Opinion, by Alfonso Stefanini

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The recycled Olympic aluminum torch will soon make landing in Brazil as it makes its way from the eternal Olympiad flame in Athens. Presumably the torch’s fire shall be kept burning aboard the transatlantic flight, complementing the carbon emissions of the jet airliner.

Alfonso Stefanini, environmental consultant in Rio de Janeiro.
Alfonso Stefanini, environmental consultant in Rio de Janeiro.

Soon after making landfall in Brazil, the lit baton will be relayed across the country with the help of 12,000 sweaty hands, finally reaching the ceremonial Olympic pyre in Japarepaguá, near the City of God in Rio de Janeiro.

While most of the games will take place on terra firma, a good part of the competitions will be held on water. Unfortunately, not even Pope Francisco’s Laudato-si’ and his holy water will stop the good share of the human excreta and garbage from spilling into the Guanabara Bay and the lagoons in Barra da Tijuca.

As bad as it sounds, the sanitary figures in Rio’s metropolitan area are three times better than Latin America as a whole, where only thirteen unlucky percentage points of wastewater in urban areas are treated prior to discharge – oh, Nuestra Senhora!

What is really disgraceful is that the Guanabara Bay could naturally disperse the grand majority of its dirty water to open ocean with the help of wind and ocean currents in as little as six months, according to oceanographers, if Rio actually had proper solid residue collection and wastewater treatment systems in place, leaving the Bay reputably immaculate enough for Rolex and Sperry Top-Sider sailing commercials months before a hell of a lot of gunshots go off during the opening games.

Bringing up an even more important question: will professional cow chip hurling finally make its grand debut in the 2016 Olympics? The billions of Brazilian reais spent on “depollution” schemes to clean Rio’s bodies of water from garbage and contaminants during the past two decades would certainly call for an honorary, good faith caca tossing game.

Speaking of chips: what will happen to the government’s promise to plant 34 million trees to offset the carbon emission produced by the Olympic event? The eight million tree seedlings actually estimated to be planted won’t even cut cheese if the Olympic committee’s environmental dossier calls for 24 million trees to offset the global warming gases produced by the mega event.

The Atlantic Forest, the most biologically diverse forest in the world, once encompassed the entire state Rio de Janeiro and covered most of the country’s coastline. Today, it is reduced to a mere single digit fraction of its entire former self, with some forested patches still standing near and around the Olympic Arenas at the Pedra Branca State Park, one of the largest urban forests in the world.

Brazil, a country filled with natural beauty and rich in biodiversity, bigger than the contiguous USA, receives only six million tourists per year while other tropical countries much smaller in size and less populated get many more, as in the case of Thailand with 25 million visitors per year.

Even though the Olympic Games will help bring lots of tourists for that month, the amount of funds invested could have been put to better use if they produced a lasting legacy developing tourism influx.

If Rio de Janeiro could literally get its sh*t together, cleaning the water bodies and reforesting its green belts, it could multiply the hot spot sites for urban environmental tourism adventures, increasing existing biodiversity counts and adding environmental jobs for a population hungry for career opportunities all year round, not just temporary work provided by the ephemeral and opulent Olympic games.

Alfonso Stefanini has an MA in International Environmental Policy from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California, an MBE from COPPE-UFRJ in Rio de Janeiro and a BA from Hampshire College in Massachusetts. Alfonso lives in Rio, and he can be reached at: Ecobrasilis@gmail.com.


  1. I agree. It’s a huge challenge to turn a one off event like the Olympics into something sustainable. Whilst they help regeneration, I also hope that they can contribute to the long term sustainable growth in tourism.


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