Category “The Forest Foundation”

Can Durham Outshine Star, NC?

Monday, 25 January, 2010
The Garden and GreenHouse in front of Star

The Garden and GreenHouse in front of Star

Can each community in our nation achieve the goals set out by the little town of Star North Carolina, and their eco-industrial park?  After 15 years of what has been certainly hard work, the 6 counties in central NC bordered by Asheboro on the north and Rockingham on the south, Albemarle on the west and Siler City on the east, have created an experiment in rural economic development that rivals some of the finest examples across the country.  Read the rest of this entry »

Visioning an Alternative Future Olympic Village

Thursday, 18 May, 2006

Connection with ones’ body and environment is fundamental to becoming and being a great athlete, and there are few Olympic athletes that do not have a deep appreciation and care for the natural world. Granted, many of the events in Italy were on hills and in valleys, nestled in beautiful picturesque mountains. Many athletes train in similar natural areas around the world. Beyond these obvious scenic locations, and the “trials and tribulations” of “dealing” with weather conditions, a connection to a “sense of place” or connection to “source” was once again usurped by the need for humans to separate themselves from nature, and focus on and glorify our human culture and technology. We can learn much from the Torino Olympics as to how to make future events a more connected and true reflection of our important relationship with the world around us.

In Torino, evidence of our unsustainable socio-economic vison was everywhere, from facilities, fake snow and ice machines, to concerts and literature. Even the spectacular mountains were obscured by a thick brown smog created from factories, cars and trucks. In addition, one could not take a step without a cloud of cigarette smoke being inhaled. Air quality will be a serious problem in the Bejing summer Olympics in 2008.

Sadly, Torino seemed to have a bit of an inferiority complex with its focus on the arts, its city center’s “sheik” shopping and elaborate decorations, designed obviously by expensive marketing companies. Not that human culture’s ability to soar is inherently bad. Italy is one of the most important origins of the Renaissance, a rebirth. But we have come to the point in our history that we are now altering the life-giving functions of the planet, destroying the ecological systems that are provide us our livelihood and from which all our forms of capital come.

For instance, humans ability to survive in nature during the winter is no longer as much a challenge, from heated transports and high-tech clothing, to high speed mountain lifts, and a host of other modern conveniences. The occasional avalanche or severe snowstorm are real stories in stark contrast to a highly controlled “winter paradise.” Erratic climate change has caused snowpack in the Alps to become very unstable, making the slopes dangerous to users and communities in their valleys. Global warming is also threatening the glaciers of the Alps, which are rapidly retreating, and will ultimately threaten the water supply of much of northern Italy and Europe. These macro environmental changes reflect incrementally smaller changes in our daily lifestyle that are driving an unsustainable relationship with each other and our planet.

Even the Olympic mascots, “gliz” and “neve,” ice and snow, seemed inappropriate, commercial and designed as cartoon characters that looked very urban and industrial. Conceptually, this could have been a wonderful opportunity to teach about water’s various phases, bring attention to its miracle properties critically important to all life on this planet, and the need to keep it clean and safe. This, of course, was not the message, but instead, the mascots were the basis for numerous marketing opportunities, photo “ops,” stuff toys, key chains, etc. made of unsustainable materials and likely made in Asian sweatshops. Sadly, many of the products at the Olympics were not labeled, making it difficult to determine their origin and harder to decide on which to consume. However, the cow bells, that produce that essential winter sport “ring” as the skiers fly by were labeled “made in Norway.” This was very cool, and as an American, I thought, “how often can you get something made in Norway?!”

In general, Torino, Italy and Europe have exhibited manifestly greater environmental sensitivity than nearly any other place on the planet. Be it their action on Kyoto and climate change; use of an energy tax promoting efficiency, smaller vehicles and homes and an excellent public transportation system; there use of alternative fuels, like biodiesel; or appreciating their resources, like organic farming; Europe is light years ahead of the rest of us. But sadly, Torino did little to highlight this “greenness” during the Olympics.

The only conceptual “bow” to sustainability was Torino’s promotion on its website and publication a brochure (which were available at a booth at one of the stadiums attended to by two, very bored youngsters) of its “greening” initiatives. This unreported important aspect to the Olympics was that all the new Olympic facilities were built using LEED certification. As well, two buildings, a hotel and the main hostel, were certified as green accommodations. It would have been fun to learn more about this and to really promote in balance with the excessive Western commercialism. Torino also had an active recycling program, though bins were rare. But these efforts seemed somewhat forced, rather than integrated into the whole event.

There was so much more to this region of Italy’s Piemonte that could have been promoted and used as a basis for a more holistic sporting event. Where was reference to the land or organic farming? (See our other blog on “Torino Trip” and Cascina Falchera, City Farm) organic wine production or restaurants serving fresh local organic produce? What was being done to clean up the air and water? No reference was made to the Po River and its health, or to local animals or ecosystems (some which were rare, unique and important gloabally). Wouldn’t mascots of local animals have seemed more appropriate? There was no mention of local environmental or community development groups and their important efforts and roles.

From a financial sustainability point, one hopes for Torino’s sake that the money invested will be repaid. The money spent to create the perfect conditions for athletes to compete, and improve safety of both athletes and spectators, was truly amazing. Which brings us to the issue of cost and what could be done to make future Olympics more sustainable. Several things are needed to improve the return on the event and value to the host of nations. First, the amount the Olympics have to raise is excessive and requires huge sponsorship commitments based on a consumptive model that is very unsustainable. Limiting cost or increasing benefits would be essential to sustainability. Taxing unwanted costs and subsidizing widely created benefits are fundamental. Sadly, large corporate contributors dominate the event, pasting their logo on everything and making their presence stifling. Where were the organizations that could offer a different vision of the future, with less focus on multi-national corpreteering and globalization, and more on local bioregional solutions and interactions?

The most obscene component of the Olympics was the Sponsors Village, which was a large attraction appealing to a consumer culture that promoted fast cars, sugar water, technology and a host of other modern themes that may ultimately be our downfall as a species and planet. More could be done to curb this “consumptive value system” and bring it in line with natural sustainable systems, promoting less consumption of non-renewable resources, consumption of more sustainable products, focusing on “services” rather than “things” and melding the concept of sustainability with “cool” to make it more widely acceptable and a basis for revenue generation. Second, facilities built need multiple uses beyond the Olympics, and many critics have called for picking a handful of locations to host the event, rather than a new location every two years. As a development tool, the Olympics are an interesting model, but economically unsustainable as currently practiced. Only one Olympics (Atlanta Summer games) in the last 20 years has made money!

Finally, the Olympics are really a global party that brings together families, friends and people of all kinds. Incorporating more themes and appealing to a more wholesome, family entertainment component may be a way to diversify and increase revenue. Creating an alternative future Olympic Village, allowing many groups across a spectrum of social, environmental and economic spectrums to exhibit, network and share ideas of a sustainable vision may be very appealing and a balance to the corporate consumptive model that dominates nearly all major sporting events today. Exhibitors could include: conservation groups, sustainable community development, green businesses and fair trade, drawing a large and committed audience to use the energy and resources of the Olympics into the future, building on the event and carrying it further into the future, a sustainable future (See our coming blog on the “Universarium Project of the Center for Ecozoic Studies and Ecologos”).

So much more is needed to make the Olympics a true symbol of global spirit. The shift that has to occur must permeate all levels of decision-making and action, to the point where it becomes second nature. The shift is in our daily lives, livelihoods and in our spiritual cosmology (See Center for Ecozoic Studies), to revere the life giving systems that allow us these wonderful opportunities to grow, achieve and compete at events like the Olympics. In casual conversations, most people get it, and know things are awry, but more leadership is need to make it fashionable and cool, and in a sense, a competition on “how green can we be.” In Germany, solar panels on roofs are now a status symbol. But we can all move beyond our current paradigm, to work towards a sharing and collective conscious that is creative, healthy and sustainable. And the Olympics is a great place to start and make a statement.

New News:

London 2012 Olympics ‘could miss environmental targets’