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4 Reasons the Sochi Olympics Are an Environmental Disaster

By Kevin Mathews

You may see a lot of gold, silver and bronze at the Olympics, but one color you definitely won’t see much of in Sochi is green. Years ago, Russia won its Olympic bid in large part by pledging to host the most environmentally friendly Games ever. Now, however, it’s clear that Sochi did not fulfill these promises and, in fact, has perpetrated an ecological nightmare.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Here are four reasons even casual environmentalists will resent Sochi’s actions:

1. Illegally Dumping Waste

So much for Sochi’s “zero waste” claims: the Associated Press has proven Russia’s vow to use only renewable materials in their construction efforts and not dump waste false. Though the nation tried to hide this dumping, the press agency found literal tons of waste being dumped unsafely in a protected area.

Since the illicit spot was discovered, Russian officials blamed it on a hired company’s “error.”

Still, no effort has been made to remove the dangerous waste from where it sits.

2. Damaged Water Supply

While not following through on the pledge to not dump is bad, it wouldn’t be half as awful if only they had dumped that industrial waste in actual wasteland. In a misguided attempt to hide their dumping, Russia wound up putting this hazardous material in a “water protected zone,” thereby putting Sochi’s drinking water at risk.

Whether that waste actually did any damage to the city’s water supply is uncertain, but one thing is definite: the water has been tainted by something.

One journalist took photos of the yellow water that came out of her sink. Not only was she warned not to drink the water, locals advised that she not even touch the water because it “contains something very dangerous.”

3. Destroying National Parks

In order to make room for the various Olympic facilities and accommodations, Sochi needed to clear space in natural areas that should have been off-limits. More than 8,000 acres of Sochi National Park were cleared after politicians reversed Russia’s laws protecting national parks so that construction could occur.

As a result, rare wetlands were buried in rubble. The inhabiting species of birds, bears and reptiles have fled to unknown locations in search of a new home. Though Russia seems to be following through on its plan to plant three trees for every one it chops down for the Olympics, environmentalists are not pleased with how it is being implemented. By scattering these new trees in various places, Russia is not addressing the problem of deforestation or reestablishing habitats for the creatures that have been displaced.

4. Jailing Environmental Activists

Worse yet, Russia has made it clear that anyone who speaks out against all of these environmental assaults will feel its wrath. Though the effort to crack down on gay rights protesters has received most of the media attention, Putin’s posse has also aggressively pursued environmental activists to prevent any demonstrations that could “interrupt” the Games.

Yevgeny Vitishko, one of Sochi’s most prominent eco-activists in recent years, has been arrested on trumped up charges. Just before the Olympics, Vitishko was arrested for “swearing in public” and will be kept in jail on the charge for more than two weeks. It’s clear that Russia is inventing a way to keep Vitishko behind bars to prevent him from discussing these issues during the actual Olympics. Vitishko is joined in prison by fellow green protestor Igor Kharchenko, who was also mysteriously arrested for nebulous reasons just before the Games.

Visit EcoWatch’s WATER page for more related news on this topic.

 

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.

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