As sports commentators and news reporters from all over the world endlessly discussed Sochi's not-so-cold weather and Olympian efforts to improve snow conditions, they often failed to mention that balmy winters may become the new normal in many long-established ski destinations, thanks to our changing global climate.

By tradition, the Olympic Games bring global issues to center stage, concerns that often have little to do with the athletic events themselves.

From the 1968 Black Power salute of medal winners Tommie Smith and John Carlos in Mexico City to the 1980 and 1984 boycotts by the U.S. and the USSR, respectively, the Olympics have repeatedly placed the world's most pressing concerns in front of a world audience.

The time for acting to avoid climate catastrophe is melting away as fast as the snow and ice. The Winter Games provide the perfect opportunity to provoke passion around climate change.

The Olympics can generate momentum for climate solutions in three ways: (1) by focusing international attention on the impacts of reduced snowpack and glacial melt on winter sports; (2) by constructing state-of-the-art, climate-neutral facilities, transportation networks, and even entire cities; and (3) by uniting the disparate states of the world to confront one issue that affects us all: global warming.


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First, the Winter Games provide a quadrennial opportunity to bring the effects of climate change to the world's attention while all eyes are affixed to cold-weather sport. Competitors from across the globe should come together to pressure world leaders to develop a strategy for climate action.

Athletes determined to stand up against Russian laws that discriminate based on sexual identity provide evidence that the games remain a great stage for social protest.

Second, constructing and staging an ecologically mindful Olympics can generate excitement over the potential of clean technology to produce built environments that support massive human activity without the support of fossil fuels.

Olympic construction provides the opportunity to demonstrate the best available low-carbon technology. With a $50 billion budget like that of the Sochi Olympics, we may already be capable of creating climate-neutral urban environments -- especially if the money goes entirely to Olympic preparations rather than embezzlement and kickbacks.

I imagine mass transit on rails shuttling people and equipment between Sochi and the Caucasus Mountains rather than crowded superhighways connecting city to slopes. I imagine wind turbines extending upward from chairlift towers; passively designed houses and arenas that maintain room temperature with minimal energy consumption; and waste-to-energy facilities that supply the grid with electric power and produce liquid biofuels for Zambonis and snow groomers.

If an Olympic host creates zero-emission structures and infrastructure while performing on-site mitigation projects to counterbalance air travel and construction emissions that cannot be avoided, then the entire host city will be greened, literally with carbon-absorbing vegetation and in terms of sustainability.

Lastly, the Olympic Games are special because the nations of the world assemble to celebrate something we all have in common: sport.

The reality of our changing climate is another experience that the whole world shares; around the world, people face many symptoms of the same disease -- rising seas, shifting weather patterns, species dislocation, intensified storms, and threatened winter sports.

Let's hope future Winter Olympics don't ignore the opportunity to place climate change on the world stage.

Sam Bliss blogs at theblisspoint.org from his home in South Berkeley. He currently works on climate action at the local government level.