Canadian success at the London Olympics has been somewhat mixed so far. Though the 10 medals Canada's achieved thus far certainly aren't bad and have come from some unusual places, notable programs like rowing appear to have taken steps backwards, and there are some questions as to if the Canadian team will hit the top-12 in the overall medal standings goal set by the Canadian Olympic Committee. Thus, given that the Canadian team's apparently managed to pull off carbon-neutrality, maybe we should start lobbying the IOC to include environmentalism as a sport?
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That carbon-neutral claim comes from UBC Sauder School of Business associate professor James Tansey, whose spinoff carbon management company, Offsetters, is offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the Canadian team's travel to London. Those emissions are significant, as you'd expect with 277 athletes and all the clothes, equipment, coaches and support staff they have to bring; according to Tansey, they add up to 1,500 tons of greenhouse gases, the approximate volume of 300 Olympic-sized pools. As per the company's release, "The Team's travel emissions are being offset with a mix of high-quality projects that promote the shift to a low-carbon future. All projects are developed to best in class standards from Canada and around the world."
When you dig a little deeper, a lot of these projects actually sound pretty promising. The Offsetters site mentions that all of their projects are independently verified, additional (so they wouldn't take place without offset funding) and permanent (so the reductions in greenhouse gases they create won't just go away). Sample projects they mention include ground-source heat pumps for community buildings, commercial greenhouses' energy efficiency and fuel switching, biomass gasification systems for renewable heat and power production and computer-controlled hybrid fossil fuel and electric building heating systems, and all of those things clearly have some benefits. Particular projects the Canadian team is supporting include two landfill gas ventures in Canada, a bio-gas project in Thailand, and a wind farm in Turkey.
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However, these offsets come with a significant price tag. Offsetters' site indicates that you can buy offsets from their general portfolio ($20/tonne) or gold-certified portfolio ($30/tonne), which would add up to $30,000 or $45,000 respectively. It's possible the Canadian Olympic Committee got a better deal than that, considering both the volume of offsets they're buying and the publicity for Offsetters from working with Olympians, but that's still a sizeable amount of money that could be used to fund athletes. As everyone's probably aware by now, Canada doesn't have unlimited resources on that front, and Own The Podium has had to be very careful in order to get returns from their investments. There's a debate to be had over whether funding environmental projects or funding athletes is more valuable, and there are merits to both sides of that. (Of course, government could increase funding to both, but then that requires money from somewhere else, and that's sure to be controversial too.) Which side of the funding athletes or funding environmental projects debate you're on probably determines if you're cheering that the Canadian team's carbon-neutral or if you'd rather see that money used to try and improve Canada's rank in the medal standings.
(Update: Alison Murphy from Offsetters informs me that the company's actually a sponsor of the Canadian Olympic Committee, so they're providing the offsets free of charge. Thus, this isn't taking away from anyone's athletic funding, so people from the environmental side and the athletic-funding side have nothing to fight about here!)