Protect Our Winters Slams President’s Anti-Climate Change Executive Action

The mission of Protect Our Winters (POW), an organization made up of leading winter sports athletes and the brands that support them, is to mobilize the outdoor sports community to lead the charge towards positive climate action. The group stepped up Wednesday with a strong statement and a positive action plan against President Trump’s anti-climate change executive action.

 

 

President Trump, with a broad-stroke executive order issued Tuesday, directed his Cabinet to start taking an axe to a wide array of Obama-era policies on climate change — from emissions rules for power plants (aka the Clean Power Plan) to limits on methane leaks; from the use of the social cost of carbon to guide government actions to a moratorium on federal coal leasing, and more.

Trump Signs Exec Order

President Donald J. Trump after signing the executive order on climate change. (Photo credit: Boston Globe)

 

Criticism came from expected and very important quarters: Former Vice President Al Gore called the President’s executive order that makes the United States’ 2015 Paris Agreement pledge to lower emissions by at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 virtually impossible to achieve “a misguided step away from a sustainable, carbon-free future for ourselves and generations to come.” Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman used but one word in his must-read column, “Trump is a Chinese Agent,” to describe the action: “Stupid.” 

Let’s be clear: the President’s actions are not orders that can immediately be implemented; rather they are directions to reconsider the Clean Power Plan and other Obama-era climate change fighting rules. Before those can be acted upon, legal actions can be filed that could take years to resolve. For an in-depth and insightful analysis of all this, I urge you to read Brad Plumer’s top notch piece in Vox. But, suffice to say, for the climate change fight, Tuesday’s actions were possibly calamitous in the long run and potentially dispiriting in the hear and now.

But this is not the time for discouragement. Again, I refer you to Al Gore: No matter how discouraging this executive order may be, we must, we can, and we will solve the climate crisis. No one man or group can stop the encouraging and escalating momentum we are experiencing in the fight to protect our planet.”

Discouragement is not part of Protect Our Winters‘ (POW) vocabulary.

POW is the Boulder, CO-based nonprofit whose leadership is made up of leading professional skiers, snowboarders and other winter sports athletes. To engage in the climate change fight, POW’s Olympic medal- and World Championship-winning athletes trade in their skis and snowboards for political advocacy and lobbying along with community-based activism. To my knowledge, there is no other athlete group or sports league that is as deeply involved in the climate change fight as POW. 

Exhibit A of POW’s climate change fighting chops is Tuesday’s Let’s Take Action”-type blog that was posted shortly after the executive order was announced. It urges its followers to:

  1. Call their governors, as states can move forward on limiting emissions from fossil fuel fired power plants.
  2. Keep focused. Per the blog, when the EPA and the other government agencies take up President Trump’s directions to change course, they will “have to prove that they have reason to change the Clean Power Plan and the other environmental rules under attack. (read: they have to prove it’s not just politics, but that there is new information or evidence requiring change). When they do this, there will be opportunity for the public to comment.” 

POW

 

 

At that point, you can be sure POW will provide their 94,000+ Facebook friends and 20,000+ Twitter followers with the tools to maximize the impact of their comments. And POW athletes will continue to lobby, blog and speak out against the Trump Administration’s assault on the climate change fight.

 


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Allen Hershkowitz Urges US Pro Sports Leagues to Measure, Reduce Carbon Footprint

When Dr. Allen Hershkowitz talks, people across the sports world, green and otherwise, listen. Having created the greening programs at MLB, NBA, NHL, the USTA, and co-founded and served as President of the Green Sports Alliance, it is no exaggeration to say that Hershkowitz is the most consequential environmentalist in the history of North American sports. Hershkowitz is now globalizing his scope of influence as he helps develop Sustainability and Sports International (SandSI). So his recent column that ran Monday, March 20th in Sports Business Journal (SBJ), urging stronger sustainability leadership from the North American professional sports world, and urging the leadership of pro-sports leagues to begin accounting for their carbon footprint, well, to quote Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, “attention must be paid.” GreenSportsBlog spoke with Hershkowitz about the story, its timing and where we go from here.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Allen, congratulations on your important column for Sports Business Journal (to read it, click HERE). Since you have helped create the Green-Sports movement from the beginning, both at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and at the Green Sports Alliance, and given your leadership role in helping to create the greening programs at MLB, NHL, NASCAR, NBA and the USTA, going public to urge the major sports leagues in North America to measure their carbon footprints in your SBJ column is big. Of course, the NHL has measured its carbon footprint since 2014, so I take it your statement is meant for everyone else. What made you go public now?

Allen Hershkowitz: Well, Lew, I don’t want to be melodramatic, but as a scientist who has devoted his career to studying resource consumption, pollution and sustainability for more than 35 years, I have no choice but to conclude that our planet is facing greater environmental threats than at any time in modern history…

Allen Hershkowitz J. Henry Fair

Allen Hershkowitz (Photo credit: J. Henry Fair)

 

GSB: …But certainly the climate crisis and other environmental calamities aren’t new. So why now? Is this a reaction to the Trump Administration’s rabidly anti-environment, anti-climate initiatives and proposals?

AH:  No, not really. I would’ve written this now even had Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election. The main reason for the timing is that the most recent available information, from global surface temperature—the highest in recorded history—to ocean temperature to ocean acidification to polar ice loss to species loss, clearly shows that the climate crisis and its effects are worsening at an accelerating pace. Projections are such that, if present trends continue, more than one billion people will become climate refugees by 2050…

GSB: …And there are perhaps millions of climate refugees right now. There is peer-reviewed data that ascribes some portion of the severe Syrian drought to climate change. That drought forced many rural Syrians, who could no longer work in agriculture, into the cities, and thus helped ignite the civil war and subsequent refugee tragedy.

AH: Weather extremes are certainly threatening water availability, and food production and that leads to mass dislocations and conflict, as in Syria. And this crisis goes far beyond humans. Species continue to disappear at unprecedented rates, including many that are sports team mascots. Our grandchildren may never get a chance to see tigers or polar bears, except in photographs and documentaries. These problems are happening, and, as I said before, now we know they’re happening at a faster, downright scarier pace than we thought. The climate change-caused death of the Great Barrier Reef off of Australia was expected to happen 30 years from now. It’s happening now. This is what prompted my column now, regardless of who is in the White House.

“Drought, Water, War and Climate Change,” a 5 minute 42 second video from the Yale Climate Connections group, connects the Syrian refugee crisis to climate change.

 

GSB: I get that. But I gotta believe that the utter disregard President Trump, EPA Administrator Pruitt and their team are showing to climate change and the environment more broadly added a bit of urgency. Heck, the second paragraph of your piece goes right after the President’s plans for the EPA:

“If President Trump’s proposed budget is enacted, EPA funding will be reduced by 20% (amended to 31%), to about $6 billion, distinguishing the United States in 2017 as the only industrialized nation on Earth with a national policy committed to reducing the financial and scientific resources needed to address worsening climate change.”

 

AH: Look, I know that what is happening and what is likely to happen in Washington DC in the months to come threatens to undermine so much of the progress we have made collectively on climate and the broader sustainability agenda over the last few decades. It is profoundly disheartening. And I don’t say this as a partisan. I say this as a scientist and as someone who is grounded in reality. And the reality is this: Scott Pruitt, the new administrator of the EPA, has publicly rejected the broad scientific consensus on the human causality of climate change. When he was Attorney General in Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the very agency he is now charged with running on more than a dozen occasions.  His appointment could well undermine the agency’s core air and water protection programs‎, which have enjoyed bipartisan support over the years.

GSB: So how have the commissioners and other high level executives at the leagues—folks with whom you’ve worked for years, whose trust you’ve earned, reacted to your article and to your concerns about the direction of the Administration?

AH: I have always spoken respectfully and factually to my good friends at the leagues. As I didn’t want there to be any surprises, I showed my league contacts an early draft of the SBJ piece.

GSB: What did they think?

AH: Overall, they were positive, and although there were some suggestions to “tone it down,” the basic thrust of the final product was the same as the first draft. Let me put it to you this way: None of my friends at the leagues told me not to publish this.

GSB: That’s good to hear. And what about your thoughts on the Administration? I know you’ve strived hard to stay out of partisan politics and I am sure the leagues appreciate that. But how do you stay neutral on the politics with them?

AH: The leaders of these leagues understand there is just no denying that the current White House and EPA statements on climate change and related subjects have ‎caused consternation in many quarters of the nation, in the scientific community and in capitals around the world. They also understand that this President has started the process of rolling back important fuel efficiency standards and repealing or significantly weakening the Endangered Species Act, which has over the years been a force for rescuing dozens of critters from extinction, including many of the animals that serve as sports team mascots. I am certain the sustainability leaders at all the leagues understand he is misleading the American public on this issue, divisibly and dangerously so.

GSB: That’s good to hear. So how are the leagues reacting to your appeal for carbon footprint accounting?

AH: It’s a process. One reason the leagues, aside from the NHL and Gary Bettman, haven’t been as aggressive on carbon accounting as I would’ve hoped is that the environmental priorities in the US, from a governmental perspective, are relatively weak as compared to, say, Europe. And this was the case before Trump, and even despite the positive strides made by his predecessor.

GSB: That’s interesting…I know that there is a much broader acceptance of climate change in Europe than there is here, and that European governments, in most cases, have stronger, clearer rules on environmental issues than does the US. But do those rules affect sports in Europe?

AH: Absolutely. In many European countries, government agencies regulate sports more aggressively than in the US or Canada. Carbon accounting is an accepted practice there. Thus, the European sports world is already working in an environment, pun intended, where the rules, the norms are clearly more eco-friendly than here in the US. The French Ministry of Sport has been very keen on pushing its Federations (i.e. basketball, swimming, tennis, etc.) to measure their carbon footprint. In fact, 22 sports federations France came together to work towards science-based carbon reduction targets. And some of the major French sports events, starting back in 2007 with the Rugby World Cup and, more recently, the French Open at Roland-Garros and the UEFA EURO 2016, measure their carbon footprint and work towards reductions. France has implemented a platform, Auto Diagnostic Environnemental pour les Responsables d’Evénements,” or ADERE, that allows each organizer to measure roughly their environmental impact and self-discipline themselves to improve from year to year.

GSB: We need to be modeling what the French are doing…

AH: Exactly. And that’s what I am telling the leagues. And, as has been the case for the last decade or more, they listen. Step 1 for the leagues was to acknowledge the reality of human-caused climate change. The NHL, MLB, the NBA all submitted comments to Congress on this issue a number of years ago.

potus

Gary Bettman (l), commissioner of the NHL, the first league to issue a sustainability report. Commissioner Bettman and other sports commissioners have publicly acknowledged climate change.  (Photo credit: TMZ)

 

GSB: What about Roger Goodell and the NFL? They’ve been very quiet on this issue.

AH: They have, but Goodell did state publicly at a Beyond Sport United conference at Yankee Stadium a couple years ago that climate change is real. And Brian France at NASCAR has also publicly acknowledged the importance of this issue. Step 2 was to get sports to measure its energy use. This happened gradually across most North American sports leagues starting in around 2010, taking about 5-6 years. Now is the time for Step 3: to speak about climate change and to measure carbon…

GSB: Because what gets measured gets managed. And what gets managed matters.

AH: Yes! And the leagues are actually in a strong position to speak up and take action. The Scott Pruitts of the world, the James Inhofes of the world…

GSB: …Inhofe being the climate change denying senator from Oklahoma who famously brought a snowball into the senate chamber to demonstrate that climate change isn’t happening. Nice.

Inhofe

US Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) gets ready to throw a snowball fastball in the senate chamber in February, 2015. He brought a snowball into the senate to somehow cast doubt on the reality of climate change. No words. (Photo credit: Huffington Post)

 

AH: Those people can attack science but they can’t attack Major League Baseball, they can’t attack the NHL, they can’t attack NASCAR, whose Chairman of the Board Brian France, has publicly acknowledged the importance of addressing climate change. So now is the time, as I say in the article, for the leagues to calculate carbon emissions, develop a multiyear action plan to reduce carbon emissions, set meaningful, “science-based carbon reduction targets” (at least a 20 percent reduction in the next five to eight years) and aim for net zero carbon emissions from league and team operations, travel, and procurement within the next 20 years, and finally, communicate and inspire fans to do the same.

GSB: Amen! This is exactly what I’ve been urging all along, why I write GreenSportsBlog: To get the powers that be in sports to use their incredible megaphone to drive action on climate among all stakeholders. And that sports, with its ethos of overcoming obstacles, is uniquely well-positioned to do this.

AH: I agree, Lew. And, taking a look back over the last decade or so, the American professional sports world has come a long way. The leagues and many teams have cut energy usage substantially, made their supply chains more sustainable by purchasing recycled products, and they have taken important steps to educate millions of fans. I can’t tell you how proud I am of what we have undertaken together and what the leagues have accomplished in recent years to begin shifting the entire sports culture in a more sustainable, sensible direction. And showing courage by speaking out on what might be a controversial topic today is something sports has done for the last 75+ years. From Jackie Robinson and baseball’s color barrier, to Billie Jean King and equal rights and homophobia, sports has often led culture and politics in the US. It can do so on climate by taking the next step: Measuring carbon and speaking out for positive climate action.


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The Politics of Climate Change and Sports

After a spasm of activism during the 60s and 70s —mainly on civil rights, the Vietnam War and women’s rights—North American athletes, have, for the most, kept quiet about politics. That is clearly changing. Ignited by the Black Lives Matter movement, accelerated by the ascendancy to the White House of Donald J. Trump and spurred on by his recent immigration ban, politics and the issues of the day have increasingly found their way on to ESPN, si.com and other sports media platforms.

Climate change has not been on the politics-meet-sports agenda. This should surprise no one. You won’t find the topic near the top of the “most important issues” list facing the American public. It involves science, which can be daunting. And the sports world likely wants to stay away from angering the portion of the U.S. population that is still skeptical about/denying the reality and human causality of climate change.

Conventional wisdom would likely say that it is a good thing for the Green-Sports movement to stay away from the political crossfire. But the conventional is not always wise. Avoiding the realm of politics could actually stunt the growth of the Green-Sports movement and thus reduce its impact in the climate change fight, especially among sports fans under 35.

 

SPORTS AND POLITICS MEET AGAIN

“Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

That 1990 quote, attributed to Michael Jordan, was allegedly# uttered by His Airness in response to a request for an endorsement of Harvey Gantt, Democratic Mayor of Charlotte and an African American. Gantt was running that year for the US Senate seat in North Carolina held by Jesse Helms, seen by many as racist. Jordan didn’t endorse anyone, Helms was re-elected and the quote became a kind of shorthand for “Avoidance of Politics,” the basic default position for athletes (as well as for owners and sports sponsors/advertisers) for the next twenty or so years.

gantt-alchetron

Harvey Gantt, former mayor of Charlotte, NC. Michael Jordan famously did not endorse Gantt for US Senate in 1990 vs. incumbent GOP Senator Jesse Helms, allegedly because “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” (Photo credit: Alchetron)

 

Fast forward to 2016-17.

Things have changed, in particular regarding issues of race and, just in the last few weeks, immigration:

On race:

  • San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked nationwide controversy and conversation in September when he “took a knee”, refusing to stand during the playing of the national anthem as a statement of support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney and John Tortorella, coach of hockey’s Team USA, among many others, criticized Kaepernick.
  • Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, veterans of the 60s and 70s protest movements, came out in support of the Niners’ QB, as did Megan Rapinoe, a key member of the US Women’s National Soccer Team.
  • NBA stars LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony made a strong Black Lives Matter statement during the opening segment of the 2016 ESPY Awards show.

On the recent “immigration/refugee ban” executive order from the Trump Administration:

  • Two of the winningest and most respected coaches in the NBA, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Golden State’s Steve Kerr, voiced strong public opposition to the policy. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban echoed those sentiments.
  • Many athletes have done so as well, including retired NBA star Steve Nash, Toronto F.C. and U.S. Soccer captain Michael Bradley, and NASCAR’s Dale Earnhart, Jr.
  • News was made in the run up to the Super Bowl LI when Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady would NOT opine on the immigration ban.
  • Budweiser aired a 60 second, pro-immigration ad during Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast (cost of air time: roughly $10 million). AirBnB ran a 30 second spot with a similar theme. Google’s and Coca Cola’s efforts, while not specific to immigration, celebrated ethnic diversity.

 

Budweiser’s pro-immigration ad that ran during Super Bowl LI

 

While many team owners would rather have their players keep their political views to themselves, a few are starting to encourage their players to take stands. Speaking at a November town hall on race and sports at Arizona State University, Stephen M. Ross, Principal Owner of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, opined that “Athletes recognize their role in society. Let’s take advantage of that…I am probably in the minority of NFL owners encouraging players to express [their political] feelings and speak out. This country needs it.”

So, with apologies to Bob Dylan, “The Times, They are a’ Changin’…”

 

POLITICAL CLIMATE RIPE FOR SPORTS AND CLIMATE CHANGE, EVEN IN TRUMP ERA

…Except, for the most part, when it comes to climate change. Greening sports teams, leagues, and mega sports events have largely ignored or danced around climate change, especially when communicating their greenness to fans. (why are sports greening, after all, if not to, you know, help solve climate change?!?!) The networks that broadcast sports, and the sponsors/advertisers that support them also stay away from climate change.

If the climate change-themed vignette at the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Rio Olympics, seen by as many by a billion people worldwide, is the rare exception to the unspoken “avoid climate change” rule; that axiom is exemplified by the just completed Waste Management Phoenix Open (WMPO).

Let’s get this straight from the get-go: I LOVE the WMPO. Why? To use the tournament organizers’ words, it may well be the “most sustainable sporting event in the world.” The WMPO:

  • Has been Zero-Waste for four straight years with 100 percent of the waste generated at the tournament repurposed for beneficial reuse. This is especially impressive when one considers that more than 600,000 fans or more showed up over the course of the tournament, making it the most well-attended event on the PGA Tour by far.
  • Directly involved fans in the event’s greenness through Green Out SaturdayFor every fan who wore green to the third round on Saturday, the tournament hosts make a donation to three deserving, sustainability-focused, non-profits. Now in its seventh year, Green Out has raised over $390,000.
  • Supports Change The Coursea water sustainability campaign supporting water flow restoration projects. These include Northern Arizona’s Verde River, which flows into canals that provide water to the tournament course.

wmpo

Recycling and compost receptacles at the Zero-Waste Waste Management Phoenix Open. (Photo credit: Waste Management)

 

But visit the WMPO website and you will not find climate change mentioned on their sustainability-focused pages. Enter “climate change” into the search box and you will find it in the eighth paragraph of one press release highlighting the tournament’s designation as an “Inspire” event by the Council for Responsible Sport, a terrific, Eugene, Oregon-based sustainable sports event standards-setting organization.

It says here that leaving climate change out of the WMPO’s greening story was unwise.

I have been working in the sustainability world for 11 years and know very well that the politics of climate change are challenging. And I know Arizona voted for Trump and Trump is a climate skeptic/denier. And because the politics is tricky and because of the red-state-ness of Arizona, I know that talking directly about climate change runs the risk of some blowback from customers, fans, talk radio hosts and who knows who else.

And to all that, I say so what!

The current political climate, even with Donald Trump in the Oval Office, is more ripe than ever for the WMPO, an athlete, a sponsor/advertiser, and/or a network to talk to fans about climate change, especially those fans under 35.

  • Millennials (18-34 year-olds) and Generation Z (11-17), the Holy Grail cohorts for the sports industry, are proving to be extremely difficult to grab and hold. A significant chunk of the well-publicized ratings drop suffered by the NFL this season was attributable to younger viewers. Major League Baseball is considering rules changes to speed up the game to cater to the <35s.
  • Climate change is important to Millennials and Gen Z-ers. The issue is a much bigger deal for folks under 35 than it is for their older (and, on this issue, not wiser) counterparts. And while engaging on climate change will not attract younger folks to become sports fans (I’m not suffering from Green-Sports fever); doing so will help keep them in the fold once they’ve become hooked.
  • The reality of climate change—and humans causal role in it—is now accepted by a majority of Americans. According to an April 2016 poll from Gallup, a record 65 percent of Americans blame human activity for climate change. That means a significant number of Republicans think this is the case. And check out “A Conservative Case for Climate Action,” an Op-Ed in yesterday’s New York Times from three esteemed GOP economists.
  • Brands are less afraid of wading into the political pool and when they do, for the most part, they’re wading in on the progressive end—where climate change swims: While there were some online protests of AirBnB, Budweiser and Coca-Cola as a result of their politically-themed Super Bowl ads, they were relatively small in size and low in volume. Early reports show that the ads garnered more positive attention than negative. And, while one might expect “Blue State” brands like AirBnB and Google to air pro-immigration, pro-diversity ads, what does it say that quintessential “Red State” brands Budweiser and Coke did the same?

Finally, avoiding a challenge—i.e. shying away from mentioning climate change—is antithetical to what sports is all about. Think about almost every sports movie you’ve ever seen. Or Super Bowl LI* for that matter. You know the script: Player and/or team is behind, things are going badly. Formidable obstacles make victory seem impossible. Then player/team regroups, often heroically, working hard to comeback until an incredible triumph is won. Or a valiant loss is suffered with the journey deemed to be well worth it.

Keeping that “overcoming obstacles” ethos in mind, it’s time for the many precincts of the sports world that are greening to strongly and consistently say why they are doing so. And the prime reason in many cases is the climate change fight.

Now is the time for sports to take on climate change. It is why sports is greening.

We will delve into how that fight should be waged in coming posts. In the meantime, the sports industry should take on any incoming climate change flak; your team, your league, your brand will most certainly survive and thrive.

 

# There is some doubt as to whether Jordan actually said those exact words. He may have said it, indicated that was his position or it may have been Jordan biographer Sam Smith’s interpretation of Jordan’s attitudes about politics in general and the Gantt-Helms race in particular.
^ POTUS = President of the United States
* I rooted HARD for the Falcons but kudos to the Patriots for the most incredible comeback in Super Bowl history.

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