News and Notes

Climate Crisis is Focus of North Pole Walk, A’s New Ballpark Design and REI Black Friday Efforts


Today’s GSB News & Notes looks at how three different corners of the sports world are dealing with the climate crisis in three different ways. 

Awareness building is the goal of Michael Haddad, a paraplegic endurance athlete from Lebanon. He is planning a walk across a portion of the North Pole next April to focus greater attention on the effects of climate change on the Arctic and beyond.

The Oakland A’s have zeroed in on climate adaptation. The club has taken the expected impacts of sea level rise into account in the design of their proposed new coastal ballpark on the San Francisco Bay.

Finally, outdoor retailer REI looks to make a difference on carbon emissions, and thus climate mitigation through its fifth annual #OptOutside Black Friday initiative. The co-op closes its doors the day after Thanksgiving, urging its employees and 18 million members to go outside and enjoy nature instead. 



The North Pole will improbably play a central role in the Green-Sports movement next spring.

As detailed in GreenSportsBlog in September, a group made up mostly of retired NHL players will trek to the top of the world in April to play The Last Game, a pond hockey match produced by UN Environment.

And endurance athlete Michael Haddad, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Goodwill Ambassador for Arab States, will attempt to walk 100 kilometers (62.5 miles) across the North Pole.

The goal of both events is to focus attention on the devastating impact of climate change — above the Arctic Circle and below.

Haddad, paralyzed from the chest down since he was a six year-old boy in Lebanon with 75 per cent of his motor functions lost, will cross the North Pole using a high-tech exoskeleton to stabilize his chest and legs so he can walk for the climate.

“I have been working closely with many wonderfully dedicated people — trainers, Arctic scientists, physicians, nutritionists, bioengineers and industry innovators — to make this walk happen,” said Haddad. “Humanity will not be able to respond successfully to the climate crisis without coordinated, multilateral global action.”

Now through next spring and beyond, the “North Pole Walk for Climate Action” will provide Haddad and UNDP a joint platform to advocate for greater ambition, acceleration and mobilization of climate action. These three elements were declared as crucial to climate success at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit, which convened in September as part of the annual UN General Assembly gathering in New York.


Michael Haddad (r) and UNDP’s Regional Director for Arab States, Mourad Wahba (Photo credit: UNDP)


UNDP launched its “Climate Promise” initiative at the Summit, committing to support 100 countries to increase accelerate their climate action by 2020, to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement through their national climate pledges (Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs). The organization also pledged to lead by example by greening its business practices and reducing its own emissions by 50 percent by 2030.


GSB’s Take: We commend Haddad for his walk across the North Pole to build awareness about the climate crisis. Physically and spiritually, it is a herculean task.

That said, awareness building is not nearly enough. GSB is most interested to see what specific climate actions emanate from Haddad’s walk and especially from the UNDP’s Climate Promise program.



New stadium and arena projects in low lying coastal areas are, by necessity, taking the climate crisis into account.

That is the thesis of “As Waters Rise, So Do Concerns for Sports Teams Along Coast,” an insightful article by Rick Maese in the The Washington Post.

The story’s focus is the proposed new Oakland A’s ballpark that is going through the final stages of the municipal approval process. Assuming the club gets the go ahead in a timely fashion, the stadium at Howard Terminal along San Francisco Bay is scheduled to open in 2023.

Maese sets up his piece by asking three key questions for sports executives, like A’s President Dave Kaval, who are looking to build coastal 21st century versions of Fenway Park and Wrigley Field — venues that will last at least 100 years. How do you:

  1. Maintain operations in areas vulnerable to climate change?
  2. Sustain facilities and retain fans?
  3. Make it all economically viable when threats such as sea level rise are inevitable?

Kaval and the A’s designed their new $500 million, 34,000 seat ballpark — it features a roof that doubles as a public park — by keeping these questions top-of-mind.

“The Athletics’ ambitious stadium proposal highlights many of the problems posed by rising sea levels and some of the creative solutions teams and leagues might consider to address them,” Maese wrote. “In targeting a site that the city of Oakland says sits six feet above sea level, Kaval said the team had no choice but to acknowledge the potential impacts of climate change.”



Artist’s rendering of the proposed new A’s Ballpark at Howard Terminal in Oakland (Credit: Bjarke Ingels Group)


Six feet above sea level might sound like a good century-long bet for the A’s, but Kaval knew that would likely not be good enough for the new ballpark to remain viable until 2123 and beyond. So the A’s chose to plan for the most extreme models when they unveiled their designs for the new ballpark last November.

They will:

  • Raise the foundation at Howard Terminal four feet in some areas so they can position the new stadium 10 or so feet above sea level
  • Build the new ballpark atop a citadel
  • Locate the stadium at least 100 feet from the water, which gives designers a malleable band of land with which to work.
  • Construct a waterfront park that will likely evolve over time. As waters rise, that land can be molded to include berms, terraces, steps and even sea walls that can divert or block water and protect the surrounding area.


GSB’s Take: Good to read that the A’s are factoring in climate change as they design their new stadium project. Going forward, they cannot be unicorns.

Two questions:

1. How will pro and college sports teams in low-lying South Florida deal with climate change-caused sea level rise? The next new sports venue project on the drawing board in that area is for Inter Miami C.F., the MLS expansion team that begins play next year. As of now, the club is hoping to build a stadium near the low-lying Miami airport. 

Watch this space. 

2. It is a good thing that well-heeled sports teams and their owners can spend $500 million and up on stadiums and arenas that take sea level rise into account, especially when they clearly communicate their reasons for doing so to fans and the community.

But, according to an October 2019 study from Columbia University’s Earth Institute¹, many of the estimated 700 million people the world over who are threatened by sea level rise are in countries and cities with the least capacity to prepare for or recover from climate-related shocks.

Will sports teams and leagues advocate and support more aggressive actions on climate mitigation and adaptation for low-lying coastal areas?

Watch this space, too.



For the fifth consecutive Black Friday², REI Co-op will close all its outdoor sports stores, process no online payments and pay all 13,000 employees to #OptOutside with friends and family.

But this year, under new leadership and with concern growing about the severity of the global climate crisis, the co-op is going a step further: asking its employees and 18 million members to join in the fight for life outdoors and elsewhere.

The co-op is urging members and employees to “opt to act” — by joining a nationwide clean-up effort, to leave the outdoors better than they found it when they #OptOutside on Black Friday.

At the same time, REI is stepping up its own fight for life outdoors — starting by rethinking its core business model in favor of a “commitment to circularity” that includes more mindful consumption, tackling waste and pledging to eliminate unnecessary packaging in the outdoor industry. Examples include:

  • A major expansion of its rentals and used gear businesses — both in service of today’s consumers, who are increasingly looking for alternatives to owning; and the co-op’s belief that one of the most impactful ways to lower a product’s environmental footprint is to maximize the numbers of times it can be used. By the end of 2019, an estimated 300,000 REI members will have shopped for used gear.
  • Continuing to work towards a goal of achieving zero waste across REI’s total operations by the end of 2020.
  • Pledging to make a substantial reduction in the use of poly bags (the clear plastic bags used to protect apparel) by the end of 2020. The co-op’s own brand already eschews poly bags; it will work with its partners to reduce their use of same.

“My job is to steward the co-op, and the outdoors, on your behalf — and on behalf of the generations who follow us. Today, that future is at risk,” REI CEO Eric Artz wrote in a letter to co-op members last week. “We are in the throes of an environmental crisis that threatens not only the next 81 years of the co-op, but the incredible outdoor places that we love.”


REI’s 60 second #OptOutside: Opt to Act video


GSB’s Take: As the Opt to Act video says, “Change isn’t easy; starting is!” So #OptOutside and enjoy a reduced-waste, shopping mall-less Black Friday.


¹ “Rising Seas Threaten Low-Lying Coastal Cities, 10% of World Population,” by the Center for International Earth Science Information Network at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, October 25, 2019
² For those not in the U.S., Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving and the official start of the Christmas shopping season.



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