A month before the great ‘Green Games’ in Sydney were due to open, a group of international scientists arrived at the North Pole to find, not ice, but a stretch of open water at least one mile wide – the first time the North Pole has not been ice-bound for 50 million years. "It was totally unexpected," Dr. James McCarthy, a Harvard oceanographer said. "There was a sense of alarm. Global warming was real, and we were seeing its effects for the first time that far north."
At a time when the world stands in desperate need of truth, honesty and action over environmental issues, it will continue to receive only gesture, hype and nonsense at the ‘Green Games’ in Sydney.
At the official website of the Sydney Olympics, PR executives have been working overtime to produce cringe-making soundbites: The Olympic Movement is "Turning green into gold", they declare; it is "Going for gold and staying green".
The International Olympic Committee has declared that the environment is now "the third dimension of Olympism", behind sport and culture. In 1994, President Juan Antonio Samaranch emphasised that, "The necessity of respecting the environment must figure among the Fundamental Principles of the Olympic Charter." Samaranch subsequently identified the environment as a consideration in awarding the Games to Sydney: ". The Olympic Games in the year 2000 were awarded to the city of Sydney, Australia, partly because of the consideration they gave to environmental matters." Michael Knight, the Australian Government’s Minister for the Olympics, has reaffirmed the commitment:
"There is no doubt the 2000 Olympic Games will be the most environmentally friendly Games ever staged." Sydney, he announced, "was breaking new ground and the Earth Council had recognised that the standards set by Sydney will be adopted and built upon by other Olympic host cities in the future."
While green groups have applauded the establishment of environmental Olympic guidelines for the Sydney Games, the use of new clean-up technology for dioxin waste, and the use of renewable energy, they remain scathing. Greenpeace concluded this month: "The past year has seen a number of appalling failures. Solutions to environmental problems exist. The Sydney Olympics could have been a world class showcase for these solutions, instead they only just manage to scrape in under the title, ‘Green Games’."
Greenpeace reports the extensive use of PVC in temporary venues at the Sydney Olympics, a lack of commitment to natural gas buses, and the use of highly polluting vehicles for VIP travel. Even the official ice cream, Streets, will be sold in wrappers that do not comply with the Olympic waste strategy. All venues will also use both ozone-depleting and global warming air-conditioning. But even these are small beer beside the deeper betrayal of the environment at Sydney.
The ‘Green Games’ will be held at Homebush Bay in Sydney. Ironically, Homebush Bay is a former industrial site and armaments depot which was previously subjected to years of unregulated waste dumping. In recent years asbestos-contaminated waste and chemicals including dioxins and pesticides have been found there, along with arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury and zinc. According to Sharon Beder, Senior Lecturer in Science and Technology at the University of Wollongong, it is the worst toxic waste dump in Australia, and the bay into which the waste leaches is so contaminated that there is a fishing ban:
"The sediments in the bay have concentrations of dioxin that make it one of the world’s worst dioxin hot spots. The dioxin is largely the result of waste from a Union Carbide factory which manufactured the notorious herbicide Agent Orange there during the Vietnam war", Beder says.
Greenpeace adds, "Our investigations show that not only is the ‘Green Games’ concept rapidly becoming a cynical farce, but that the presence of high levels of dioxin at Homebush Bay presents a real environmental and health threat."
Two of the biggest sponsors of the Syndey Olympics, Coca-Cola and McDonald’ s, are riding the ‘Green Games’ bandwagon, enthusiastically brandishing their green credentials. Coke’s continuous association with the Olympic Games is the longest of any corporate sponsor. It is the ‘Official Soft Drink’ of the Games. The total consumption of Coca-Cola products at the Games is expected to be greater than 10 million drinks – enough to fill the 50 metre Olympic Pool at Homebush one and a half times.
The marketing strategy behind Coke’s sponsorship of sporting events – it spent more than $350 million for sponsorship, advertising, and marketing at the 1996 Atlanta Games alone – was explained by Sergio Zyman, Coke’s advertising supremo: "Sports more than any other activity connects with consumers practically in the stem of the brain, rather than in the front lobe where reasoning and calculation take place."
Coke is keen to emphasise its environmental awareness: "Our commitment to the environment is based on the principle that we shall conduct our business in ways that protect and preserve our environment."
And yet, in one year, 10 billion plastic Coke bottles containing over 800 million pounds of new plastic are discarded. In 1990 Coke promised to begin making plastic soft drink bottles sold in the United States with 25 percent recycled plastic. This happened in selected markets until 1994, when Coke abandoned recycled plastic entirely, citing high costs. Since then, the percentage of plastic soft drink bottles sold that were collected for recycling dropped dramatically for three years in a row, from 50 percent in 1994 to 36 percent in 1997. No other recyclable material has dropped by more than 5 percent in the last decade, and none has dropped for two years in a row. In late 1996 and early 1997 the market price for reclaimed plastic reached record lows.
The U.S. pressure group, GrassRoots Recycling Network, says:
"For nearly 30 years, Coke has spent tens of millions of dollars to defeat or repeal the most effective container recycling programmes – financial incentives in the form of deposits on beverage containers. Coke’s attempt to claim credit for beverage container recycling rates is ludicrous in light of Coke’s vigorous opposition to container deposit legislation. Coke opposes bottle bills because they make beverage producers like Coke share responsibility (with consumers) for recycling used containers."
In 1998, the U.S. corporate watchdog, Multinational Monitor, listed Coca-Cola as one of ‘The Ten Worst Corporations’ of the year:
"Coca-Cola, for hooking America’s kids on sugar and soda water. Today, teenage boys and girls drink twice as much soda pop as milk, whereas 20 years ago, they drank nearly twice as much milk as soda."
The real betrayal of the environment, though, is found in Coke’s plans for endless expansion, for unlimited mass consumption. Amidst the talk of ‘sustainable development’ and ‘treading lightly on the planet’ at Sydney, Coke will be taking a more traditional approach to profit-making. In their 1993 Annual Report, Coke declared:
"All of us in the Coca-Cola family wake up each morning knowing that every single one of the world’s 5.6 billion people will get thirsty that day… If we make it impossible for these 5.6 billion people to escape Coca-Cola,…. then we assure our future success for many years to come. Doing anything else is not an option."
McDonald’s, the world’s largest franchised food service organisation, will operate a restaurant in the Olympic Village, Main Press Centre, International Broadcast Centre and Sydney Olympic Park during the Games. The International Olympic Committee describes McDonald’s as "Proud Partner of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games".
At the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, McDonald’s served 98,000 Big Macs, 97,000 Double cheeseburgers and 173,000 orders of fries. The irony of McDonald’s selling millions of burgers at the Olympics is suggested by the words of the judge at the McLibel trial between two Greenpeace activists and McDonald’s. People who eat McDonald’s food several times a week, the judge concluded, "will take the very real risk of heart disease if they continue to do so throughout their lives, encouraged by the Plaintiffs’ advertising." He also ruled, "it is possible it increases the risk to some extent" of breast cancer and "strongly possible that it increases the risk to some extent" of bowel cancer.
On environmental issues, McDonald’s takes a firm stand: ". as a global leader we have a responsibility to be an environmental leader as well. We are constantly taking steps that move us closer to doing all we can to preserve and protect our earth for you and your family".
Responding to allegations that it has benefited from the clearance of rainforests, McDonald’s responded: "McDonald’s does not, has not and will not permit the destruction of tropical rainforests for its beef supply."
Nevertheless, during the McLibel trial, McDonald’s admitted in their opening speech that they had used beef in Costa Rica from cattle reared on former rainforest land, some of which "had been rainforest up to the 1960′s". Charles Secrett, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth UK, explained, "McDonald’s Corporation, as a global supplier of beef products to mass markets, must accept some responsibility for encouraging development and land use pressures that result in the clearance of tropical forests."
Public relations for the ‘Green Games’ in Sydney is being masterminded by PR firm Hill & Knowlton. Hill & Knowlton have a long track record of involvement with environmental issues, helping the nuclear industry to generate statements such as: "Nuclear protects the public against an unacceptable level of peril from air pollution". Hill & Knowlton were also a member of industry front group ‘Alliance for Responsible CFC Policy’, which argued that the substitution of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) for Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) would not be in the public interest because of the costs. They also helped in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez spill and the Three Mile Island accident. One of Hill & Knowlton’s ex-employees described it as "a company without a moral rudder."
The links between the Olympics and controversy, and controversy regarding the environment, do not end there.
The overwhelming environmental issue of our time is global warming. The 2,500 climate scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN body set up to study the climate, are clear that a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is required to stabilise global temperatures at existing levels. In the last decade there have been more extreme weather events than in the previous century.
The sum total of the world’s meaningful response to global warming is the Kyoto Climate Treaty, proposing a 5.2% cut in emissions, as opposed to the minimum 60% required. Climate scientist Dr. Mike Hulme of East Anglia University describes this as "trivial in terms of stabilising the climate".
It is not trivial to big business, however. The powerful National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), for example, is working all out to prevent action.
As recently as October 1999, the NAM reaffirmed its opposition to the Kyoto treaty:
"On April 4, 1998, the board of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) adopted the following resolution on the Kyoto Protocol: We oppose the Kyoto Protocol and urge the President and Congress to reject it. We also oppose attempts by the Administration to mandate greenhouse-gas emission reductions in the absence of Senate ratification of a protocol to the Convention on Global Climate Change and/or enactment of specific authorizing statutes."
Important members of the NAM include corporate giants Coca-Cola and McDonald ‘s – the major sponsors of the Sydney Olympics. Perhaps not so remarkably, these sponsors of the ‘Green Games’ are members of a business association battling tooth and nail to prevent the ratification of the Kyoto climate treaty.