Report gives Utah a glow up on hosting a ‘climate positive’ Olympics
After a glowing report from the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, the leaders behind Utah’s Olympic bid, alongside Utah Clean Energy, feel confident about the state’s ability to successfully host a “climate positive” Winter Games.
The International Olympic Committee hasn’t made any decisions, but Salt Lake City is vying to host its second Olympics in either 2030 or 2034. Organizers prefer 2034 since Los Angeles is set to host the 2028 Summer Olympics.
Fraser Bullock, the president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, discussed the report along with Catherine Raney Norman, Olympic speed skater and bid committee vice chair, and Sarah Wright, executive director of Utah Clean Energy, during an April 27 panel discussion put on by the institute.
“We’re as prepared as possible for when that moment happens for the IOC to make a decision. They have a really hard time saying no to us,” Raney Norman said.
The report highlights work from Loughborough University in the United Kingdom that predicts that Salt Lake City will have viable snowfall through 2080. Fewer than half of previous winter hosts will have viable snowfall by 2050. The IOC itself is considering narrowing future Winter Games to a rotating band of hosts and has delayed announcing the 2030 host due to climate change.
Another conclusion is that the state’s high level of volunteerism already puts Utah in a good position to host, alongside the potential for an increase in community pride and a sense of unity.
If Utah is chosen, Wright hopes it would incentivize the state to speed up efforts to combat climate change, like accelerating the adoption of zero-emission vehicles and more renewable sources of energy.
“I’ve always believed that Utah can be the conservative state that really leads out on smart climate solutions,” she said. “And so this is an opportunity for us to show not just Utah, but the nation and the globe that you can come together and do hard things and leave a legacy of a stable climate.”
Raney Norman said when she talks with athletes about the possibility of Utah hosting the games, she regularly asks what they want the legacy of those games to be.
“And one of their responses was to ensure that winter sport remains viable in the Olympic and Paralympic movement,” Raney Norman said. “These discussions that we’re having around climate are very much so forefront and relevant for the athletes in terms of if they can participate in the sport, in the activity they love because the environment is changing so dramatically.”
Since Utah still has venues in place from when the state last hosted the games, there would not need to build any new, permanent structures in order to host again.
“Potential negative environmental impacts of the 2030 games are minimized by the fact venues from the 2002 games exist and are well maintained,” the institute’s report reads.
Park City Council member Becca Gerber said some community members have expressed concerns about overdevelopment and affordability if Utah hosts again.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations in Park City about ‘event fatigue’ and feeling like our community is consumed — people just kind of come here and they ski in our mountains and they eat in our restaurants,” Gerber said. “We have a workforce shortage and an affordable housing shortage already, and how does that play out with having the games come back?”
Gerber, personally, is excited about the possibility of another Olympics but thinks the community needs to be actively involved in its organization.
“The conversation has been at a very high level so far, and we haven't had any specific discussions as to what would actually be needed of our community, yet,” Gerber said.
During the panel, Raney Norman said the committee is committed to transparency and collaboration.
“Our intentions are for the betterment of our communities and for the betterment of Utah,” she said.