The world has just completed celebrating the spirit of sportsmanship with the Olympics – the greatest sporting event in the planet. After years of hard work, some athletes have gone away holding their heads high with pride and shining heavy medals on their necks.
Some have gone away with drooping shoulders, looking down with tears and heavy hearts. These extremes are what makes the Olympics a great event that we all so eagerly look forward to every four years. Now imagine an Olympics being cancelled ... because it is too hot for the athletes!
This is now not a distant, but a distinct possibility, say scientists from the Lancet. In a report published last month, they have declared that a time may come when it may be too hot for the athletes to compete. They say that in 70 years, most cities in the Northern Hemisphere will be unfit to host the summer Olympics due to rising temperatures associated with climate change.
We all know that climate change poses the biggest challenge for humanity. It threatens human health in many ways, through heat waves, extreme weather events, and changes in patters of diseases. All this puts tremendous economic and social stress on populations trying to cope with or escape these weather conditions to survive. More than half the planet's workforce works outdoors, primarily in construction and agriculture.
Increasingly, people will face a choice between working hard outdoors or abandoning work to ensure that they are safe. Athletes are especially prone to heat stress in outdoor endurance events. The 2007 Chicago Marathon, had to be cancelled mid race after hundreds of heat-stricken runners required medical care.
In 2016, only about 70% of the elite competitors in the US Olympic Team Trials Marathon in Los Angeles finished, in a race where peak temperature reached 25.6°C. Scientists used climate models to project rising temperature and humidity over the next century and estimated the effects on the number of cities eligible to host the Olympic Games.
They focused their search in the Northern Hemisphere, home to 90 percent of the world’s population, and only considered cities with at least 600,000 residents, the size considered necessary for hosting the Games.
Our study using climate change projection shows that there will be very few cities at the end of the century that will be able to hold the summer Olympics as we know them today, said John Balmes, a professor of public safety at the University of California, Berkeley, who co-authored the report.
The findings indicate that by 2085, only eight Northern Hemisphere cities outside of Western Europe are likely to be cool enough to host the summer Games. According to the projection models, all of the cities that are or were in contention for either the 2020 or 2024 summer Olympics, Istanbul, Madrid, Rome, Paris and Budapest, would be unfit to host the games. Tokyo, the host of the 2020 games, would also be too hot to ensure athlete safety. In North America, the only suitable sites would be Calgary, Vancouver and San Francisco.
If we project out to the 22nd century, then there are only 4 cities in the world that can host the summer Olympics and that would be Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin and Belfast, said John Balmes from the School of public health in California, one of the co-authors of this report.
The authors of the report go on to say that the only way the games might go on is if it is run entirely indoors, in winter, or without the marathon and other heat-sensitive endurance events? While we say let the games begin, now we need to wonder; will the games begin?
Call me an eternal optimist, but I am confident that the games will always be conducted, because the human race will act collectively and do what it takes to reduce greenhouse gases and the effects of climate change....