Adapting to Climate Change and the 2014 Winter Olympics

Sochi, Russia knows what happens when temperatures rise above 32 degrees F.  The Winter Olympics is less fun in the slush.  Anticipating this challenge could arise at the 2014 Winter Olympics, the Olympic organizers have a contingency plan.

“There is a plan, and it does not include helicopters and hay bales. Sochi organizers, fully aware of the problems in Vancouver, have installed what they say is the biggest snowmaking operation in Europe. More than 400 snowmaking cannons, each looking a bit like a jet engine, are continually spitting streams of crystals for next year’s Olympics.

On the advice of a Finnish company called Snow Secure, the goal this season is to stockpile 500,000 cubic meters of snow into 10 shady pockets above the venues. The massive piles will be covered by insulated blankets, not unlike giant yoga mats, to protect them from the heat of summer.

Up to half of the saved snow may melt by next winter, but the site managers said they could conduct the Olympics even in the unlikely event that no natural snow falls next winter.”

Anticipating a challenge, free markets have delivered a partial solution.  This dance step will be seen again and again in our hotter future.  This is why I wrote Climatopolis.

Author: Matthew E. Kahn

Professor of Economics at UCLA.

25 thoughts on “Adapting to Climate Change and the 2014 Winter Olympics”

  1. This is not a solution…it’s a workaround…
    And I’d wager a fairly expensive one at that…

  2. I’m not seeing anything in the story about a price on snow, private companies competing to produce the best snow at the lowest cost, or anything else that justifies your describing this as “free markets have delivered a partial solution.” It’s not even clear if Snow Secure was paid for their advice.

  3. I have to point out that snowmaking is hardly something new, nor is its invention connected to climate change. Snowmaking cannons have been in use for decades, just to compensate for normal variability in weather patterns.

    The problem with snowmaking equipment is that it’s not really a solution to climate change: it has considerable environmental downsides of its own because it requires huge amounts of water and energy (and much of the energy usage tends to come from diesel engines). The good news is that even on the scale needed for the Winter Olympics, this is unlikely to have a global impact (the local environment may be another matter), but calling it a solution (even a partial one) strikes me as an overly cheerful assessment of what is still a net negative for the environment and the world climate.

  4. Sorry, what’s the free market solution to millions of people dying in Bangladesh? I’m pretty sure it’s “let them die”, right?

    But, yeah, some big stupid sports event will have snow. Yay!

  5. The choice of a famous Summer resort city to host a Winter Olympics is certainly a non-traditional choice. The average January temperature in Sochi is 43°F (6°C); hopefully, it’s a bit cooler in the mountains. Accelerating the emission of GHG by anything as silly as manufacturing snow and stockpiling it is just as obviously something to praise, not criticize.

    1. Thank you, Bruce. I’ve always though Sochi was the place Russians went to escape the winter cold! When I first read about a Winter Olympics there I thought it was a typographical error.

  6. Is this going to be the normal thing? A country hosts the Winter Olympics in the very warmest and least snowy part of the country? First Vancouver and now this.

    Next Germany hosts the Winter Olympics in Cologne.

    1. C’mon, Junius, cut ’em a break.

      Russia doesn’t have really cold places, y’know.

  7. now I get it! “adaptation” is when a one off event that maybe 1% of the worlds population cares about, and far less will attend, burns some extra carbon and raises future temperatures for the next 100years for everyone else. I’ve been wondering what Kahn’s notion of adaptation was really about.

    1. It’s really simple.

      Adaptation is figuring out how to manufacture (and stockpile) cold out of warm, in contravention to the laws of entropy and thermodynamics.

      Gosh, now that I put it that way, they must be geniuses.

      Did they really do that?

      1. Well, they figured out how to make high-risk mortgages into safe, widely marketable commodity investments by bundling lots and lots of them together and then … Oh.

        The old “let’s spin gold out of straw” fallacy.

        But if money can be infinitely created, the Earth’s resources (and thermodynamics) should just naturally follow, right?

      2. Did they really do that?

        It is one thing salivating about free markets with every imaginary Wall Street bell ring. That’s just childish behavior that exposes an inner character flaw…
        It is quite another thing to treat this as demonstrable genius to faun over. That’s just ignorance. I mean really… Yes it is really simple… Ice houses have been around for centuries:

        Ice houses are buildings used to store ice throughout the year, commonly used prior to the invention of the refrigerator. Some were underground chambers, usually man-made, close to natural sources of winter ice such as freshwater lakes, but many were buildings with various types of insulation.

  8. In what way is this a “free market” solution? The IOC is a non-governmental, self-appointed and self-perpetuating oligarchy. The Olympics work because the IOC cons national and host city governments into making the extravagant expenditure required by its demands. FIFA works much the same way. So we get World Cup soccer in Qatar and ski races in snowless Sochi. This is a ship of fools, not a model for survival.

    1. The choice of Sochi seems goofy. Given that it’s been decided, what we have here is a private company showing the operators of the Olympics what is (I hope) a least-cost way of providing snow. Or, at least, Sno-Cone. On the nights which are the coldest, as Katja notes, ski operators have for many years been squirting out aerosol water, which freezes and falls to earth. Relative to other methods of making Sno-Cone, it’s very cheap and consumes little energy. You can ski on this stuff, okay. The idea of insulating it away from summer would not have occurred to me, but maybe this is genius.
      Who will provide the raspberry syrup, that’s what I want to know?

  9. I too saw this as a workaround and not a ‘partial solution’. I fail to see how mitigation efforts are bad – spinoffs, new technologies, new materials, algae in buildings…adaptation is necessary and a second choice after mitigation.

  10. Matthew, I don’t know if you’ve heard but the Olympics are not anything like a free-market operation. More like a money-losing con game the proles pay for but which confers high status on the elites who control public decision making.

    Please explain how the snowmaking element is any more of a market efficiency example than the enormous one-use stadiums and other venues that the local taxpayers build. As to the supposed advantages the Games and their enormous stadia confer on the sponsoring locality, there is more literature on the nastiness and inefficiency of that racket than I can begin to summarize in a comment.

    Again — please offer some evidence of the free market in operation in your example.

  11. Now, now, the great Patriot and stalwart son of the prairie, Senator Roman Hruska, spoke up for a judge who was to judging like Kahn is to reality-based blogging:

    “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.”[1]

    Besides, he gets to keep plugging his book, trying to push sales into three figures. Just think, that could mean literally dozens of readers. Capitalism at work indeed.

  12. “…We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.”[1]

    Is that a dog-whistle that I don’t hear?

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