We are watching history being made. The Rio Olympics is more than just the 31st Olympiad, the hype four years after London, the star athletes and patriotic viewing parties in our homes. Rio 2016, despite all of the critiques and uncertainty leading into these games, embraced its problems during last night’s Opening Ceremony and celebrated its tenacious spirit and desire to solve some of those problems. Brazil made it very clear that climate change is one of those problems they hope to solve through unity. First, here are a few reasons why this Olympics is ground-breaking, at a glance:
- USA sent the largest delegation of athletes of any nation (554), and the most women that have ever competed for a single nation in an Olympics (292).
- This is the first Olympic games held in a South American city.
- Model and Brazilian Gisele Bundchen took the final catwalk of her career at the Opening Ceremony, with “The Girl from Impanema” in the background.
- Ten athletes are members of the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team (ROT). IOC President Thomas Bach, who selected the team, said in his speech at last night’s ceremony: “We are living in a world where selfishness is gaining ground, where certain people claim to be superior to others,” he said of the Olympians representing displaced people across the world. “Here is our Olympic answer.”
With these historic moments kicking off Rio after only the first day, all eyes on the world are on Brazil, and they are using the attention to promote a noble cause: climate change. Here is why Brazilians are champions of climate change, and the message they hope to send with Rio 2016:
- The poorest people in the world hurt the most from climate change, like the little boy in the favela nursing the small sampling during the Opening Ceremony. From low-altitude to arid regions, or people who live off the land, warming temperatures and rising sea levels hurt them most. “The poorest people and the poorest countries are being hit hardest by climate change,” writes the World Wildlife Forum. “Yet they bear least responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions.” In CO2 emissions per capita, the U.S. is 11th country in the world. Brazil is about 120th, even though it is the world’s 5th-largest country.
- However, climate change does not discriminate. It transcends borders, faith, socioeconomic status, ethnicity. In their film during the Opening Ceremony, Rio showed that Amsterdam, Dubai, Florida, Greenland, and of course Rio, will be gravely effected by rising sea levels. Even in developed countries and affluent cities, climate change still persists and will displace millions of people.
- Ten refugee athletes were recognized by IOC President Bach for their bravery and enhancing diversity. The formation of the ROT is the result of the current refugee crises and global forced displacement at a record high. The UN estimates about 21.3 million refugees in the world right now, but climate change will increase the number of refugees and exacerbate the tensions we see now. Climate change could create 150 to 200 million “climate refugees,” people who will be displaced as a result of the effects of climate change.
- Brazil is home to an amazing amount of biodiversity and nature. The Amazon Forest contains 1 in 10 known species on earth, and houses half of the planet’s remaining tropical forests (1.4 billion acres!).
- There’s an environmental consciousness in Brazil that doesn’t exist in a lot of other countries, especially developed ones. Author and environmentalist Bill McKibben tweeted yesterday, “Americans watching the climate change segment of #Rio2016 ceremony are reminded that in most of the world this is not controversial.” Where climate change is a critical concern in Brazilian culture, many Americans are climate change deniers. Plus, fewer people in the U.S. think climate change is human-caused than any other country, even though scientists attribute it to man-made activity.
In conclusion, I’m excited to watch this Olympics not just for the athletes going for the gold, but a host city and country on a mission to send a message to the other 204 nations competing in this Olympics. The road to Rio 2016 was not a smooth one, but the road to minimize the effects of climate change will not be easy either. The Athletes’ Forest is exemplary of the lasting mark Rio 2016 is trying to leave after the games conclude. During the Parade of Nations at the Opening Ceremony, every athlete from each delegation was handed a seed as they entered Maracana Stadium. The Olympic athletes planted the seeds in metal towers, and they will grow into trees in the Athletes’ Forest in Deodoro, a neighborhood in West Rio. It is ideas like this that show the initiation, education, and determination we need to minimize environmental damage and have faith in the future. I look forward to the day that the athletes making history this week bring their children to Rio and show them their seeds, then trees, in the Athletes’ Forest. Rio is inviting the world to join the fight against climate change, and I hope the world answers. As IOC President Bach said at the Opening Ceremony, “In the name of all Brazilians, I welcome the world. Rio is ready to make history.”
© Rissponsible Living, 2016