This year, the Olympics opening ceremony highlighted climate change and the impact of global warming on the planet to a worldwide, primetime audience – a message that echoed throughout the games in different ways.
The entire Olympic stage, the host-country Brazil, is home to a large part of the Amazon Rainforest which covers about 60 percent of the country. The Amazon Rainforest faces threats of deforestation for agriculture, expansion in infrastructure, and for timber. The rainforest itself is a carbon sink – it absorbs carbon dioxide and helps reduce the effects of climate change – so losing the forest also means losing this ecological service. Not to mention the Amazon is home to around 40,000 species, rich with biodiversity.
The message of climate change resonated throughout the Games in smaller ways as well. David Katoatau, a weightlifter from the tiny Pacific island-nation of Kiribati received a lot of attention while competing – he danced and quickly became a fan-favorite, extensively featured throughout social media. What seemed like a celebratory dance was really his effort to raise awareness about Kiribati and the threat climate change poses to his home country. Kiribati is made up of 33 atolls and coral islands, with a population of over 110,000 and faces threats of sea level rise, coastal erosion, and intensified storms.
Displacement due to climate change is something that the world may see more of this century in places like the islands of Tuvalu, Maldives, and Vanuatu but also coastal regions here at home including communities off the coast of Louisiana and southern Florida. Changes to sea level aren’t constant around the world – some areas are more vulnerable than others and with intensified weather patterns and storms, coastal and reef erosion, and increased soil salinity, places like Kiribati may become uninhabitable as the planet continues to warm.
David’s message and dancing raise awareness of these beautiful places that are home to many, and the climate-related challenges they are facing. And the Olympics Games have provided a global audience.