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Canadian athletes press for carbon neutral Olympics

VANOC to unveil plans at March conference in Vancouver



More than 70 Canadian athletes have signed a letter to 2010 Olympic boss John Furlong urging him to make sure the Games are carbon neutral.

"I think that would send a very powerful message to big organizations and big events that this is standard procedure," said Olympic cross-country silver medalist Sara Renner from Italy.

Renner and husband Thomas Grandi helped found Play It Cool in 2006 with the David Suzuki Foundation. It's intended to get athletes to offset their own carbon emissions. The Suzuki Foundation is supporting the athletes in their bid to get the 2010 Games to be carbon neutral.

The organization has estimated that the emissions produced by the 2010 Games are equal to keeping 65,600 cars on the road for one year. It would cost VANOC about $5 million to buy offsets for its greenhouse gas emissions - that's about 0.3 per cent of its $1.76 billion operating budget.

"At this point what we have got from VANOC is a vision of a carbon neutral Games, but we are still a little short on action to make it a reality," said Deborah Carlson, Climate Change Specialist with the Suzuki Foundation.

"We would like to see them make a specific commitment to address the whole carbon footprint of the Games, so that would include the three major emission sources, energy use at venues during the Games, local transportation during the Games and air travel to and from Vancouver by participants during the Games."

Air travel connected to the Games is expected to produce 70 per cent of the emissions.

No one from VANOC was available for an interview but Linda Coady, the committee's vice president of sustainability, said in an e-mail: "VANOC's primary goal is to offset direct emissions from the Vancouver 2010 Games...

"We agree that offsets used to neutralize the carbon footprint of the Games have to be highly credible and that the Games provide an opportunity to engage athletes and the public on climate solutions."

Coady said VANOC's plans would be revealed at the World Conference on Sport and Environment, March 29-31 in Vancouver.

VANOC has worked to adopt sustainability at all levels, but it is not clear if it plans to offset emissions from spectators and participants at the Games.

"I really think that winter sport is the canary in the coal mine for greater problems," said Renner.

"The fact that it is difficult to cross country ski or alpine ski is a small problem when you compare it to rising sea levels and so on... but as athletes we have a responsibility to use our voice and at the same time it is important for us to set example first and hope people will follow."

Canadian halfpipe athlete Justin Lamourex has also signed the letter.

"They are showcasing winter sports and I think they should be doing something to help save winter sports," he said from Calgary where he was competing at the Burton Canadian Open.

"I want to see them follow up on their commitment to be carbon neutral.

"I am out in the mountains most days of my life and on glaciers fairly often and in the summer you can see the effects that climate change is having on them. Every year you go back up and you say, 'Oh, it is 10 metres shorter than it was last year."

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