Sara Renner

Sara Renner.
Photo: Arnd Hemmersbach via Flickr

Canadian Olympic skier Sara Renner depends on winter weather to do what she loves, but over the last 15 years, she’s seen more unpredictable ski seasons and more races being canceled due to lack of snow. “I am concerned about the future of the sports we love,” she says, “but also about the next generation of Canadians, who will be left to deal with even more serious climate change impacts if we don’t act now.”

Renner and more than 70 other Canadian athletes recently shared these concerns with the organizing committee in charge of the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, B.C. The snowboarders, speed skaters, kayakers, windsurfers, hockey players, and even a unicyclist signed their names to a letter urging the Vancouver Organizing Committee (Vanoc) to fulfill their promise to make the Games carbon neutral.

The letter was sent via the David Suzuki Foundation, a science-based organization Vanoc had previously consulted for an estimate of greenhouse-gas emissions that would be produced by the Games. The foundation came up with a figure equivalent to 65,000 cars on the road for one year — and said that nearly 70 percent of that would be due to indirect emissions from athletes, sponsors, media, and spectators flying in for the event.

Although the Olympic bid organizers have said since the beginning that they wanted to fully offset the impact of the Games — and in fact, make it the greenest ever — Vanoc now says they do not plan to account for that air travel. And this is the point with which the 70-some athletes take offense. Below, a snip from their letter:

As the 2010 Winter Games draw near, excitement is building among Canadians across the country. At the same time, there is a shadow hanging over the Games’ preparations — the very real possibility that the future of winter sports itself is threatened by climate change.

We are all athletes who travel the world to compete in sports ranging from skiing and bobsledding to kayaking and cycling. We have witnessed firsthand the impacts of climate change — most vividly retreating snowlines and shrinking glaciers. We know that not only will our sports be affected by climate change, but so too will millions of people around the world who will face extreme weather events, droughts, and other serious impacts.

With this in mind, we respectfully urge you to make the 2010 Winter Games carbon neutral by taking these critical and affordable actions to ensure the integrity of VANOC’s climate legacy:

    1. Take responsibility for the full carbon footprint of the Games, as identified in the Meeting the Challenge by the David Suzuki Foundation. This includes reducing greenhouse-gas emissions where possible and purchasing high quality carbon offsets for remaining emissions, including at least 20 per cent Gold Standard carbon offsets.

    2. Carry out an effective public outreach campaign to inspire Canadians to take action to address climate change during the Olympics, and in their daily lives.

We encourage you to lead by example and use the inspirational power of the Olympics to show the world that together we can put effective climate change solutions into action.

The David Suzuki Foundation is also offering the opportunity for us non-athletes (and non-Canadians, for that matter) to sign the letter. Here’s a slideshow of the athletes who have already signed on:

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