Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Environmental Olympic Games

Did you catch the opening ceremonies for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia?  I had been waiting in a state of great anticipation to see how Russia might showcase its magnificent natural features and extraordinary culture.  There was a bit of history lesson for those who knew little of Russia’s storied past and a marine version of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake with Odette’s costume suggesting a jelly fish. 

Yet I was a bit disappointed in the visuals of Russia’s vast geography.  Russia is the world’s largest country and that provides a great deal of room for diversity.  Starting in the north and working your way south you would travel through tundra, forests of conifers and then even larger broad-leaf forests, grass land and deserts.  Russia has more border than another other country and is neighbors with fourteen other countries.  That is a lot of frontier.  What is most remarkable is that two thirds of Russia’s border is bounded by water.  Thirteen seas and three oceans wash up on Russia shores and close proximity to the North Pole means the waters are frozen much of the year.

Indeed, Sochi is one of those water stories.  The city is a resort town stringing along the eastern shore of the Black Sea.  It is an impressive water body  -  168,500 square miles  -  receiving water from the Mediterranean Sea as well as continental rivers and then sending some flow off to the Aegean Sea.  The brackish water supports a dynamic marine ecosystem.

Past the city streets of Sochi a visitor is treated to an array of habitats.  Waters racing to the Black Sea have created beautiful coastal wetlands  -  reed-filled marches, lagoons, deltas, bays and silt and sand flats.  These ecosystems have great economic value as sources of food and building materials.  They help filter fresh water supplies and provide breeding grounds and nurseries for fresh water fish.  They protect against erosion and prevent flooding as snow melt sends new water supplies rushing to the Black Sea.  Wetlands are notoriously sensitive, fragile systems.

I wondered what effect the Olympic event might have on Sochi and its environs. 

Many people questioned the wisdom of staging a winter sporting event in a subtropical climate.  In Sochi the temperature rarely dips below 37 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Centigrade).  The Olympic events are being held about twenty five miles from the Black Sea coast at a much higher and cooler elevation in Krasynaya Polyana.  The area had just one ski lift.  Thus to host the Olympics, everything had to be built from scratch, including power infrastructure and transportation.  The security apparatus for this event sets its own record even before the athletes begin competing.

Russia’s Olympics organization hacked through the Sochi National Park for a motorway and train tracks.    The park is Russia’s second oldest national park and covers 478,730 acres.  A plan to reintroduce snow leopards to the park has been in the works for several years.  No one has commented on the fate of the snow leopards now that the park features a highway and train tracks that block animal migration routes.

Russia’s winning bid to the Olympic Committee promised a ‘green’ event with zero waste.  Yet a wetland had to be filled in to build the Olympic Village and there have been numerous reports of waste dumps in the neighboring forests and waterways. 

The games have just begun and the winners are yet to be determined.  The same is true of the verdict on Russia’s Olympic environmental track record.  Still even though I watched the Opening Ceremonies in real time for free on the BBC, I suspect that the ticket price in environmental terms was pricey.

Neither the author of the Small Cap Strategist web log, Crystal Equity Research nor its affiliates have a beneficial interest in the companies mentioned herein.


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