Going, Going Green
As global warming changes the planet, it is changing the sports world. To counter the looming environmental crisis, surprising and innovative ideas are already helping sports adapt
Posted: Tuesday March 6, 2007 2:08PM; Updated: Sunday March 11, 2007 7:01PM
The next time a ball game gets rained out during the September stretch run, you can curse the momentary worthlessness of those tickets in your pocket. Or you can wonder why it got rained out -- and ask yourself why practice had to be called off last summer on a day when there wasn't a cloud in the sky; and why that Gulf Coast wharf where you used to reel in mackerel and flounder no longer exists; and why it's been more than one winter since you pulled those titanium skis out of the garage.
Global warming is not coming; it is here. Greenhouse gases -- most notably carbon dioxide produced by burning coal, oil and gas -- are trapping solar heat that once escaped from the Earth's atmosphere. As temperatures around the globe increase, oceans are warming, fields are drying up, snow is melting, more rain is falling, and sea levels are rising.
All of which is changing the way we play and the sports we watch. Evidence is everywhere of a future hurtling toward us faster than scientists forecasted even a few years ago. Searing heat is turning that rite of passage of Texas high school football, the August two-a-day, into a one-at-night, while at the game's highest level the Miami Dolphins, once famous for sweating players into shape, have thrown in the soggy towel and built a climate-controlled practice bubble. Even the baseball bat as we know it is in peril, and final scores and outcomes of plays may be altered too.
Because of the melting of glaciers and polar ice, and because water expands as it warms, oceans are rising. Researchers expect an increase of up to a meter by 2100, enough to drown wetlands. In the last year and a half, scientists have noticed that once indestructible ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica have begun to creep toward the sea. If we continue to spew greenhouse gases as we are, the Earth could become five degrees warmer this century. The last time Earth was that warm, three million years ago, sea level stood 80 feet higher than it does now. Scientists don't foresee such a rise for centuries, but they agree that a damaging change in sea level will occur by 2100.
Global warming is also leading to more dramatic swings in the weather in some areas. Since the early 20th century, the amount of rain dropped in the biggest 1% of storms each year has risen 20%. A warming planet doesn't create hurricanes, but it does make them stronger and last longer. Tropical storms become more powerful over a warmer Gulf, turning a category 4 storm, for example, into a category 5, like Katrina, which transformed the symbol of sports in New Orleans, the Superdome, into an image of epic disaster. In addition to more intense storms, higher seas, and droughts and floods, ocean flow patterns could change, leading to the extinction of marine species. Warmer temperatures could devastate agricultural economies around the globe, and diseases such as malaria now confined to the tropics would spread to other regions.
Unlike many other pressing environmental concerns -- pollution, water shortages, overpopulation, deforestation -- global warming is by definition global. Every organism on the planet is already feeling its impact.
"There are many important environmental battles to be fought," says Bill McKibben, the Vermont-based writer, activist and passionate cross-country skier. "But if we lose this one -- which we're doing -- none of the others matter. It's crunch time."
1 of 4