News and Notes

HAPPY 9th Birthday Edition

Happy 9th Birthday, GreenSportsBlog! Now you would be forgiven for thinking that ‘happy’ might not be the most apt adjective to modify the ‘birthday’ noun. After all, the torrent of climate news continues to be downright depressing:
  • The recent assessment from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has routinely been described as dire and damning. With headlines like ‘World Likely to Reach 1.5° C Warming Within Two Decades’ and ‘Drastic Cuts in CO2 Emissions Needed NOW to Prevent Environmental Disaster,’ it’s not hard to wonder why.
  • Meaningful climate legislation languishes in the U.S. Congress, and that’s with the climate-friendly Democrats in control of both Houses, albeit with the narrowest of margins. And one or both chambers could flip to the climate-hostile Republicans in the November midterm elections.
  • Pakistan just recorded its hottest April ever, one month after India notched its hottest-ever March.
It’s got to be an unhappy birthday, right? Wrong! To be sure, I am not immune to bouts of climate anxiety and climate paralysis. The existential nature of the climate crisis and the certainty that we’re already experiencing some serious consequences from our inability to rein in carbon emissions will do that to you. Still, there are reasons for hope that the carbon emissions train can be slowed down, and sooner rather than later. And athletes are playing an increasingly forceful role in applying the brakes. They deserve recognition. So, to celebrate our (Happy!) birthday, we honor three athletes who are making a difference on climate.


Rugby Legend and Climate Advocate David Pocock the (Very) Likely Winner of a Seat in Australia Senate; Could Hold ‘Power Seat’ on Policy Australian politics can be confusing. After all, the conservative party is called the Liberal party[1]. But there is no confusion in the results from this weekend’s national election. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Liberal party were soundly defeated as voters threw their support to the Labor, Green, and other progressive candidates. Labor party leader Anthony Albanese will take over. According to a story by Lisa Visentin and Angus Thompson in Sunday’s Sydney Morning Herald, “Labor and the Greens will hold a dominant progressive voting bloc in the new Senate as part of a major realignment of the upper house that could see former [Aussie National Rugby Union team star] and climate change activist David Pocock occupy a powerful position”.
David Pocock (Photo credit: Instagram/David Pocock)
While the final count is not yet in (it may take one to two weeks) and Pocock has not officially claimed victory, all signs point to the long-time, high profile climate activist, who ran as an independent, pulling off an historic upset in Canberra, the Australian Capital Territory. Pocock made climate change the centerpiece of his outsider effort, writing in his campaign announcement that, “Climate change is the greatest threat we face. We need to be pushing for bold climate action. [Australia is] currently ranked dead last but we can be world leaders. We need bold climate action because our future depends on it. And it is also key to a much stronger economic future. Australia cannot afford to squander the huge economic opportunities that are there to seize.” It is somehow fitting for a player who was at the center of the rugby universe — Pocock was the only Australian to make the World Rugby ‘Team of the Decade’ from 2010-19 — to now be at the center of Australia’s legislative efforts to take on climate. Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia elections expert Dr. David Bonham said that the makeup of the new senate means that “the potential is that Pocock is the vote that Labor and the Greens need to get things over line.” Ben Oquist, a former political operative, chimed in that, once all the votes are counted, Australians will have delivered a “climate majority” with Labor, the Greens, and Pocock. This is all music to the ears of another Australian world class athlete, two-time Olympic race walker Rhydian Cowley. “It was a very good election outcome,” enthused the Melbourne native and EcoAthletes Champion. “There is a strong majority and mandate for climate action (and integrity in politics) in the House seats won by Labor, but especially by the Greens and the climate independents who will keep Labor honest in fulfilling promises and stepping up their ambition. It also looks like there will be a workable path for climate action through the Senate, especially if David Pocock wins a seat, which looks quite likely. This is exactly what I wanted the election result to be.” GSB’s Take: Assuming David Pocock does win the Senate seat in Canberra once all the votes are counted, climate-minded athletes can take heart that the politics of climate should not be something to fear. Does this mean that all pro-climate action candidates, including athletes, will win? No. Does this mean that athletes who speak out on climate, even if they don’t run for office, will not get angry tweets? Nope. But to borrow from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the arc of climate politics is long but it bends towards positive climate action. Here’s hoping that more climate active athletes run for office and/or publicly support pro-climate candidates and/or speak out on the need for pro-climate policies.
Guinness World Record Mermaid Swimmer Merle Liivand Urges Leaders at Davos World Economic Forum to ‘Fight for the Earth’s Lungs’ Estonia’s Merle Liivand is a world-class open water swimmer and ice swimmer. However, she is most well-known for being Merle the Mermaid, a multiple Guinness World Record mermaid swimmer. This means she does long distance swims in a monofin, without the use of her arms, mind you. Two weeks ago, Liivand completed her latest record swim off the coast of Miami Beach, kicking her way to the marathon distance of 26.2 miles in 11 hours and change.
Merle Liivand (Photo credit: Estonian World)
While that accomplishment is awe inspiring in a “how did she do that’ sort of way, her next act is likely to have even more of an impact: She was invited by the organizers of the annual World Economic Forum to speak by video to the world leaders, cultural shapeshifters, and business moguls gathered this week in Davos, Switzerland, urging them to act NOW on climate. Her particular focus, not surprisingly, is the world’s oceans. “I want to raise awareness that oceans are dying, and fish are getting stuck on plastic and fishing nets,” Liivand shared in the brief video. “So, I applied ocean activism to my Guinness world record attempt.” Next up for the EcoAthletes Champion is a cold water monofin Guinness world record swim to draw attention to melting glaciers. Click HERE to watch Merle Liivand’s message to the Davos World Economic Forum.
Retired NFL Offensive Lineman Garry Gilliam and The Giant Company Partner to Turn Abandoned Pennsylvania Stadium Bleachers into Produce Garden Garry Gilliam’s life, including his football career, was defined by overcoming long odds and comebacks. The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania native came back from a career threatening knee injury at Penn State to get back on the field. He came back from being undrafted to making the Seattle Seahawks roster as a backup offensive lineman. And, when the Seahawks were way behind in the 2014 NFC Championship Game versus the Green Bay Packers, Gilliam sparked an epic comeback by catching a touchdown pass on a fake field goal. Now retired from football, Gilliam is helping his hometown come back as founder of The Bridge Eco Village, an innovative, mixed-use real estate startup that turns abandoned schools and warehouses into places where under-served people can work, eat, live, learn and play. The first Eco Village is being built in Harrisburg and one of the warehouses will be used to hydroponically and aeroponically grow produce indoors. It will be sold at affordable prices to those in the Eco Village. And through the Empower at The Bridge Foundation, the nonprofit counterpart of The Bridge Eco Village, Gilliam is partnering with The Giant Company to create the Giant Bleacher Garden at the former Bishop McDevitt high school football stadium to plant peppers, cucumbers, cilantro and much more in between the rows of aluminum bleachers.
Garry Gilliam on Giant Bleacher Garden
GSB’s Take: Pocock, Liivand and Gilliam are three of a growing list of athletes who are going beyond climate talk (very important, by the way) to climate ACTION (much harder, even more important. So, now you can see why this is a HAPPY birthday for GreenSportsBlog. OK, it’s back to back to work to make sure that GSB’s tenth birthday is much happier!
Photo at Top: Merle Liivand receives proclamation for her Guinness World Record marathon distance mermaid swim (Photo credit: WOWSA)

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[1] Labor is the main liberal party.

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