Hello again, GreenSportsBlog readers! I took a month long sabbatical to recharge my blogging batteries. I hope you all (in the Northern Hemisphere) had a good end to your summer.
This return to the Blogosphere is a good time to review the summer just past through a Green-Sports lens. Of course, our corner of the world does not exist in a vacuum. And let’s not sugar coat it: the climate change scoreboard looks depressingly negative at least 90+ percent of the time.
Still, there were some welcome and important climate wins over the summer…including in the Green-Sports corner of the world. And, since we don’t sugarcoat things here at GSB, we will also report on some troubling developments that show that the Green-Sports world has a long, long way to go.
So, without further ado, here is our Green-Sports climate scorecard for the Summer of ’22.
After Initial Defeat, Inflation Reduction Act, With Historic Climate Investments, Signed Into Law By President Biden with Helpful Nudge from Athletes
July 14, 2022 was a very dark day for those who support real climate action now in the US and beyond.
On that Thursday, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin III told Senate Majority Leader and fellow Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York that he would be voting no on the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The bill, which included $350 billion in climate-related investments designed to help the United States reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 versus a 2005 baseline, was seen as a must-have by climate advocates. Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema were the only Democrats who hadn’t given their support and Schumer needed all 50 Dems to vote YES for the bill to pass since all 50 Republicans were committed to voting no (tragically sad but true IMHO that climate sanity is the preserve of one political party in the US as of now).
The bill was dead, and on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision two weeks earlier that sharply curtailed the Environmental Protection Administration’s (EPA) ability to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, environmentalists and climate fighters were down.
Down but definitely not out.
A myriad of environmental groups, including the GenZ and Millennial-driven Sunrise Movement and Business for Climate Action, a group of 1,000 US companies large and small dedicated to passage of the bill, fought back. The latter signed onto a letter to Majority Leader Schumer, asking him to do what he could to show Manchin and Sinema the necessity and the benefits of this bill becoming law.
The Green-Sports world chipped in as well, with 23 EcoAthletes Champions signing on to a similar letter to Schumer. BBC Sport Today interviewed Milwaukee Brewers pitcher and EcoAthletes Champion Brent Suter about why he signed the letter and what he hoped the climate provisions of the IRA would achieve. Roll Call, a DC insider newsletter, shared the Suter interview on its social channels to its influential audience.
Brent Suter being interviewed on BBC Sport about the Inflation Reduction Act (Photo credit: BBC Sport)
These efforts, plus the tireless negotiations between Schumer and Manchin led the recalcitrant West Virginian to say yes. Sinema’s assent came soon after, which led to President Biden’s signature on the biggest climate investment by a federal government in history.
Is it perfect? Hell no!
But it’s a start.
University of Virginia rower and EcoAthletes Champion Cam Bentley offered this view on the new law:
“I’m happy to see our political leaders taking formal action on the climate crisis. With an issue as substantial and systemic as this, words are not enough. To enact the kind of large-scale change necessary, our government needs to mandate more climate-conscious behavior. The climate provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act are a great first step. I hope politicians treat this move as an inspiration for further action.”
NFL C-Suite Executive Says ‘Climate Change’ Not on League’s Radar
This brief conversation between yours truly and a C-suite executive from the NFL took place at a sports media industry awards event in New York City this spring. I’m Grandfathering it into the summer ‘wins-losses’ story because I believe it is revealing and very important.
GSB: “How does the NFL look at climate change as an issue on which to engage its millions of fans?”
NFL C-Suite Exec: “Climate change is not really on our radar.”
This off-the-cuff remark may not have been well thought — the exec certainly wasn’t expecting the question and didn’t have NFL PR-vetted talking points at the ready.
And I’m not criticizing the exec at all. The opposite is the case — I appreciated his openness when uttering what I believe to be a truthful remark that shows that climate is not an important consideration for the most popular sports league (by far) in the United States.
While NFL Green, led by the duo of Jack and Susan Groh, has done admirable environmental work through tree plantings at Super Bowl host cities over almost two decades — and now the NFL Draft sites are getting the same treatment — the league does virtually nothing of a public nature when it comes to calling/pushing for real climate action.
Don’t believe me? Google NFL Commissioner “Roger Goodell” and “Climate Change” and what you’ll get is a link to a GreenSportsBlog column I wrote in February, 2021, in which I imagined I was the Commish putting a real climate action plan into place.
It was fun to write but we need the real Commish and the league to step up and lead on climate yesterday, giving the issue a similar highly public profile as it does to breast cancer. Otherwise, NFL Green will be seen as a nice if fringe initiative at best and at worst as a greenwash.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (Photo credit: National Football League)
Golden State Warriors Star Klay Thompson rides bike to work during NBA Playoffs
NBA players usually drive to home games in gas guzzling cars, from ostentatious supercars to road-hogging SUVs.
Golden State Warriors superstar guard Klay Thompson decided to go a much different and climate-friendly route during the NBA Playoffs and finals, as he often pulled up to Chase Center on his bicycle.
Klay Thompson rides his bike to Chase Center during the 2022 NBA Playoffs (Photo credit: Golden State Warriors)
Thompson has not been outspoken about climate change but his actions speak for him. His two-wheel commuting exploits add to the 2022 NBA Champion Warriors’ growing climate-forward resume:
- Thompson’s teammate and ’22 NBA Finals MVP Steph Curry has advocated for clean water for Sub-Saharan Africa
- Head coach Steve Kerr has spoken out publicly on the need for real climate action
- Since 2019, the San Francisco-based club has called LEED Gold Certified Chase Center home.
The asterisk in this case surrounds the naming rights deal with Chase.
Hopefully the Warriors will use its influence to press Chase to drastically reduce its sizable loans to coal companies. The bank is among the biggest lenders to the coal industry, joining Japan’s Mizuho Financial Group, Barclays, Black Rock and Citi, even as it talks a strong green game. Sadly, the company is moving in the wrong direction, increasing its financing of the world’s top 30 coal companies between 2016-2021, according to an April 2022 report from the Rainforest Action Network and six other environmental nonprofits.
UCLA, USC to Leave Pac-12 for Big Ten, Increasing Travel-Related GHG Emissions, Climate Concerns Crushed By Big Bucks
UCLA and USC are leaving Pac-12 for Big Ten!
The news, which came completely out of the blue, stared at me on my WhatsApp feed with my fellow Rutgers alums from WRSU-FM, the student radio station at which we announced Scarlet Knights football and men’s and women’s basketball back in…well, it was awhile ago.
On its face, two teams from SoCal joining a conference rooted mainly in the Midwest with some mid-Atlantic state outposts does not make sense. But geography and natural rivals mean little in the grand scheme of things these days. Money, and gobs of it, does.
USC’s and UCLA’s athletics departments stand to earn somewhere around $80 million per year by joining the Big Ten, thanks to its recently negotiated seven-year television contracts with Fox, CBS, and NBC that make it the first college sports league to bring in $1 billion annually from its media partners. The current Pac-12 media deal is paltry by comparison, with roughly $20 million going to each athletics department.
UCLA (blue and gold) and cross-LA rival USC will be making trips to cross-country trips to New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania now that they’ve left the Pac-12 for the Big Ten (Photo credit: Ashley Landis/AP)
Back to my WhatsApp thread: My buddies were excited because it meant much more money for Rutgers, a new-ish (RU joined in 2014) but at least somewhat geographically friendly Big Ten member itself. And who wouldn’t like a road trip to the Rose Bowl for the occasional UCLA-RU football clash?!
On the other hand I was, to use a technical term, pissed off.
Carbon emissions for UCLA, USC and the incumbent 14 Big Ten teams, which already stretches from the plains of Nebraska to the Jersey and Maryland Eastern Shores, will certainly increase significantly. After all, the two Los Angeles schools’ longest current Pac-12 road trip is 1,000 miles to Washington State in Pullman.
Now they’re looking at almost three times that distance when on roadtrips to Rutgers (Piscataway, NJ), Maryland (College Park, MD), and Penn State (State College, PA).
An aerial view of Newark Airport. UCLA and USC student-athletes will get used to this view when they fly 2,800 miles to face Rutgers in Big Ten sports action (Photo credit: James Leynse/Getty Images)
Yet I haven’t heard or read one comment about carbon emissions from UCLA, USC, the Big Ten nor its current schools. What I did hear was off-the-record frustration expressed by the people in the sustainability and athletics departments who have worked hard to green the games over the last decade.
There was some well-deserved concern expressed about the toll the increased travel would have on the student-athletes. But when it came to carbon…crickets.
Yet to my mind, the much, much bigger problem is the message UCLA-USC, the Big Ten and its current schools are sending to all of its stakeholders and that is this:
We care deeply about climate change…at least until there are millions more dollars to be made…then, well, maybe climate change isn’t that bad.
Hey, I’m not naive: It’s no surprise that old, hard cash beats global warming. But couldn’t the parties to the deal have at least considered climate change? Couldn’t the media partners and the schools embedded and funded a comprehensive climate injustice program with strong public service messaging as part of the deal?
I guess not. Which is the saddest part of this story.
But, hey, at least we’ll have a juicy Penn State-USC football matchup to enjoy (the ratings will be huge!), schools will be able to pay Coach So-And-So $2 million more per year (he won’t go to Alabama and the dang SEC!), and athletics directors can say the main reason for this move was so women’s rowing and men’s cross-country will continue to exist (it sounds really good!).
And the Big Ten can produce a glossy PSA about the great recycling job its schools are doing from sea to shining sea!
Giannis Antetokounmpo Helps Launch Sustainability-Focused Investment Fund
Going back to the NBA, two-time league MVP and 2021 Finals MVP Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo appears to be attempting to do good by the environment via the stock market.
The Milwaukee Bucks forward and Illinois-based investment firm Calamos Advisors launched an exchange-traded fund in late August called the Calamos Antetokounmpo Sustainable Equities Trust (CGSIX) that, per the firm’s prospectus, seeks to invest in “high-quality growth companies with strong environmental, social and governance (ESG) characteristics.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo drives to the basket for the Milwaukee Bucks (Photo credit: Noah K. Murray)
The fund says that it will not invest in any companies involved with fossil fuels, nuclear energy, and weapons. Since the S (social) and G (governance) are important criteria for the fund, not all of the entities it supports will scream “E!!!” (ENVIRONMENT!) to investors. Companies on the environmentally-friendly end of the spectrum that were in the portfolio at the end of July included EcoLab, Ball Corp. and Herman Miller.
To GSB, this is a big win. With governmental action on climate slow — with the notable exception of the aforementioned Inflation Reduction Act in the USA — the private sector must play an outsized role if humanity has a real chance at a lasting #ClimateComeback. Having one of the highest-profile athletes on the planet put his money into a fossil-free fund in a very public way will be an important signal to many and will hopefully build interest in fossil-free investing².
The asterisk was added here because GSB believes that banning nuclear energy stocks and bonds from the fund is a mistake. If the world is going to have a real shot at getting close to the 2.0°C average temperature increase target (vs. pre-industrial levels), carbon-free nuclear energy is going to need to be part of the mix. Yes, there are legitimate issues around how to deal with spent nuclear fuel. In GSB’s opinion, investing in nuclear energy and the companies innovating on nuclear waste would be a better way to go for the fund than shunning nuclear energy.
Still, we at GSB subscribe to the “not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good” theory. So, Calamos Antetokounmpo Sustainable Equities Trust is a clear win, even with the asterisk.
Vermont Green FC Makes USL2 Playoffs In Inaugural Season; Environmental Justice Message Breaks Through
Talk about a great first impression!
Vermont Green FC, the team with environmental justice in its DNA, made the playoffs in its inaugural season in USL 2, the fourth tier³ of American men’s soccer. Click here for our preseason interview with two of the club’s founders, Keil Corey and Matt Wolff; click here for a deeper dive into the organization’s commitment to environmental justice.
The Green built its stellar 9-4-1 record by making Virtue Field, its home base on the campus of the University of Vermont in Burlington, a fortress; Vermont Green won seven of its eight home matches.
Fan fervor reached a fever pitch at the regular season finale on July 18 with a playoff berth on the line against the Western Mass Pioneers, who came to Burlington on a 10 match winning streak.
Per Daniel Finton’s matchday report, a sellout crowd of “2,500 boisterous fans prodded and pushed The Green over a nervy 90 minutes…Diba Nwegbo [coming off injury] stole the show. He scored the only goal of the match from an insane angle to give The Green the lead at the end of the first half…As for the second half…the Vermont faithful probably aged a decade or so (not in a good way) seeing as the whole second half was up in the air, and anything could have happened. The men on the pitch looked cool as cucumbers though, and that was the difference. With the earth we care so deeply for shaking beneath them from the trembling supporters, they stood firm. (My italics)“
Can you imagine that last sentence being written in a match/game report for a top tier club?
We have to not only imagine those clubs making climate action core to their DNA, we in the Green-Sports world have to demand it!
¹ The current Big Ten schools are Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State Purdue, Rutgers, and Wisconsin.
² This is not a recommendation by GreenSportsBlog to invest in Calamos Antetokounmpo Sustainable Equities Trust
³ The three other tiers are MLS (1st), USL Championship (2nd) and USL 1 (3rd)
Photo at top: Vermont Green FC players and fans celebrate the team qualifying for the USL 2 playoffs in its first season (Photo credit: J. Alexander Dolan)