Every 4 years, the world stops and watches in awe as one city in the world hosts the Olympic Games. The top athletes convene in one city to prove to the world their abilities and the world engages in friendly war, for once.  In 2008 the Summer Olympics were hosted by China, who made several efforts to be sure their display would be considered “green.” This February the Winter Olympics are being hosted in Vancouver, Canada.

It seems like a no brainer that Vancouver, who often makes the list of Greenest Cities (in fact 90% of the city is run on renewable energy), would have no issues making sure this year’s Winter Olympics is nothing short of Green. And sure enough, they started off with a bang! Making big steps to prove to the world they are Greening the Winter Olympics with LEED certified buildings and expanding the public transportation system, to name a few. In fact Vancouver is trying their hardest to be recognized as the “Greenest Olympics Games Ever.”

Obviously, these are terrific achievements and set a great example to the rest of the world. However, there are some serious things to consider. Because of an unseasonably warm winter this year (Gasp! Could Climate Change be to blame?!), British Colombia has seen less snow and required the committee to truck in loads of snow.  We don’t need to explain twice how this impacts the environment, with all the carbon emissions it has created. Although, the committee has reported it will be purchasing offsets for these emissions, they only plan on offsetting less than half. This begs to question, do the Vancouver Olympics really deserve Gold for their Green?

David Suzuki has put together a “Green Scorecard” for the Winter Olympics. And although they may score high for their LEED certified buildings and a Green Olympic Village, the imitation snow has left many wondering if they deserve such high regards. This scorecard gives them a Bronze medal, even though the UN and the Vancouver Olympics themselves are rewarding a Gold medal. However, even winter athletes are demanding that more attention be paid to the climate. With Climate Change directly affecting their sports, they want the Olympic committees and the host cities to commit to higher standards in the future.

So what could be done to be sure Olympic Games are as environmentally aware as they should be? Grist writer,  Jonathan Hiskes, makes an excellent suggestion.  In order to really and truly change the impact of the Olympic Games, why not make it stationary? And we kind of have to agree. Centralizing the Olympics close to where most athletes are based would cut down on building and travel costs, which are the biggest environmental offenders. Even though worldwide cities would lose tourist cash and a chance to show off to the world, the environmental impact would be enormous. If the Olympics are setting examples, as they claim, this would be one hefty example to make. Lollapalooza did it and survived, so why can’t the Olympics?

“I’ll be home for Christmas…if I only in my dreams,” croons Bing Crosby on this classic holiday song staple.For many of us getting home for the holidays may be more of nightmare than a dream,  often times including headache-inducing travel.  Whether you take to the sky, the rails or the highway to get to your loved ones, there is no denying that the holiday season can send the ‘ol carbon footprint soaring higher than Santa Clause on Christmas Eve.

While one could make the environmentally friendly choice of forgoing the trip home altogether, that would likely result in enduring an avalanche of guilt brought on by e-mails and phone calls from a disappointed mom for weeks and months to come.  Trust me, “I am worried about my carbon emissions” is not an adequate excuse for skipping out on the holiday festivities unless your Dad happens to be Captain Planet.

So, you suck it up, and travel the hours and miles that it will take to make your family happy, and if you are lucky, you are glad to do so. So what can one do to assuage the gnawing green guilt over the amount of fossil fuels your holiday trek will release into the environment?

One option to easing this guilty conscious is purchasing a Carbon Offset, which is a financial instrument aimed at a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. In simpler terms,  you  give money towards projects whose aim is to reduce Green House Emissions. At first glance this practice appears to be the perfect solution to the sometimes unavoidable toll our day-to-day actions, such as that cross-country flight home for the holidays, take on the environment.

Critics and cynics alike, however, are quick to point out the flaws to this seemingly positive system. While regulations for this field do exist, some say they are not strenuous enough, allowing certain greedy individuals the opportunity to scam money off well-meaning environmentally minded individuals. It is also argued that a program that allows people to feel better about their less-than environmentally friendly habits only encourages people to continue to make poor choices.

It seems clear that this industry, like many, is far from perfect.  And although it is not without its faults, one could argue that any money put towards a thoroughly investigated Carbon Offset is money well spent.  As long as you, as with any purchase, know who you are buying from- check credentials and check how funds are allocated towards benefiting the environment. It is also important for people to remember that while it is nearly impossible to keep your carbon footprint at zero, one should try to make as many environmentally responsible choices as you can possibly make.

While a trip home for the holidays may be good for the soul and for a mother’s happiness, it does end up costing a little more than the plane ticket or gas for your car. Try making environmentally responsible choices in your day-to-day life,  choose to travel for only one holiday- spend Thanksgiving locally and Christmas with the folks, or vice versa.

Nothing clears a guilty conscience as much as living well, and if you try your hardest, you can keep both your mother and Mother  Nature happy as clams.

-Meghan Hurley

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