A Tale of Two Summits…and the Intersection of Green + Sports + Politics

Over the past two weeks, I did some serious sustainability-focused summit/conference-hopping. If you’ve been reading GreenSportsBlog you know I was in Houston reporting on the 6th annual Green Sports Alliance Summit, the highlight of the Green-Sports world year. Please click here and here for our posts from the GSA Summit. The week before, I was one of 800+ citizen lobbyists from all over the US, Canada and elsewhere at the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Annual International Conference in Washington, DC. We lobbied virtually every Senator, House member and/or their staffs in one day on behalf of a revenue-neutral, carbon fee and dividend legislative proposal. Throughout the two events, an intersection of Green + Sports + Politics emerged.

 

SPORTS INVADES THE CITIZENS’ CLIMATE LOBBY NATIONAL CONFERENCE (METAPHORICALLY SPEAKING)

Before an army of citizen lobbyists (including Private Lew Blaustein!) descended on Capitol Hill for a marathon day of meetings with virtually every Senator, House member and/or their staffs (that’s right, all in one day!), the 8th annual Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) International Conference featured two days of lobbying training, speeches and breakout sessions. All of this was dedicated towards helping CCL advance its Carbon Fee & Dividend (CF&D)—a Price on Carbon—legislative proposal towards becoming an actual bill that could actually pass both houses.

What does this have to do with sports? Well, hockey, football, and baseball each made their presence felt at the CCL Conference.

Hockey: A riveting keynote address, in part about the battles climate scientists have to fight against (mainly) the fossil fuel industry and their allies in government, was given by one of the most well-known and honored climate scientists in the world, Dr. Michael Mann, Director of the Penn State University Earth System Science Center. Mann led a 1998 study that reconstructed temperature records going back thousands of years.

Michael Mann

Dr. Michael Mann (Photo credit: Penn State University)

 

It showed global surface temperature averages had shot up since the Industrial Revolution, and more dramatically in recent decades. The chart that depicted the temperature record over time resembled a hockey stick, with the relatively constant ancient temperatures running along the “handle” and the most recent figures rising sharply at the “blade.”

Hockey Stick

Dr. Michael Mann’s temperature “hockey stick”, showing dramatically increasing temperatures since the industrial revolution. (Credit: Think Progress)

 

When data for atmospheric CO2 levels showed a similar hockey stick (flat for millennia, dramatic rise since the Industrial Revolution), humans’ causal role in climate change became much more certain, at least among the scientific community. The temperature and CO2 hockey sticks became part of popular culture through their depictions in Al Gore’s 2006 Academy Award winning documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Football: I have no idea if CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds is a football fan but he sure sounded like Joe “We’re Gonna Win The Game, I Guarantee It” Namath when he told the assembled CCL masses that “My promise is by the end of 2017, we will pass a [Price on Carbon] bill.” If Vegas oddsmakers were to make a betting line on Reynolds’ prediction, I’m sure the odds would be as long as they were for Namath’s three touchdown underdog New York Jets in Super Bowl III. After all, CCL will only go forward with a bipartisan bill—there currently are several bills floating around Congress that only have Democrat sponsors—which means they are likely to go nowhere. So CCL needs to get Republican house members and senators to sponsor CF&D. Good luck, right? But, like Broadway Joe, Reynolds believes so strongly his team of citizen lobbyists and will get some GOP sponsors that he made his guarantee. And while the odds appear long today, thanks in part to CCL and to a slight but definite momentum shift in the right direction on this issue, there are a few Republicans in the House who are starting, albeit in tentative fashion, to open up to the free market, revenue-neutral CF&D proposal. And, just remember, the Jets did win Super Bowl III.

Baseball: CCL Legislative Director Danny Richter not only reiterated Reynolds’ “We Will Pass a Bill” Namath-like guarantee, he raised the ante—and switched sports in the process—by invoking Babe Ruth. In the 1932 World Series between Ruth’s Yankees and the Chicago Cubs, the legend of The Bambino’s “Called Shot” has it that Ruth pointed to the centerfield bleachers at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, indicating that he would hit a homer over the ivy-covered wall—and then he did just that on Cubs’ hurler Charlie Root’s next pitch.

Ruth Called Shot

Robert Thom’s painting depicting Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot” in the 1932 World Series. (Credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame)

 

The Called Shot became a recurring theme throughout the remainder of the conference, with Richter and virtually all CCLers calling their shot by by saying CCL will pass a bill by the end of 2017.

CCL Called Shot

Hundreds of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) volunteers “Calling Their Shot” outside the US Capitol before heading inside to lobby senators and house members on behalf of the Carbon Fee & Dividend proposal that CCL leadership guarantees will get passed in the next 18 months. (Photo credit: Citizens’ Climate Lobby)

 

FOLLOW THE (CORPORATE) MONEY

At the risk of plagiarizing Captain Obvious of Hotels.com ad fame, corporations wield a ton of power in both the sports and political worlds. Citizen lobby groups like CCL fight an uphill battle against large corporations and their lobbyists. Yet, I know that lobbying on behalf of an issue with a cadre of energized citizens serves a crucial role.

I saw that firsthand on Lobby Day. Virtually everyone with whom we met—I was in four lobbying sessions, mainly with staffers—was sharp, asked smart questions, understood climate change in great depth and was well aware of where their constituents stood on the issue.

However, groups like CCL also must lobby corporations, specifically those that have strong environmental records to put their lobbying muscle behind a Price on Carbon (CF&D or otherwise) to Members of Congress. The more than 100 corporations, including adidas and Nike, that signed a “Low Carbon USA” manifesto in April supporting the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and the implementation of the global climate accord negotiated in Paris in December, would be a great place to start.

The climate denial/do-nothing-on-climate side of the issue has had well-funded and consistent corporate lobbying and funding support (OK, Exxon-Mobil announced a week ago it will “push hard” for a carbon tax; I’m from Missouri on this one–Show Me!) That means the price-on-carbon side must be an equally strong and consistent corporate counterbalance. Because no matter the party, house members and senators all agree on one thing: they want to continue being house members and senators (unless they’re retiring). And that requires money. Gobs of it.

The good news is CCL has started a Business Climate Leaders Action Team that, according to its website, “recruits leading companies to work with CCL chapters in promoting federal carbon pricing in the U.S.” So far it has engaged Unilever, the National Ski Areas Association, and New Belgium Brewing, among others, with more to come—and quickly I hope.

Sports, through the Green-Sports movement, should play a positive role in the Price-on-Carbon fight.

  • Sports entities that are members of the GSA, from the NCAA and pro league offices, have high-priced lobbyists in Congress. Commissioners have testified in front of Congress. Sports and Congress go together like Minneapolis & St. Paul.

Goodell Congress

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell testifying in front of Congress in 2009. (Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

 

  • Both large corporations and major pro and college sports can use positive PR these days. Lobbying in favor of a Price-on-Carbon would provide it, especially with the younger audiences (pro climate action) both crave.

 

Will major sports organizations push corporations to lobby on behalf of a Price on Carbon anytime soon? At a GSA Summit panel discussion, I asked the folks on the dais if their employers, major public corporations all, would support a Price on Carbon. If their dancing and non-answers were any indication of a broader trend, then corporations will need a shove from somewhere. Sports and the Green-Sports movement should help with a consistent push. That push could play a big role in helping CCL make good on Reynolds’ Namath-like guarantee.

 

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