponsors with their ties to tar sands and other environmentally unsustainable practices.