Athletes — with the notable exception of those in snow sports — have generally not been nearly as involved with the climate change fight as they have with other social issues, from civil rights to women’s rights, and now, with the coronavirus pandemic.
EcoAthletes, a nonprofit that launches today, aims to change that.
The new organization plans to inspire, coach and deploy athletes to leverage their platform to speak out on climate and generate momentum towards a “climate comeback”.
Today, a team of athletes, climate scientists, Green-Sports All-Stars, and yours truly, are launching EcoAthletes. Our goal is to harness the massive cultural power of athletes to influence millions of fans to take action to fight climate change.
Many athletes, including Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, 2019 Wimbledon champion Simona Halep, and Astros pitcher Justin Verlander, are rightfully and thankfully stepping up to get involved with COVID-19 relief efforts.
Yet, with sports all but shut down, EcoAthletes believes that some athletes will also want to use this time to engage on climate because, like coronavirus, climate change is an urgent global crisis that doesn’t operate within geographical borders, sports seasons, or economic classes. And there are also ways to frame the climate issue through the lens of the coronavirus pandemic.
By launching now, the organization will help interested athletes become EcoAthlete Champions by using their unexpected free time to learn about the climate crisis and to in turn engage their fans to demand positive climate action.
Scientists know perhaps better than anyone that athletes are needed to join the climate fight now.
“I’m a scientist and a communicator,” shared Dr. Michael Mann, climate scientist, Director Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, and also a charter member of the EcoAthletes Advisory Board. “You cannot be an effective communicator without recognizing the power of sports and the power of athletes — it is so engrained in our culture.”
Of course, I agree with Dr. Mann but, as mentioned above, athletes have been reluctant to get involved in the climate fight.
Since starting GreenSportsBlog in 2013, I have asked dozens of athletes from all over the world why they have not spoken out on the issue. Their answers have almost always been the same: It’s too complicated. It’s too political. It involves science and I’m not a scientist. It’s a problem for my grandkids and I want to have an impact now. I don’t want to be criticized for having a gas guzzler.
We built the new nonprofit to overcome those objections and to thus turn athletes who are interested in climate into EcoAthlete Champions.
Our approach is simple: Inspire, coach, and deploy EcoAthlete Champions to talk confidently and substantively about climate change whenever possible, in whatever ways work for them:
- Inspire: Identify and excite prospective EcoAthlete Champions about their ability to make a real difference in the climate fight.
- Coach: Educate EcoAthlete Champions, through substantive, engaging virtual group and individual coaching sessions, to talk comfortably about climate change with media and in their communities.
- Deploy: Facilitate speaking opportunities for EcoAthlete Champions to use their voices to talk about climate action.
“The good news on climate change is that technical solutions exist right now; the big question is do we have the collective will to make the changes necessary to get us to a clean energy future fast enough,” said Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Brent Suter, a charter member of the EcoAthletes Advisory Board. “That is why I’m excited to be part of this organization. EcoAthlete Champions will be given the tools needed to talk about climate in media interviews, on social media, or to community groups. Our reach can inspire millions to take positive action on climate.”
EcoAthletes’ original athlete outreach plan was to meet athletes at spring training, at rookie symposia, during their offseasons, etc. Given the “new coronavirus normal,” the organization will make it easy for athletes to become EcoAthlete Champions remotely, coaching them via informative yet digestible virtual group and individual training sessions.
Connections between COVID-19 and climate change will be made organically.
“COVID-19 has presented unprecedented challenges to everyone’s sense of normalcy,” offered Kristen Fulmer, founder of change agency Recipric and EcoAthletes’ Strategic Advisor. “Athletes have not been spared, experiencing postponed seasons, cancelled tournaments, interrupted schedules, and even virus diagnoses themselves. Many have begun to get involved in COVID-19 relief efforts. So, when it fits, we will equip EcoAthlete Champions to address climate through a coronavirus lens.”
As an example, recent NASA satellite views and photos of Venetian canals show that the virus has actually had a beneficial impact on some climate-related metrics, such as outdoor air pollution and petroleum demand. This is of course a short term blip. EcoAthlete Champions will be coached to educate fans and other audiences about existing technological solutions that can accelerate humanity towards a lasting, lower carbon, post-COVID new normal.
“The coronavirus has already required big changes from all of us in a very short time,” Paralympic medal-winning sailor and EcoAthletes Advisory Board member Alexandra Rickham said. “This should show people, including athletes, that making climate-related changes, large and small, are doable.”
What will success look like for EcoAthletes?
The nonprofit will track and communicate EcoAthlete Champions’ climate-related interviews, social media hits, Op-Eds, etc.
Beyond the quantifiable, “As climate change continues to disrupt the world of live sports, EcoAthlete Champions’ climate advocacy will resonate with a larger pool of fans and spectators,” Fulmer said. “By working with EcoAthletes, Champions will become trusted leaders in the fight against this global challenge.
You can visit the EcoAthletes website to follow the climate comeback, to sign up to receive the organization’s newsletter and to offer any financial support that is possible during these challenging times. And you can follow our progress on social media: