In 70 Years, The Earth Could Be Too Hot For The Summer Olympics

Finding suitable locations for the Olympics is about to get really, really difficult

CREDIT: AP Photo/Felipe Dana
CREDIT: AP Photo/Felipe Dana

As a host city, Rio de Janeiro has seen its share of problems in preparing for and hosting the 2016 Olympic Games, from collapsing infrastructure to terrible pollution. But preliminary results of an ongoing study published Friday in the journal Lancet warn that infrastructure and security issues could be dwarfed by another huge problem for potential host cities in coming years: it could become simply too hot and humid for many cities to host the games at all.

“The climate could be so bad in 70 years that the Games will change forever.”

The study, written by a group of U.S. and Australian researchers, looked at how global climate change would affect the viability of host cities in 2085. In less than eighty years, the researchers concluded, only eight cities in the Northern Hemisphere — outside of Western Europe — will have a cool enough climate to host the summer games. No cities in Latin America or Africa would be viable hosts for the games, and only three North American cities — Calgary, Vancouver, and San Francisco — would qualify.

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“The climate could be so bad in 70 years that the Games will change forever,” Kirk Smith, a professor of public health at Berkeley, and co-author of the findings, told SFGate. “They might hold the Summer Games indoors, but can you imagine running an indoor marathon?”

The study looked only at cities in the northern hemisphere, which houses 90 percent of the human population. And while the full findings of the study are yet to be published, these preliminary results are a red flag for cities like Tokyo, which is set to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, and Los Angeles, which is one of the final bid cities for the 2024 Olympics. According to the study, both of these cities could be too hot and humid to host to outdoor athletic competition in 2085.

But it’s not just the Summer Olympics that are threatened by climate change — previous studies have also raised the possibility that the Winter Olympics could be equally endangered by rising global temperatures.

In a 2014 study, researchers from the University of Waterloo in Canada and the Management Center Innsbruck in Austria looked at how previous Winter Olympics host cities would fare in the 2050s and 2080s under low-emissions and high-emissions scenarios. For the high-emissions scenario, only six of the 19 past host cities for the Winter Olympics would be able to host the games. Under a low-emissions scenario, by the 2080s, only 10 previous hosts would be able to host the games.

CREDIT: Daniel Scott, University of Waterloo
CREDIT: Daniel Scott, University of Waterloo

Host cities for the Winter Olympics have already faced issues related to warming weather. In 2014, temperatures in Sochi reached 68 degrees Fahrenheit, making it the warmest winter games in history. In 2010, organizers at the Vancouver games had to bring in snow, airlifting it by helicopter and hauling it in by the truckload to ensure that there was enough powder to keep the games running.

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With an increasing body of scientific literature warning that the viable number of Olympic sites could be seriously dwindling , the idea of hosting the Olympics in the same place each year seems more and more appealing. But before the International Olympic Committee takes over an empty island somewhere to create the Olympic Island, maybe someone should make sure it won’t eventually be underwater due to sea-level rise.