The GSB (Mock) Interview: Tiger Woods, on His Comeback, Kids and Climate Change

Google “Tiger Woods” and “2019 Masters” and you will get millions of links to stories about his jaw dropping, dramatic, instant classic win at Augusta National on Sunday.

Google “Tiger Woods” and “climate change” and you get…nothing meaningful.

So even more remarkable than Woods’ winning his first major championship in 11 years and first Green Jacket since 2005 — at age 43, with a back repaired surgically four times no less — is that he agreed to talk with GreenSportsBlog!

Who knew he cared about the environment and climate change? The fact he’s a golfing buddy of President Trump makes that even harder to fathom. 

OK, OK…

We didn’t really talk to Tiger — his people said he was busy at the driving range getting ready for the next major, the PGA Championship at Long Island’s Bethpage Black next month.

So we’re doing the next best thing: Imagining a conversation with Woods in which he expresses concern about climate change, bubbling up from his kids Sam(antha) and Charlie.

Here then is our GSB (Mock) Interview with Tiger Woods, 2019 Masters Champion.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Tiger Woods, thank you for taking a few minutes to talk to GreenSportsBlog. And let me be the 27,340,945th person to congratulate you on your win at Augusta on Sunday. To borrow from the great CBS Sports announcer Verne Lundquist, never in my LIFE did I think I’d see you wearing a fifth Green Jacket.

Tiger Woods: Thank you, Lew. For much of the last few years, I never thought I’d be wearing a new Green Jacket. I was just concerned about being able to put my old Green Jackets, or any jacket for that matter, on by myself, without pain. I wanted to be able to walk pain free. I knew that if I could get healthy, if I could feel comfortable out on the golf course, well let’s just say I did not doubt I could win a major championship in that case. So I’m blessed that my doctors, surgeons and physios all did their jobs so well so I could do my thing. It is amazing.

 

Tiger Woods Patrick Reed

Tiger Woods dons the Green Jacket for winning his fifth Masters on Sunday. Patrick Reed, the 2018 Masters champion, placed it on his back (Photo credit: Mike Slocum/Associated Press)

 

GSB: Amazing is right. Also amazing is that you’re talking to us — I’ve never heard you speak about the environment or climate change. So where is this coming from?

Tiger: You’re right. I’ve not been interested in or paid much attention to climate change at all. I’m not a politics guy nor am I a scientist…

GSB: Most people engaged on climate are neither, just for the record. It’s not a prerequisite.

Tiger: It just wasn’t my thing. I know it’s real…

GSB: …Unlike your golfing pal who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania.

Tiger: …I’m not going there. I know it’s real and serious but the honest truth is, I just don’t think much about it. Or, I should say, I didn’t think much about it.

GSB: What changed?

Tiger: Two words: Sam and Charlie.

GSB: Your kids…

Tiger: Sam is 11. About two, three years ago, she started asking me things like “Why do you drive such a big gas guzzler?” and “Why don’t you get a Tesla?” My first thought? “Buick Enclave sponsors me, that’s why!” It’s a great car. I also drive a Porsche Carrera GT for fun.

But Sam got me thinking about it, and it just became obvious that burning less fossil fuels is a good thing. So I started to ask my Buick guys questions; they tell me the next generation Enclave, which should be coming to market in the next four-to-five years, will have a plug-in hybrid or even be 100 percent electric.

 

Tiger Woods family

An ecstatic Tiger Woods immediately after winning the 2019 Masters on Sunday. Son Charlie (left) and daughter Sam (2nd from right), who have been instrumental in their dad’s newfound interest in climate change, flanked Tiger, along with his mom Kultida (r) and girlfriend Erica Herman (Photo credit: CBS Sports)

 

GSB: I don’t know if Sam told you this — but according the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC, basically the best climate scientists in the world, humanity has 12-15 years to significantly decarbonize if we are to avoid the most calamitous effects of climate change. So isn’t continuing to drive a fossil fuel Enclave that gets 18 miles per gallon in the city, 26 on the highway, reckless?

Tiger: Oh I get it. Sam lets me know every time we get in the car to go to her soccer games. So we made a deal — I’m going to trade in the Porsche Carrera next year for a Porsche Taycan EV. That will be the car we drive most of the time. And, when I go to tournaments, I’m going to make sure that my team and I get driven in EVs or hybrids when EVs are not available.

 

Porsche Taycan

The 2020 Porsche Taycan EV (Photo credit: Porsche)

 

GSB: That’s a great start! Does Charlie get on you too?

Tiger: No doubt about it. Sometimes they double team me, especially after Sam and Charlie, who’s 10, saw Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Sequel,” in school last year.

GSB: Did it scare them?

Tiger: Yeah, but it also made them angry. They bugged me to see the original, “An Inconvenient Truth.”. I was like, “don’t you want to see the latest ‘Star Wars’ movie, or the highlights of my 1997 Masters win?” You may find it hard to believe from the cute Charlie you saw Sunday on TV but he is one stubborn kid. So it was “An Inconvenient Truth” or bust. So we saw it. I was blown away. Then I saw the sequel. Then I saw “Chasing Ice” and that was more than enough.

GSB: Good going, Charlie! Then what happened?

Tiger: To be honest, not much. I mean our green movie triple feature was last spring and since then, I’ve been working 24-7 getting my back right, getting my game right. Contended at the Open Championship, gave it a good run at the PGA, finally won the Tour Championship. We’ll forget the Ryder Cup disaster, thank you very much. And then it was getting ready for 2019. But there has been some time here and there for them to sell me and they did. Charlie suggested we get solar panels on our house.

GSB: At 9,700 square feet, that’s a lot of house!

Tiger: We use a lot of energy, they let me know about it all the time. We’re looking at the solar options.

GSB: That would be great. Even if you go solar, you’ll still be using a ton of energy generated from fossil fuels to power that house. Would you consider offsetting your energy use — from your home, cars, boats, air travel — by investing in renewable energy projects, energy efficiency and more? It’s easy to find reputable outfits to help you do this.

 

Tiger Woods House

Tiger Woods’ home and golf course backyard in Jupiter Island, Florida (Photo credit: ThoughtCo)

 

Tiger: I never thought about it but I’ll have my people look into it.

GSB: It’s fairly simple. Are there any other guys on the tour who talk climate change and the environment?

Tiger: Michael Campbell from New Zealand, the 2005 US Open winner, comes to mind. He’s been injured a lot lately too, missed the last couple of years. Trying to come back on tour this year. He started an environmental charity back in New Zealand if memory serves.

GSB: Yes! His organization is called Project Litefoot — it helps local sports clubs save money by reducing their carbon footprint. You could do something like that with the Tiger Woods Foundation! Think of the impact!

 

Campbell Project Litefoot

Michael Campbell, 2005 US Open champion, leads Project Litefoot in New Zealand (Photo credit: Project Litefoot)

 

Tiger: We’re already doing it. Two of our current Earl Woods Scholars — named after my dad — and a number of our graduates dating back 2011 are or were environmental science majors.

GSB: I’d say that’s a start but think of the impact if you’d create a Tiger Woods-branded climate change platform for students through the foundation. That would be breakthrough. I know, I know you have to talk to your people. Let us talk to them.

Tiger: You’re just like Sam and Charlie!

GSB: Thanks for the compliment, Tiger. Seriously, we need to think of climate change in terms of a World War II-level crisis. It’ll take a Herculean public mobilization to get us off of our carbon addiction and you could be one of that effort’s biggest, most important voices. Iconic, really. Doing something bigger than yourself. For your kids.

Tiger: I get it but I still have my back to manage, major championships to try to win.

GSB: I get that, Tiger. I am just going to ask you two things: Number one, when you get solar on your roof, tell that story to the press.

Tiger: I could do that — if we get solar.

GSB: When

Tiger: OK, when. Here’s what I will do: Next time an interview gets to the subject of Sam and Charlie, I’ll talk about how climate change is important to them and that it’s rubbing off on their old man.

GSB: That would be FANTASTIC! Now, here’s #2: Become an advocate for carbon pricing, specifically a carbon fee and dividend approach.

Tiger: What is that?

GSB: The gist: We need a price on carbon to accelerate the deployment of renewables, scalable energy efficiency technologies, energy storage and the like — to make all these technologies more competitive vs. fossil fuels and fossil fuel-based products.

The idea of the dividend is crucial. Instead of the revenue raised from the carbon fee going to the federal treasury, it would be distributed to all American households in the form of a monthly dividend. The same amount to every household. So low carbon users — about the lowest two thirds of all American households on the income scale — would make more in dividends than what they would pay in the form of higher prices due to the fee.

Tiger: OK, OK. This is interesting, could make a difference on emissions. But it sounds like I’m going to pay a lot more.

GSB: You will pay more but the more you decarbonize, the less you’ll pay.

Tiger: It also sounds political. I need to talk to my people on this.

GSB: Remember, in this case, your people are Sam and Charlie.

Tiger: Touché, Lew, touché.

 

 


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The GSB Interview: Ex-Atlanta Falcon Ovie Mughelli, Creator of “Gridiron Green” Comic Superhero

Ovie Mughelli (moo-HAY-lee) is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve come across in the five plus years since I started GreenSportsBlog. College and pro football star. Announcer. Gets interested in the climate change fight. Comes up with “Gridiron Green,” an African American, environmental comic superhero.

We were fortunate to be able to sit down with Mughelli to hear his incredible story and his plans for Gridiron Green.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Ovie, we’ve been wanting to talk with you for a long time so thank you for the opportunity. Before getting to your evolution as a climate change fighter and to Gridiron Green, tell us your back story.

Ovie Mughelli: Thanks for the opportunity, Lew. And I’ll tell you, I’ve been blessed from the beginning. My parents both were born in Nigeria who moved here at 18, 19, looking for a better life. They gave me, my two sisters and my brother a very strong work ethic combined with a duty to others. The idea of, if you can make someone’s life better, you do it. And this was our ethos from the beginning, giving even as we received help. It was a humble beginning, all of us in a one bedroom apartment, sleeping on the floor. Grew up in New York City until third grade, then moved to Charleston, South Carolina through my high school years. My dad, Olumide, became a successful OB-Gyn, is a Big Brother and involved with the Charleston Boys Club. My mom, Agnes? She got her MBA and runs his office.

 

Ovie Mughelli

Ovie Mughelli (Photo credit: Ovie Mughelli)

 

GSB: This is an American Dream story if I ever heard one. Did you dream of an NFL career in high school?

Ovie: Not really. I did well enough in high school, both in the classroom and on the football field to get a scholarship to Wake Forest as a fullback. Went there as a pre-med student, you know, to follow dad. Was interested in sports medicine, took organic chem, bio mechanics…

GSB: …Sounds like the med school track to me…

Ovie: Absolutely. My older sister, who went to the University of Richmond and then the University of South Carolina Medical School, gave me the MCAT study guides!

GSB: Doesn’t sound like the NFL was where you were headed…

Ovie: I didn’t think so early in my college career, just didn’t see it as a real possibility that I could play in the NFL. Med school beckoned but my parents and coaches believed I could do it. And, lo and behold, the Baltimore Ravens selected me in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft.

GSB: Fourth round out of a seven round draft is impressive, especially as a fullback — a position that was beginning a deemphasis that continues to this day.

Ovie: Thanks, Lew! I couldn’t believe it. And, even though I was drafted I just tried to survive that first training camp. Didn’t think I’d make it.

GSB: Man, you need to have more confidence in yourself! Or maybe that self-doubt is what propelled you to success?

Ovie: That and special teams¹. Back then teams still had two fullbacks on the 53-man roster. No team kept three. Except for the Ravens that year because I showed them what I could do on “specials.” That’s how I made the team. Once I established myself in Baltimore, I started thinking about how I could give back. Started the Ovie Mughelli Foundation in my third year there — it wasn’t environmentally focused; rather it was really a classic, “give back” with education and life skills being the main thing.

GSB: And you became a Pro Bowler (aka All-Star) as a special team ace…

Ovie: Again, something I wouldn’t have predicted. That allowed me to sign a six-year free agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons in 2007 which made me the highest paid fullback in the league. So my “give back” instinct kicked into a higher gear as far as the foundation was concerned.

 

Ovie Mughelli Falcons

Ovie Mughelli during his days with the Atlanta Falcons (Photo credit: Ovie Mughelli Foundation)

 

GSB: So how and when did environment and climate change become your thing?

Ovie: This is a crazy story, Lew. First, let’s go back to my childhood in Charleston. I remember watching Captain Planet environmentally-themed cartoons back in the 1980s…

GSB: The cartoons created by CNN founder Ted Turner…

Ovie: Yes. I thought at the time that it was so cool there was a character, Kwame, who was from Africa. You didn’t see anything like that on TV. So, now, flash forward to 2007. I’ve signed with the Falcons. went to this random event in Atlanta where I met Ted Turner and his daughter, Laura Turner Seydel. They eventually became second family to me. At that time, Laura started asking me, ‘What does your foundation do? What are you doing on the environment?’ I said, ‘Nothing. It’s not so important as access to education, life skills.’ Laura’s response? ‘The environment is connected to everything. If you love kids, you have to get involved with the environment!’ That really opened my eyes. I had thought the environment was for tree-huggers, for rich folks who didn’t have to worry about their basic needs so they had the time and means to care about the environment. But then I started to delve into it, and the more I did, the more I got it.

 

Ovie Laura Leilani

Ovie Mughelli flanked by Laura Turner Seydel (r) and Leilani Münter, the self-described eco “vegan, hippie chick with a race car” (Photo credit: Getty Images)

 

GSB: What did you start to understand?

Ovie: I learned that climate change is not just about polar bears. It’s also about Hurricane Katrina, wildfires in the West, food deserts, the Syrian crisis and much, much more. Thanks to the Captain Planet Foundation and the Turner Seydels, I got to attend numerous climate change-related seminars and conferences. It became crystal clear: You couldn’t argue the science.

I also learned that people of color are the most affected and the least able to adapt to climate change. Underserved and unengaged communities are impacted by climate issues for a longer duration. It effects health, economy and education due to the residual implications. And yet robust conversation with these communities are not heavily pursued to make these folks change agents.

So the question became how to combat climate change? Laura Turner Seydel urged me to get involved, to use the platform of sports to engage fans who, she said, ‘Love clean air, clean water and God’s Green Earth. You have to give people the mindset to make green normal.’ And Laura again pressed me about kids, saying, ‘Ovie, you can’t say you love kids if you don’t advocate for the environment!”

That hits home because my wife and I have three kids — our first two are girls and then a boy. Our daughter Nesia and our son Obasi were both born prematurely. We weren’t able to hold Obasi until he was 16 days old and could take either of them out of the NICU² for a long time because of the poor air quality in Atlanta — thankfully, they’re fine now. This brought environmental problems home more than anything and was unacceptable! So I felt I had to do something.

GSB: So what did you do with your interest in climate, and with Laura’s nudges?

Ovie: Through the Ovie Mughelli Foundation, I started to run football camps with an environmental theme. We had “Recycle On the Run” drills, had them answer environmental questions, take positive environmental actions and more. I also started to give climate change-themed speeches as part of a Green Speaker Series.

GSB: What were you talking about?

Ovie: Basically I said we have to go beyond complaining about the environment, about climate change. We had to shift from complain to action! I also emphasized that shifting to a greener, cleaner economy would be a winner job-wise and otherwise.

GSB: Did you talk about environment and the climate in the locker room with your Falcons teammates? If so, how did they react?

Ovie: I sure did. And look, teammates in an NFL locker room, we’re like brothers, supporting each other out on the field. So I felt comfortable talking about my climate activism with them. Now, it did raise some eyebrows among the guys like Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez, and Roddy White. They basically asked, ‘is climate change real?’ I told ’em, ‘Yeah, it’s not only real, it’s human caused and we need to deal with it, sooner rather than later.’ And they came around on it. Other guys fought fiercely with me, saying ‘it’s a hoax,’ or ‘climate change is just a way for the government to take more of my money.’ I don’t know that I changed those minds.

GSB: Sounds like, from talking to eco-athletes who are active today, that the locker rooms sound similar as they did a decade or so ago. That needs to improve, fast. So I get the environmental football camps and the speaking engagements. But how did your environmental super hero cartoon idea — Gridiron Green — come to pass?

Ovie: Well, it goes back to Captain Planet! I always wanted to recreate an environmentally-themed comic book, but with a black super-hero — Kwame times 1,000! — for planet earth. Environmental justice, the right to clean air and water, the right to live healthy, were the themes. I sketched out a rough version in 2009, showed to some corporations and the NFL for sponsorship back then; they showed some initial interest but not enough to fund it. Still, I kept going and in 2012 I had a friend-of-a-friend who is an artist, do an even better sketch.

 

Captain Planet Kwame

Kwame from Captain Planet (Credit: Captain Planet Foundation)

 

GSB: Then what happened?

Ovie: It kinda went on the back burner for several years — I didn’t really know how to market a comic book. Then, in 2016, I went to a youth summit led by John R. Seydel — Laura’s son. One of the sessions, “Comics Uniting Nations,” not surprisingly caught my eye.

GSB: I can see why! What was it about?

Ovie: The UN had recently published 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). They were wordy, wonky and a bit confusing. So folks at Comics Uniting Nations and UNICEF thought ‘how about a comic book or books to make the SDGs clear and even fun.’ I thought, ‘Wait a second — I got this!!!” They liked it and gave some initial seed funding to help get Gridiron Green to get to the next level. That allowed me to hire a top flight artist, Matt Bahr, to work with me to tighten up the look, feel and story.

GSB: How has that gone so far?

Ovie: It’s been a two-year journey for Matt and me, sharing our drawings with folks at the NFL, as well as at environmental and social justice nonprofits. We want to use Gridiron Green to reach people who have not engaged on environment and climate yet, who don’t know what a carbon footprint is. Gridiron Green can be an important gateway to get people involved on climate, including conservatives, especially conservative sports fans! And we’re looking at more than a comic book, from curriculum to video games to toys to even feature animated films. We’ve asked for buy-in and financial support, moving the ball forward a bit but not enough to publish yet.

 

Ovie Gridiron Green

Prototypes of Gridiron Green (Photo credit: Ovie Mughelli)

 

GSB: It sounds like you’re moving towards the goal line; what has to happen next so you guys can finally make Gridiron Green a reality.

Ovie: Right now, we’re working on tightening up the business plan — we’re looking for funding in the neighborhood of $100,000, which includes curriculum.

GSB: This seems like a doable number to me; please keep us informed as to how fundraising goes!

 

¹ Special teams are the “third phase” of American football (offense and defense being the other two). They consist of the players on the kickoff and punt coverage, kickoff and punt returns, as well as field goal units.
² NICU = Neo-natal intensive care unit

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: Brewers’ Pitcher Brent Suter Launches Strikeout Waste; Winnipeg Jets Go Green

In today’s TGIF GSB News & Notes:

  • Eco-athlete and Milwaukee Brewers’ pitcher Brent Suter launches Strikeout Waste to encourage major league ballplayers and their fans to switch to resusable water bottles

  • The NHL’s Winnipeg Jets hosted their second annual Go Green Night, with a climate change nonprofit showing fans — via tabling on the arena’s concourses — how they can engage on the issue.

 

BRENT SUTER LOOKS TO STRIKEOUT WASTE BY RIDDING BREWERS OF ONE-TIME USE PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES

Twenty-nine year-old Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Brent Suter has more free time than usual this spring training as he is rehabbing from Tommy John arm surgery. And the eco-athlete is taking advantage of it, last month launching Strikeout Waste — an initiative designed to drastically reduce usage of plastic, one-time-use water bottles by Brewers players and staff — with his cousin Lauren Burke.

 

Suter Instagram

Brent Suter announced the launch of #StrikeOutWaste on Instagram in February

 

The Harvard grad is two thirds of the way through the year-long rehab process. If there are no major setbacks — Suter says he feels great and should be throwing off a pitcher’s mound soon — Brewers’ fans can expect to see the lefty back on a major league mound sometime in July, as the pennant race starts to heat up. 

In the meantime, Suter and Burke are working to move Strikeout Waste from the drawing board to the dugout. The goal is to show fans that, if their favorite players and teams can reduce plastic waste, so can they.

“Think about a baseball TV broadcast immediately after the game’s final out,” offered Suter. “There’s always a shot of the players heading from the dugout to the clubhouse, with empty plastic water bottles strewn all over the place. This is not a good look, to say the least. So we aim to change the look along with player and fan behavior with Strikeout Waste.”

The idea for Strikeout Waste began to percolate between the cousins two and a half years ago but Suter’s main focus was on making the Brewers and, once he did, sticking with the big club. With more free time since his injury and subsequent surgery last summer, Suter started to take eco-action.

“We thought going with reusable water bottles would work on several levels,” Suter recalled. “It’s something everybody can do to save a lot of plastic waste. Fans can easily relate to it. And it shouldn’t be that hard to change players’ and fans’ behaviors, ideally taking most people just a few days to get used to using a reusable water bottle and have it become like an appendage.” 

Suter and Burke engaged Chicago-based LW Branding to help them flesh out the concept during the offseason. Then, at the start of spring training, they created a partnership with Suter’s favorite water bottle brand and had reusable bottles shipped to the spring facility. 

“We ended up choosing a bottle from Zulu Athletic,” reported Suter. “It’s made out of high-quality glass that is also hard to break, with a pop-off lid perfect for frequent use in the dugout, clubhouse and everywhere else.”

The duo is starting small — Suter distributed about 100 total bottles from several test vendors during the early part of spring training to eager Brewers players and staff and he expects his first order of 100 Zulu Athletic bottles to arrive in the next week so the rest of the organization has them — but they have big plans.

 

Suter Murph H2O Bottles

Milwaukee Brewers bench coach Pat Murphy holds a water bottle, surrounded by Brent Suter (2nd from left) and other members of the ball club (Photo credit: Brent Suter, Milwaukee Brewers)

 

“Since I will still be rehabbing here in Arizona once spring training ends next week, I am going to try spreading the campaign to the Arizona Diamondbacks through shortstop Nick Ahmed, who is already into it!” Suter said. “Cincinnati Reds second baseman Scooter Gennett is another guy who I am confident will advocate for it.”

Suter’s and Burke’s plans go beyond baseball — they can envision a Slam Dunk Waste for the NBA, a Sack Waste for the NFL. You get the idea.

Brent Suter gets the last word: “We need to show fans that their favorite athletes care about about plastic waste, climate change and the environment more broadly. Some portion of those fans will take positive environmental action. Of that I have no doubt.”

 

WINNIPEG JETS INVITE CLIMATE CHANGE-FIGHTING NONPROFIT TO CONNECT WITH FANS AT GO GREEN NIGHT

“Green Games” are rapidly becoming commonplace among a wide swath of North American pro and college teams, a sure sign that Green-Sports 2.0 — i.e. fan engagement — is here.

So I wasn’t all that excited when the news that the Winnipeg Jets hosted their second annual Go Green Night at Bell MTS Place last Thursday came across my transom. Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad the Jets are having Go Green Night — it’s just that it didn’t seem that newsy anymore.

 

MTS Place

MTS Place, home of the Winnipeg Jets, hosted its second Go Green Night last week (Photo credit: Winnipeg Jets)

 

I was wrong.

That is because the Jets invited Climate Change Connection (CCC), a program of the Manitoba Eco Network, to interact with fans in the arena’s concourses during the Green Game. CCC’s mission is to make Manitobans aware of the facts surrounding climate change and to inspire them to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to build climate resilient communities. The organization promoted ways for Jets fans to act on climate, and provided easy-to-digest information on how to go about it. 

 

Winnipeg Jets Go Green Game

 

Of course, you may ask, “Lew, the Jets Green Game partnership with CCC doesn’t sound unique. Why are you so excited about it?”

I am excited because True North Sports & Entertainment, the owner of the Jets and MTS Place felt comfortable having an organization called Climate Change Connection interact with its fans in a very public way.

Since the Green-Sports movement’s beginnings around 15 years ago, teams and leagues have done a terrific job greening the games, from improving energy efficiency to on-site renewables, to much, much more. But they didn’t communicate about their greening initiatives much to their fans during this Green-Sports 1.0 era. Climate change? It was mentioned rarely.

We are in the early days of the movement’s fan engagement-focused 2.0 iteration. This era is unfolding in the same time period as the release of a devastating report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It asserted that humanity has 12-15 years to decarbonize significantly if it is to avoid the most calamitous effects of climate change. With that as backdrop, it says here that the sports world can no longer afford to play it coy when it comes to talking about climate change.

This does not mean fans should be bludgeoned by climate change. After all, they’re at the arena or stadium to enjoy a game.

But there’s a great deal of space between bludgeoning and saying nothing.

Climate change-themed public service announcements on the scoreboard here and there wouldn’t hurt.

Nor would having a group called Climate Change Connection interact with hockey fans at an arena concourse.

 


 

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Tommy Caldwell and Other Elite Rock Climbers Team Up to Fight Climate with POW Climb

A group of the top U.S. rock climbers who are also concerned about climate change have worked with Protect Our Winters to launch POW Climb, a new division that will focus on engaging the climbing community to join the climate fight.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with elite professional climber Tommy Caldwell to find out how he came to support POW and POW Climb as well as what he hopes will result from his efforts.

 

“It’s time to give the climbing community a platform to speak up about climate change.”

So said Tommy Caldwell regarding Monday’s launch of POW Climb, a new division of the Protect Our Winters’ (POW) Alliance.

Protect Our Winters turns passionate outdoor and winter sports enthusiasts of all levels into effective climate advocates. The Alliance is POW’s community of elite athletes (skiers, snowboarders and more), thought leaders and forward-thinking business leaders working to affect systemic political solutions to climate change.

One of the top professional climbers in the U.S., Caldwell joins fellow climbers and Alliance members Conrad Anker, Adrian Ballinger, Emily Harrington, Angela Hawse, Beth Rodden, Matt Segal, and Graham Zimmerman as charter members of POW Climb.

 

LIFELONG CLIMBER AND ENVIRONMENTALIST SEES THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE 

That Northern Colorado native Tommy Caldwell is a world class climber and an up-and-coming climate change fighting eco-athlete would surprise absolutely no one once they learned the outlines of his story.

“I grew up climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park,” Caldwell recounted. “My dad, who taught during the school year, was a mountain guide there. We climbed every weekend. I was climbing in Yosemite when I was three years old. In my teens, I climbed in the Alps and Bolivia. Of course this meant I was in nature all the time and developed a deep passion and appreciation for it.”

 

Tommy Caldwell

Tommy Caldwell of POW Climb ascends the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park (Photo credit: Brett Lowell/Red Bull Media House)

 

Rock climbing globally for more than three decades means Caldwell has experienced the impacts of climate change up close.

“I’ve been climbing in the Argentine part of Patagonia since my early twenties,” Caldwell recalled. “You can’t miss or doubt climate change when you go there over a period time. There’s one incredible mountain, Aguja Poincenot, its east face is accessible only by traversing a glacier. Or, should I say was accessible. Fellow climber Topher Donahue told me the glacier was passable in the 80s and up through part of the 90s. By the time I first visited there in 2003, the glaciers had receded and broken up to the point where crevasses blocked the passage. The beautiful approach from the east is now virtually inaccessible.”

 

Aguja Poincenot

The lower east face of Aguja Poincenot in the Argentine section of Patagonia is now virtually inaccessible to climbers. (Photo credit: Elvis Acevedo)

 

Sadly, reported Caldwell, the weight of climate change’s impacts is heavier on mountains that are still being climbed: “Now, in some parts of Patagonia, virtually when there’s a good weather window for climbing, someone dies. That’s because the mountains are thawing for the first time since climbers started visiting the area. Rocks loosen and ultimately fall. Death from sporadic rock fall is becoming common. I question weather I should climb in those mountains anymore — hey, I have kids now.”

 

ON BECOMING A CLIMATE CHANGE FIGHTER AND PART OF POW CLIMB

Patagonia played a key role in Caldwell joining the climate change fight.

Patagonia the outdoor apparel company, that is.

“I got into climate activism when I became an Ambassador for Patagonia, a sponsor of mine,” said Caldwell. “Then, as a board member of the Access Fund, the advocacy organization for climbing, I got into lobbying in DC on climate change as well as other issues that are clearly important to climbers. In fact, my Access Fund colleagues and I lobbied, through our ‘Climb The Hill’ initiative, on behalf of the bipartisan Land and Water Conservation Fund Act which became law as part of a bigger bill that was signed by the President on Tuesday.”

Caldwell, who was featured in the must-see “Free Solo,” which won the Academy Award last month for Best Documentary, sees POW Climb as the next step in his climb up the climate change activism mountain, with the next challenge being carbon pricing.

“POW reached out to me a few months ago. I then went to an Alliance athlete training, heard from the scientists, saw their legislative and electoral strategies and I was all in. I’m excited to push on carbon pricing and to help elect candidates who will support it and other climate change fighting actions. Now is the time.”

 


 

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Kevin Anderson, World’s #6 Tennis Player, on Plastic Ocean Waste Fight

Kevin Anderson, the sixth-ranked men’s tennis player in the world, recently showed himself to be passionate about the plastic ocean waste issue in Jon Wertheim’s SI.com tennis mailbag column. GreenSportsBlog reached out to the Delray Beach, Florida-based South African to dig a bit deeper into his environmentalism and to get his take on climate change. Before heading out to Southern California for the Indian Wells tournament that is now underway, Anderson took a few minutes to answer our questions.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Kevin, when did you become an environmentalist and what got you into it?

Kevin Anderson: Well, Lew, a part of me has always been very mindful about how my life impacts the environment. Last year I watched a documentary called “A Plastic Ocean” and it really opened my eyes.

 

Anderson_Kevin

Kevin Anderson, fifth ranked men’s tennis player in the world and eco-athlete (Photo credit: Kevin Anderson)

 

GSB: That is a must-watch film from 2016. Journalist Craig Leeson joined forces with retired free diver¹ Tanya Streeter and an international team of scientists and researchers to document the the scale of the plastic ocean waste pollution problems, and offered potential real world solutions.

Kevin: It definitely encouraged me to see what I could improve upon in my daily life and — as a tennis player — what athletes, tournaments and the organizations we are associated with could do better to make a change.

 

Plastic Ocean

 

GSB: What environmental initiatives have you led or joined?

Kevin: I’m a huge supporter of the “Skip the Straw” campaign in Delray Beach, Florida. Hopefully that new rule will be approved, which means restaurants in the city will only give patrons plastic straws when requested. Living in close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean makes this initiative very important for our city and I hope more residents will continue to adopt practices using less plastic in their lives.

GSB: Good news: According to Boca News Now, the Delray Beach City Commission just passed the ordinance that will ban plastic straws. It will take effect January 1, 2020. How have your colleagues/competitors reacted to your leadership on environmental issues? Who have joined you?

Kevin: Many of my fellow players see the importance of reducing the use of plastics. Dominic Thiem of Austria is one who I’ve discussed this; he has an organization he supports…

GSB: …Thiem, the eighth ranked player in the world, is involved with 4Ocean, a nonprofit founded by two surfers that removes plastics from the oceans and other waterways. It sustains itself by selling bracelets made from that waste. 4Ocean reports that, in just two years, they and their teams of fishermen and others, have removed over 4 million pounds of trash from the oceans and coastlines.

Kevin: I know Dominic is very passionate about it. Overall, the players have been very supportive in helping me encourage the ATP Tour and tournaments to create more plastic-reducing initiatives and make it possible for us players to lead more environmentally-friendly lives.

 

Dominic Thiem

Dominic Thiem, the world’s eighth ranked men’s tennis player, sports four bracelets made from ocean waste by 4Oceans (Photo credit: Polygram)

 

GSB: Widening the lens beyond plastic ocean waste, what are your thoughts on climate change, its human causality, and how elite athletes can engage on the issue? I ask this question mindful of the severe water crisis in Cape Town in your home country of South Africa.

Kevin: I’ve definitely become more in tune with the climate change topic and it’s something I’m continually educating myself on. I think education is one of the most important parts when it comes to environmental issues, so I look forward to learning more.

GSB: Do you discuss climate change with your competitors/colleagues in the locker room, on the tour? If so, what have those conversations been like?

Kevin: Currently our most engaged topic relating to the environment is reducing our use of single-use plastics and encouraging recycling.

GSB: Athletes have been, with some notable exceptions, relatively quiet on climate change, although that is starting to change. Why do you think that is? What might change that?

Kevin: I know in tennis, we are all extremely focused on our training, fitness, matches, travel arrangements, etc. This takes up a large portion of our time because tennis is 24/7. But I do think in moments of downtime, we can focus on learning more. Again, education is key, and then perhaps athletes will feel more comfortable coming forward with their opinions.

 

GSB’s Take: Tennis is, per data compiled by World Atlas in 2018, the fourth most popular sport in the world with an estimated 1 billion fans. That makes the sixth ranked Anderson — and eighth-ranked Thiem — among the world’s most prominent eco-athletes. His responses here and in the Wertheim mailbag show him to be committed and knowledgable about the plastic ocean waste issue. Anderson had an in-depth conversation about his environmentalism with Wertheim on his “Beyond the Baseline” podcast, produced by SI.com and Tennis Channel. Click here to give a listen — the environment is discussed for an impressive 18 minutes, starting at the six minute mark.

Anderson’s comment about climate change — that tennis players, need more education on the subject but have precious little time to absorb it given the 24-7 nature of their work — tells me there needs to be a time-sensitive yet substantive climate education program for athletes. It could be modeled on what’s being done with skiers and snowboarders with Protect Our Winters.

Watch this space. 

 

¹ Free diving is a form of underwater diving that relies on breath-holding until resurfacing rather than the use of breathing apparatus such as scuba gear.

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: Kevin Anderson, 5th Ranked Tennis Player and Eco-Athlete; Seattle Sounders Call Climate Change a “Crisis”; Climate Denying Ski Federation President Remains at Helm Despite Pressure to Resign

In a TGIF GSB News & Notes, we share two positive news stories and one naggingly troubling if still hopeful note.

On the positive side, Kevin Anderson, the world’s fifth ranked men’s tennis player, took on the plastic waste issue in Jon Wertheim’s SI.com much-read mailbag column. And the Seattle Sounders used the term “climate crisis” (Italics my emphasis) when they announced their commitment to going carbon neutral in the season that kicks off on March 2. I’ve never seen a team put the words “climate” and “crisis” together before.

On the flip side, despite many calls for his resignation, Gian-Franco Kasper remains the President of the International Ski Federation (FIS) almost three weeks after he outed himself as a climate change denier. But an effort to generate public pressure to force his resignation, led by Protect Our Winters, shows no signs of slowing down.

 

KEVIN ANDERSON, WORLD’S 5TH RANKED TENNIS PLAYER, SERVES UP PLASTIC OCEAN WASTE TO SI.COM READERS

South Africa’s Kevin Anderson instantly became one of the world’s most well-known eco-athletes on Wednesday when he took on the plastic ocean waste issue — and tennis’ contribution to it — in Jon Wertheim’s popular SI.com mailbag column.

I know what you’re thinking: “Wait, who is Kevin Anderson? And how popular is tennis, really?”

 

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson (Photo credit: Tony O’Brien/Reuters)

 

The hard-serving, 6′ 8″ Anderson is currently the fifth ranked men’s player in the world¹, having reached the finals of two grand slam tournaments since 2017. You might remember this incredible left-handed shot (Anderson is a righty) after having tumbled to the grass late in his marathon, 6 hour-plus 2018 Wimbledon semifinal vs. John Isner that propelled him to the final.

 

 

As to tennis’ popularity, a 2018 WorldAtlas.com study reports that the sport has 1 billion fans globally, enough to make it the fourth most popular sport on the planet, trailing only soccer (#1 at 4 billion fans), cricket (2.5 billion), and field hockey (2 billion). To my knowledge, the only active eco-athlete who be more well known than Anderson is Mesut Özil, the German soccer star who currently plays for Arsenal.

Back to Wertheim’s mailbag.

The first question came from a reader in Toronto who asked, “When is tennis going to stop its environmentally unfriendly use of plastic?”

Instead of answering it himself, Wertheim gave Anderson, “tennis’ green czar” (who knew??), the court.

An excepted version of Anderson’s reply reads this way:

That your question was submitted to Jon Wertheim’s mailbag makes me very pleased to know that tennis fans are also taking the plastics issue seriously.

Reducing plastic pollution — and particularly keeping plastic waste out of the oceans — is one of my biggest passions. In fact, in December I hosted a charity event at home in Florida with a portion of the proceeds benefitting Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Alliance. Once your eyes are opened to the plastic pollution problem, it’s hard not to care about the consequences. I hope that tennis players can be leaders in this space to raise awareness and help make the public more mindful of reducing single-use plastics when possible.

As a member of the ATP Player Council, I’ve been sharing my passion for this issue and last November, the ATP developed measures to reduce its negative impact on the environment at the Nitto ATP Finals in London. For the first time ever, players were given reusable bottles for on-court use, staff were given reusable bottles and encouraged to refill them at water stations, and fans were given reusable cups when they purchased drinks at The O2 (Arena). There are many more things that can be done in the future, but I believe this was a great first step in the right direction.

I’m hopeful we can continue to make other changes, such as do away with plastic racquet bags after re-stringing (which I always politely decline or make sure to recycle), put recycling bins at all tournaments for fans to dispose of their rubbish properly (and on the practice courts for players), and most importantly – provide education. If we can get more and more tournaments, players and fans to recognize the issue we have on our hands, and just how dire of a situation it is, we can make more change. 

 

GSB’s Take: So glad to hear Kevin Anderson is leading the anti-plastic ocean waste movement on the ATP Tour. Hopefully he is recruiting others, including his women’s tennis counterparts, to join his effort. And if his interest in plastic waste becomes an on-ramp to a broader commitment to the climate change fight, all the better.

 

SEATTLE SOUNDERS, MLS’ FIRST CARBON NEUTRAL CLUB, USES “CLIMATE CRISIS” TERM

The Seattle Sounders committed to going carbon neutral starting with the 2019 season — FC Cincinnati visits CenturyLink Field on March 2 to kick off the new campaign — marking them as the first professional soccer team in North America to do so. In a press release announcing the move, the club pledged that their “operations will make no net contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide, the leading cause of the climate crisis.”

Wait a second.

Did you notice anything special in that press release quote? Because I sure did.

A North American pro sports team, used the term “climate crisis.

At first glance, the Sounders’ use of climate crisis should not raise eyebrows. After all, a UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) study released in October said that humanity has but 12 years to cut carbon pollution by 40 percent if we are to avoid catastrophic consequences.

But widen the lens a bit and one sees that most pro teams, including those who have done great green work for years, do not even speak of climate change. At all. Benign terms like “sustainability” and “environmentally responsible” are used much more frequently.

It says here that the Sounders use of climate crisis is at least as big a deal as the team going carbon neutral.

And that’s saying something because the club’s carbon neutral commitment is certainly important and substantive.

One reason is that the Sounders included fan travel to and from games — which represent 28 percent of total emissions — in its calculations. Some teams and leagues that have claimed carbon neutrality have not done so.

 

Fan travel accounted for 28 percent of the Sounders’ emissions in 2018, trailing only team travel (33 percent) and CenturyLink Field operations (29 percent)

 

Team management partnered with Seattle-based Sustainable Business Consulting to calculate its greenhouse gas emissions and develop plans to reduce its impacts where possible. For emissions unable to be eliminated – such as team travel for matches, scouting and other business – the Sounders are offsetting their emissions through the Evergreen Carbon Capture (ECC) program of Forterra, a regional nonprofit. Using the club’s contribution to ECC, Forterra and its partner DIRT Corps are joining with the team and fans to plant hundreds of trees in a part of the region that needs added tree cover. This not only reduces CO₂, but enhances air and water quality.

“We’re incredibly excited to announce that our club is officially carbon neutral,” said Sounders Owner Adrian Hanauer. “The Sounders have always been committed to investing in our community, and that includes recognizing the immense responsibility we have as environmental stewards.”

And climate crisis fighters.

 

Adrian Hanauer

Adrian Hanauer, owner of the Seattle Sounders (Photo credit: Seattle Sounders FC)

 

GSB’s Take: This is a win-win-win Green-Sports story if I ever saw one: Win #1: The Sounders go carbon neutral. Win #2: The club includes fan travel in their emissions calculations. Win #3: Rightfully calling climate change a CRISIS is a big step forward. Kudos to the Sounders for doing so. Will this give other pro teams across all sports the confidence to use the words “climate” and “change” together? Watch this space. Note that I’m starting slowly here and not asking teams to say climate “crisis”. Yet. If you want to let the Sounders know that you appreciate their bold green-sports steps, click here.

 

CLIMATE DENIER GIAN-FRANCO KASPER REMAINS IN POWER AS HEAD OF INTERNATIONAL SKI FEDERATION; 

We close the week with an update on the Gian-Franco Kasper story.

The President of the International Ski Federation (FIS) denied climate change in a February 4 interview, saying, “There is no proof for it. We have snow, in part even a lot of it. I was in Pyeongchang for the Olympiad. We had minus 35 degrees C. Everybody who came to me shivering I welcomed with: welcome to global warming.”

 

Gian Franco-Kasper

Gian-Franco Kasper, President of FIS (Photo credit: Mark Runnacles, Getty Images)

 

Protect Our Winters, the nonprofit made up of elite winter sports athletes who advocate on behalf of systemic political solutions to climate change, quickly wrote an open letter calling for Kasper to resign and encouraged its followers to do the same.

As of February 19, over 8,300 letters had arrived in FIS’ in box.

But that’s not all.

  • Jessie Diggins, who won Olympic gold at Pyeonchang 2018 in cross country skiing, and other elite winter sports athletes like Jamie Anderson, Danny Davis, and Maddie Phaneuf, made strong statements condemning Kasper’s remarks.
  • Companies from throughout the snow sports world — from Aspen Skiing Company to Burton, from Patagonia to Clif, and more — pushed the word out
  • The coverage of POW’s open letter generated more than 200 million media impressions worldwide: The New York Times, ESPN and The Daily Mail, among many others, got into the act.

Now, as of February 21, Kasper remains in office. But for how long will that be the case?

 

GSB’s Take: The POW letter campaign is ongoing. If you believe Kasper should go and would like to participate, click here.

 

 

¹ Anderson currently sits below #1 Novak Djokovic, #2 Rafael Nadal, #3 Alexander Zverev, and #4 Juan Martin del Potro in the ATP rankings. He is ahead of #6 Kei Nishikori and #7 Roger Federer.

 

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International Ski Federation President Denies Climate Change; Protect Our Winters Urges Him to Resign

Gian Franco-Kasper, the President of the International Ski Federation (FIS¹), showed himself in an interview last week to be a virulent denier of climate change. His comments were made at the beginning of the 2019 FIS Alpine World Championships in Åre, Sweden. Ironically, the organizers had recently earned ISO 20121 certification as a sustainable event.

Almost immediately after the Franco-Kasper story broke, Protect Our Winters (POW) launched a campaign that is pushing for his resignation.

 

The skiing story of the week was the bronze medal earned by Lindsey Vonn of the U.S. in the final race of her storied career, the downhill at the 2019 FIS Alpine World Championships in Åre, Sweden.

Unfortunately, Vonn’s farewell had to share the stage with the news that the President of FIS¹, the governing body of international skiing, has views on climate change that mirror those of noted denier-skeptic, President Donald Trump.

Gian Franco-Kasper’s climate change-denier bona fides came to light in an interview with René Hauri in the February 4th issue of the German language, Zurich-based newspaper, Tages Anzeiger. The next day, Dvora Meyers posted a column in Deadspin that, along with her biting analysis, translated the 75 year-old FIS leader’s comments into English.

 

Gian Franco-Kasper

Gian Franco-Kasper, President of FIS (Photo credit: Mark Runnacles, Getty Images)

 

Here, from Meyers’ piece, is Franco-Kasper expressing climate change denial, using the old it’s-cold-out-somewhere-so-climate-change-can’t-be-happening” trope:

“There is no proof for it. We have snow, in part even a lot of it. I was in Pyeongchang for the Olympiad. We had minus 35 degrees C. Everybody who came to me shivering I welcomed with: welcome to global warming.”

And here he links his disdain for environmentalists to a fondness for dictators:

“It’s just the way that it is easier for us in dictatorships. From a business view I say: I just want to go to dictatorships, I don’t want to fight with environmentalists anymore.”

And then, for good measure, Franco-Kasper added this note on immigrants to Europe:

“The second generation of immigrants has nothing to do with skiing. There are no ski camps anymore.”

All of these quotes could easily have come from the current occupant of the Oval Office. Yet, even Trump hasn’t made the climate denial-dictator connection, at least as far as I’m aware. Per a CNN report, Franco-Kasper tried to walk back the Love-A-Dictator comment — I’ll leave it to the reader to judge his sincerity — but not his climate change denial nor the immigrant-bashing.

Two days after the Deadspin story broke, Protect Our Winters, the nonprofit made up of elite winter sports athletes who advocate on behalf of systemic political solutions to climate change, issued this call for Franco-Kasper’s resignation:

“The snowsports community should be demanding climate action, and not tolerate those who dismiss science to remain in positions of leadership. That’s why are asking the newly formed Outdoor Business Climate Partnership² and the outdoor and snowsports community at large, all of whom rely on a stable climate to power our $887 billion industry, to join us in calling for Mr. Franco-Kasper’s resignation.” 

According to POW, the Franco-Kasper interview brought out into the open what had been whispered about in ski industry circles for years: That FIS leadership is still unwilling to acknowledge — let alone act upon — the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting the reality of human-caused climate change that threatens the entire snowsports industry.

Franco-Kasper’s climate change denial stands in stark contrast to the strong sustainability leadership displayed by the organizers of the 2019 FIS Alpine World Championships in Åre, Sweden, taking place now through the 19th. It recently earned certification as being compliant with the ISO 20121 standard for sustainable events.

 

Are 2019

Riikka Rakic (r) sustainability manager for Åre 2019, helped lead the effort that resulted in the championships earning ISO 20121 certification as a sustainable event (Photo credit: Iana Peck, Åre 2019)

 

GSB’s Take: This one is easy. Franco-Kasper’s climate denial, along with his preference for dealing with dictators rather than democracies, make him 1) scarily Trump-like, and 2) clearly unfit to be the leader of the governing body of a sport that is suffering consequences of climate change in the here and now. 

What is not easy to comprehend is how this man, whose views on these issues apparently have been well-known inside international skiing circles, has been able to remain in office since 1998.

POW has started a letter-writing campaign to FIS, urging Franco-Kasper to resign. If you agree he should go and would like to participate, click here.

If the letter-writing effort proves successful and the Franco-Kasper Era (Error?) finally ends, here, in no particular order, is an admittedly U.S.-centric list of three potential successors FIS should consider:

  • POW’s Executive Director and avid snowboarder Mario Molina, 
  • Longtime skier John Kerry, who, as Secretary of State under President Obama, was a driving force behind the ultimate adoption of the landmark 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.
  • Val Ackerman, first commissioner of the WNBA and currently commissioner of the Big East Conference. She would bring trail blazing executive experience, has a global perspective³, and, based on a brief conversation I had with her in 2018, gets it on climate change.

 

¹ FIS =The French version, Federation International de Ski
² The Outdoor Business Climate Partnership is comprised of the National Ski Areas Association, Outdoor Industry Association and Snowsports Industry America
³ Ackerman, during her days at the WNBA in the late 90s, worked closely with then-NBA commissioner David Stern, arguably the person most responsible for the explosion in the global popularity of the league.

 


 

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