Op Ed

On The 20th Anniversary of 9/11

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It is very likely that, absent the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001 that resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, GreenSportsBlog and also EcoAthletes wouldn’t exist. Two of the millions of ripples, positive and negative, that emanated from that awful morning.

 

“OH MY GOD!”

It was a brilliant, cloudless late summer Tuesday morning in New York City, twenty years ago today. I had arrived at my desk at my advertising sales job at Sports Illustrated for Kids magazine in midtown Manhattan at 8:30 AM, a bit earlier than usual. Maybe 20 minutes later, the phone rang. A colleague said only, “A plane flew into the World Trade Center. Turn on the TV.”

Several of us went into a small conference room to watch on the small, lo-def TV. The commentary in those early moments seemed to indicate that might have been a wayward small plane that somehow had hit the North Tower. I had a sales call scheduled for 10 AM with a client at an ad agency a five minute walk away, so I checked in to see if we still on. “It sounds like a small plane,” the client said. “Let’s meet.”

Back to the small conference room. My boss and his boss were very concerned because both had friends who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond-trading powerhouse that occupied several of the uppermost floors on that North Tower. Watching the NBC-TV coverage, anchored at that time by Katie Couric, my gaze lowered from the screen for a split second. In that very instant, a plane slammed into the South Tower.

That sales call never happened.

Then a series of horrific moments ensued in what seemed like rat-a-tat succession:

The Pentagon gets hit…Busy signals on calls to friends and family…

Frenzied scenes on the TV screen from lower Manhattan…”Oh my God, was that someone jumping from the tower?”…

Another plane is reported hijacked…A mention on the TV about Al Qaeda, an organization with which I wasn’t familiar…

The South Tower buckles and then collapses on itself…A report of a plane down in Western Pennsylvania…

“Did the Capitol get hit?” — “Not yet”…North Tower falls

 

Since I lived in Manhattan within walking distance, I waited in the office to make sure that everyone could get home or to another place to stay, especially those who needed to take mass transit since the subways, trains and buses were shut down. By about 2 PM, everyone had made arrangements, so I headed out to walk the three miles north to my apartment.

As I was walking I started to ask myself, “what can I do to help?” The New York City headquarters of the American Red Cross is located on the Upper West Side, between my then office and home. I decided to stop by to see if I could give blood. The line wrapped around a full city block so I continued on my way home.

In Central Park, there was a surreal duality: kids, seemingly without a care, kicking a soccer ball around, while stunned men and women, caked in a grayish dust, trudged uptown from what had become Ground Zero. I found myself furious with the kids. “How can you play ball when the World Trade Center collapsed?!?!,” I yelled…to myself.

 

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People covered in dust walk over debris near the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11/2001 (Photo credit: AP)

 

After arriving home safely, while watching the gruesome, endless coverage, again I asked myself what I can do in response, what should I do? Only a few hours old, this attack felt like it would be the Pearl Harbor of my generation.

Over the rest of that week, I walked to work, reporting to the rest of the SI Kids team, especially those in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, on what was going on at the office and in our city.

But, long term, the “what can I do” question dogged me.

 

GREEN IS THE NEW RED, WHITE AND BLUE

One my college friends answered it by going down to Ground Zero every night after work for many months, volunteering with the Red Cross to assist the workers picking through the rubble.

My answer came more than a year after 9/11.

Tom Friedman, then and now the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, penned a piece headlined, “Green Is The New Red, White and Blue”. Its thesis was that we in the U.S. were ‘fueling the wars on terrorism we are fighting due to our insanely profligate energy use’. The U.S and its NATO allies were already fighting in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq by the U.S. was soon to follow. According to Friedman, the U.S. represented ‘four percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its energy usage’. Because of this imbalance, we had to import a significant chunk of our energy for transportation — oil — from Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest supplier. The Saudi royal family, Friedman continued, liked remaining in power…and alive, so they diverted some of our oil dollars to buy off the über-right Wahabbi extremists who threatened them. And the Wahabbis used some of that money to train people to fly planes into buildings. Remember, 17 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.

 

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Tom Friedman (Photo credit: New York Times)

 

For me, it was like the compact fluorescent lightbulb flashed on above my head. I was going to follow Friedman’s urging to ‘Go Green’.

In short order, I bought a hybrid car (a stick shift Honda Civic hybrid; that was a great car, averaging over 50 miles per gallon!), changed out all my lightbulbs and started a journey to become a (95 percent) vegetarian.

That felt good for about, oh 15 minutes. I quickly realized that personal green virtue (if that’s what it was) wasn’t going to make a meaningful difference. I needed to somehow impact a macro-greening. Which meant I needed to do something with my work. But what? I was an ad sales, marketing guy. Installing solar panels, the quintessential ‘green job’ of that era and even now, was not for me: You do NOT want me anywhere near your roof!

I started to network in the green space, trying to figure out how my decidedly non-technical sales, marketing and communications skills could be brought to bear on the nascent green economy.

 

‘IS THERE AN INTERSECTION OF GREEN AND SPORTS?’

It was through this exploration that I became schooled about the growing global threat from human-caused climate change, how it intersected with global energy politics and the existential threat it poses to all life. Through that research, I  found my purpose: To do what I can in my work life to move humanity away, even if by a millimeter, from the carbon cliff for which we are heading.

Fast forward to 2005: Unable to find a green ‘job-job’, I left SI Kids to become a communications, marketing and business development consultant, helping companies and nonprofits create, tell and sell their green products, services and initiatives. Clients have included some that you’ve heard of — Whole Foods Market, Starwood Hotels, and the Wildlife Conservation Society — and others that you haven’t.

Fast forward to 2009-ish: I started to ask myself, “Is there an intersection of Green and Sports? If yes, how cool would it be to work on both of my passions!” In 2011, I heard about the launch of the Green Sports Alliance and started to follow them. I attended a talk given by Dr. Allen Hershowitz at a Better Business Bureau event.

Fast forward to May 2013: I launched GreenSportsBlog. Nobody was writing about Green-Sports, which seemed like it could become an important movement. I’d never written a blog post before but I thought I can do this.

Fast forward to April 2020, in the middle of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic: I launched EcoAthletes, a nonprofit with the mission to ‘inspire and coach athletes to lead climate action’.

Flashing back, eight+ years from the launch of GreenSportsBlog, I want to thank you, GSB’s readers, and especially the people who have moved and continue to move the Green-Sports movement forward — venue and team executives, sustainability and nonprofit executives, athletes, and the broad palette of green-sports-preneurs and consultants strategists — for your commitment, creativity, and drive. It is the greatest honor of my professional life to work with you to try to leverage the awesome power of sports to lead climate action, to spark a #ClimateComeback. To make a difference.

Now, you who work in this space don’t need me to tell you that achieving real progress on climate through sports, is not easy work. Progress is slow and sometimes hard to see. Frustration is a frequent companion.

When I struggle, I tell myself two things:

  1. Borrowing from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘we shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward climate justice.’
  2. I will do my best to keep answering my ‘What Can I Do?’ question in response to 9/11 affirmatively by doing what I can to slow us down from reaching the carbon cliff for which we’re heading. And for me, that means doing so from the intersection of Green and Sports.

 

NBC News coverage on September 11, 2001, starting shortly after the first plane hit.

 


 

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