Olympic Torch Leaves Hefty Carbon Trail

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It’s been a rough year for the Olympic flame: She’s been groped by pro-Tibet and Darfur protesters in Paris and London, snuffed out, and even carted to the top of Everest in a last-ditch attempt at international inspiration. And now she’s being accused of the worst of all modern-day crimes: As Wired recently reported, she has an enormous carbon footprint.

In case your Olympic spirit blinds you to transportation logistics, let us enlighten you that the commemorative flagration is not borne from place to place by foot, or on a bicycle, or even in a Prius. No: The brilliant blaze is ferried by plane. And not just any plane: an Air China A330 that’s custom-painted with flames and burns 5.4 gallons of jet fuel per mile. A plane that circles the globe, stopping at 23 cities (including Islamabad and Almaty, Kazakhstan) and piling up some 85,000 miles. That’s 5,500 tons of CO2 — 11 million pounds, or the equivalent of 93,000 trees. To put it in perspective (or not), as Wired states, “a 250-guest wedding, assuming that 125 attendees spend the night at a high-end hotel, will produce 9 tons of C02.”

To help illustrate the journey of the flickering symbol, Slate has created an interactive map that has been tracking the environmental impact of each leg of the journey. The worst trip so far? San Francisco to Buenos Aires (6,475 miles, 34,965 gallons of jet fuel, and 834,954 pounds of CO2). In fact, Slate says that the relay will dump twice as much carbon into the atmosphere as one of us will over the course of our entire life. Now that’s perspective.

But is making a guinea pig of a poor, defenseless torch a productive exercise? Not according to some ornery commenters on Wired’s website: "China and India will emit more in the next 8 seconds than the torch will on its entire run." "You want to be carbon neutral...stop breathing!!!!!" "Best way to eliminate CO2 is to eliminate all two-legged creatures." "It’s the effin Olympic torch and it happens once every 4 years. Just chill out."

No matter what happens leading up to, and in, Beijing, we have 2012 to look forward to: There are rumors that upcoming Olympic host London has promised that its flame will be carbon neutral. No word yet on whether the Brits will defy Scottish protesters in a foolhardy plan to lug it up to the lofty summit of Ben Nevis, but we'll keep you posted.


— Evelyn Spence