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Wednesday, June 11, 2008 08:32 am

China’s green Olympics

The People’s Republic deserves credit for its environmental efforts

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The “Birdcage” is one of seven Olympic stadiums being built in Beijing for the upcoming 2008 Summer Olympics. All are equipped with solar generators that will provide most of the outdoor lighting. The entire hot-water supply for the Olympic Village will b

The 2008 Summer Olympics in China is drawing a lot of attention right now for political reasons. Less known is that China has made an effort to make the event as green as possible. What’s going on in that regard?

It’s true that China is using the upcoming Beijing Olympics as a sustainability showcase, going so far as to dub the event the “Green Olympics.” Through a partnership with the U.S. government and the Maryland-based International Center for Sustainable Development, China is giving Beijing a green makeover to make the city a model for net zero pollution, green building, and sustainable community development. According to Chinese Minister of Science and Technology Minister Wan Gang, the Beijing Olympics are expected to generate some 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide, in large part because of the flying the world’s athletes will do to get to and from the games. To offset these potent greenhouse gases, China will take a series of measures, Wan says, including planting trees, closing 1,000 small coal mines before and during the games, and banning as many as a million cars from city streets. Beijing’s Olympic Village, where the Chinese government has been busy erecting dozens of stadiums and other structures in accordance with rigorous green standards, is emerging as quite an example of sustainable community development. The steel-looped National Stadium, for instance, includes a rainwater-collection arrangement, a natural ventilation system, and a clear roof with inflatable cushions made from ETFE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene), a kind of plastic that increases light and heat penetration. Another example is the “Water Cube,” a spectacular structure that looks like a building made of bubble wrap. Officially known as the National Aquatics Center, it is completely surrounded with ETFE pillows and is expected to cut energy use by 30 percent. When it has finished serving its purpose as an Olympic venue, it will be converted to a shopping area and leisure center with tennis courts, retail outlets, nightclubs, and restaurants. All seven main Olympic stadiums are equipped with solar generators capable of putting out 480 kilowatts of energy at any given moment. Ninety percent of the lighting outside the stadiums, as well as the entire hot-water supply for the Olympic Village, will be powered by solar energy. Also, the main stadiums will receive power from Beijing’s first wind farm. Although the Olympic Games will only last two weeks, environmentalists hope that the greening of Beijing will indeed continue beyond the summer of ’08. Some proposals include the building of 14 wastewater-treatment facilities to achieve a 90 percent treatment rate in Beijing and the extension of potable water to the entire city. The municipal government of Beijing has also invested in expensive energy-efficient heating and transportation equipment that will greatly improve environmental quality for decades hence. Beijing, where 1,000 new cars roll onto the streets every day, plans to source clean energy from other parts of China and through the purchase of pollution offsets on a quickly expanding international market.

For more information: ICSD Beijing 2008 Green Olympics Initiative, www.solarcities.org/beijingolympics.htm; Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, en.beijing2008.cn.
Send questions to Earth Talk, care of E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881 or e-mail earthtalk@emagazine.com.
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