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Going, Going Green
ALEXAN DER WOLFF
March 12, 2007
As global warming changes the planet, it is changing the sports world. To counter the looming environmental crisis, surprising and in novative ideas are already helping sports adapt
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March 12, 2007

Going, Going Green

As global warming changes the planet, it is changing the sports world. To counter the looming environmental crisis, surprising and in novative ideas are already helping sports adapt

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? Saints safety Steve Gleason runs his Dodge Ram pickup on processed vegetable oil--biodiesel.

? NASCAR driver Ward Burton's foundation is pledged to habitat management, land conservation and environmental education in his home of Halifax County, Va.

? The Philadelphia Eagles may have some of the most discourteous followers in sports, but their management is a leader, having launched an environmental initiative replete with catchy slogans like Go Green and Time for Some Serious Trash Talk.

? Two years ago the men's lacrosse team at Middlebury College calculated its "carbon footprint" (the amount of global-warming carbon dioxide its daily activities generated) and raised money to purchase enough renewable-energy credits (investments in wind power) to offset those emissions. The team thereby became carbon-neutral--a status also claimed by last summer's soccer World Cup in Germany, cycling's Team Clif Bar Midwest and the Vermont Frost Heaves, this writer's American Basketball Association team, which rides in a biodiesel-powered bus.

? The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is working with the NBA and Major League Baseball to help their teams get greener. Scientists told the NFL that Super Bowl XLI would put one million pounds of carbon dioxide into the air--not counting air travel to Miami--so the league planted 3,000 trees around Florida in an attempt to pull at least that much of the greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere.

By going green, motor sports could have the quickest impact on public awareness of the planet's fate. The Formula One circuit has already discovered hybrids and biofuels, and Indy cars are mixing ethanol into their fuel. NASCAR is poised to phase out leaded gasoline, a neurotoxin. (The Clean Air Act of 1970 included an exemption for race cars even as the public was barred from buying cars that ran on leaded gas.) It's only a short jump from a NASCAR driver with a raised consciousness to a NASCAR fan with the same.

"In the environmental movement there's way too much preaching to the choir," says Ken Rakoz of Centralia, Wash., who built the first biodiesel-powered dragster. "There are people sitting on the fence, and Joe Sixpack doesn't really know about [biodiesel] until we do something like racing." Whereupon we'll be that much closer to a future in which we define a winner as not merely the team that holds a lead, but one whose arena holds a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

From his home in Ripton, Vt., McKibben, who sounded an early warning about climate change in his 1989 book The End of Nature, surveys this disfigurement of the world as we've known it with as much melancholy as indignation. "If I were a deeply moral person, I should be kept awake at night by the thought of hundreds of millions of Bangladeshis fleeing rising waters and dengue and famine," says McKibben, who's helping to organize a nationwide call to action on climate change for April 14 that will include iconic outdoor and sporting sites Mount Hood and the Key West coral reefs. "But at some level I feel this most acutely in the winter, when I realize I've had fewer and fewer chances to put on my skis."

And therein may lie the great value of sports. What happens in an arena so familiar and beloved may sound an alarm we will hear and heed. At a time when so much in our lives is linear and digital, from the economy to technology, sports still run in graceful cycles, marking time in rhythm with the seasons.

"It's the last of the semipagan calendars we keep," McKibben says, "and a lot of it is going to disappear. All that Bart Giamatti stuff"--the pastoral invocations of the former commissioner of baseball--"has a different valence if we're not going to Florida for spring training, but to St. Paul. We're still so used to the idea that we can deal with the forces of nature that we think nothing of naming our teams Hurricanes and Cyclones. In 10 years, that will be like calling a team the Plagues."

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