RinkWatch: Citizens Track Climate Change By Measuring Ice in Backyard Rinks

Ice plays a crucial role in the measurement of climate change. From the decline of Arctic sea ice to using ancient ice cores to help determine CO₂ content in the atmosphere from many millennia ago, a good chunk of the climate change story is told through frozen water.

Did you know that the climate change “ice-story” is being tracked, in part, by regular folks with ice rinks in their backyards? They are doing double duty as hockey parents and as climate researchers in Canada and the northern U.S. via an innovative program, supported by the NHL, called RinkWatch.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with Dr. Robert McLeman, an Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, and one of the founders of RinkWatch, about how citizens, spurred on by their love of hockey, are helping to add to the body of scientific knowledge about climate change.

 

“I’m a middle aged parent and an environmental scientist focused on the impact of climate change on humans, communities, and other species.”

Dr. Robert McLeman’s self-description shows why he is exceptionally well-suited to have co-founded and help lead RinkWatch, a program that encourages people with backyard ice rinks in Canada and the northern U.S. to become citizen climate scientists by recording data about their ice.

It also doesn’t hurt that Dr. McLeman is a Canadian — and an Ontarian — through and through. “Growing up in Cambridge, Ontario and a fan of the two teams in the province — the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators — spent many a winter day playing shinny (i.e. outdoor) hockey on frozen ponds.” He did his undergraduate work at the University of Western Ontario, got his PhD in Ontario at the University of Guelph, and works today as an Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in, you guessed it, Ontario.

 

mcleman winter1

Dr. Robert McLeman, one of the co-founders of RinkWatch and Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario (Photo credit: Robert McLeman)

 

Awareness of the conditions surrounding climate refugees, has been and continues to be a major focus of Dr. McLeman’s research: “I am very interested in making the issue of climate refugees, and climate change broadly speaking, more accessible for the general public.

 

CANADIANS LOVE TO TALK ABOUT TWO THINGS: HOCKEY AND THE WEATHER

But accessibility wasn’t the only thing Dr. McLeman and Wilfrid Laurier University colleague Dr. Colin Robertson had in mind in 2013 when they began to talk about collaborating. “We really wanted to answer the question, ‘How do we make individuals and families more interested in the environment, interested in climate change, to the point where they take positive action?’,” recalled Dr. McLeman. “We kept coming back to two things Canadians love to talk about: hockey and the weather.”

 

Colin Robertson Geographers w-out borders

Dr. Colin Robertson, co-founder of RinkWatch (Photo credit: Geographers Without Borders)

 

That realization led McLeman and Robertson to the high tech world of makeshift, backyard hockey rinks. “It started with a simple thought,” shared Dr. McLeman. “Maybe we could create a project in which we would ask regular folks who happen to have backyard ice rinks to track weather-related conditions.”

The January 2013 launch of what would become RinkWatch was a no-budget operation.

“We had zero funding to start,” recalled Dr. McLeman. “So we built a simple website than can compile data like location of the rink, quality of ice, first date ice is playable, etc. We also had a form that showed people how to build a rink. The university put out a press release and the Montreal Gazettethe main English language paper there, picked it up. That really was the catalyst as the story made its way through radio and print media throughout Canada, and really took on a life of its own!”

By the end of their first month, a couple hundred RinkWatchers had signed up. Five years on, 1,500 rinks have participated in RinkWatch. The lions’ share are in Canada, with 20 percent coming from the U.S., along with a handful in China, Estonia and elsewhere.

[Editor’s Note: This is a great example of how, when the media decides to #CoverGreenSports, things can change in a positive fashion.]

 

THE NHL BUYS IN TO RINKWATCH

RinkWatch soon caught the eye of the NHL, the most proactive professional sports league sustainability-wise in North America, if not the world.

“The NHL started checking in with us, through Omar Mitchell and NHL Green,” said Dr. McLeman. “He had seen articles about RinkWatch in places like National GeographicThe league saw that what we were doing reflected the sustainability vision and commitment of Commissioner Gary Bettman, which is to say that hockey improves lives and communities and we want to do what we can to ensure it is around for the next 100 years.”

Next thing Drs. McLeman and Robertson knew, the NHL started tweeting about RinkWatch, asked them to contribute to the NHL Green website and invited them to speak, as part of the league’s centennial celebration, at a December 2016 event on the long term future of the sport at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. “We became a bit of hit,” offered Dr. McLeman, a bit sheepishly.

 

McLeman Hockey HOF

Dr. McLeman, speaking at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto (Photo credit: Getty Images)

 

A formal relationship with the NHL began in 2017, with the league providing funding to help improve the look and functionality of the web site, allow for a broader range data to be included in the future, and to help in the building and dissemination of learning modules for teachers to use with their students. According to Dr. McLeman, the NHL and the academics share two overlapping goals: “1. Get more kids to get more parents to build outdoor rinks, and 2. Get those kids interested in studying environmental science.”

 

RINKWATCH LEADS TO PEER REVIEWED ACADEMIC STUDIES

Drs. McLeman and Robertson are also using RinkWatch data to advance the body of peer reviewed, climate change research.

“We have been able to publish our results in two scholarly journals,” reported Dr. McLeman. “In The Canadian Geographer, we reported results of a study in which we took RinkWatch observations from a number of Canadian cities, identified the key temperatures need to have a skate-able ice surface (the low 20s Fahrenheit) and put these into a climate model to forecast future skating conditions out to the end of the century.” The study showed that if carbon emissions continue on their current course, the outdoor skating season will be significantly shorter. Calgary’s season will be curtailed by about 20 percent. Outdoor skating in Toronto and Montreal is expected to be 30 to 40 percent shorter.

 

Lake Louise hockey

According to a study by McLeman and Robertson, published in The Canadian Geographer, the future of outdoor ice hockey on Lake Louise in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada is at risk due to the effects of climate change (Photo credit: Edmonton Journal)

 

In another study, this one for the journal Leisure/Loisir, the duo reported on findings from a survey they conducted of RinkWatch participants to find out what motivates people to build rinks. According to Dr. McLeman, “an overarching response is that people see backyard rinks as community assets, shared with neighbors and friends, with the goal of getting kids outside, exercising and having fun in the middle of winter.”

That their work has been peer reviewed is a very big deal. “The importance of crossing the peer reviewed threshold cannot be overstated,” concurs Dr. McLeman. “Other environmental scientists like the idea that we’re legitimately, with accepted rigor, connecting sports to climate and ordinary citizens with science. They realize that the urgency and importance of climate change is very difficult to communicate and they see that our work makes it more relatable.”

As for what’s next, the Wilfrid Laurier University colleagues will look to reconstruct the temperature and ice conditions in Canada going back to 1950 so they will have a 150-year (1950-2100) data record. There is a practical aspect to this,” said Dr. McLeman: “Our data can help municipalities determine whether to invest in outdoor rinks or put their resources into indoor facilities.”

While that 150-year horizon is actually a nano-second in a field like climate science, Dr. McLeman finds it easy to see the real-time importance of his and Dr. Robertson’s work with RinkWatch.

“My daughter Anna is now 13. When she was 8, we built an outdoor rink with our community association on top of a tennis court — man, it was hard to spray water with a hose in my hand — it was COLD! In those five years, we’ve had one and a half good winters for skating, the rest were awful. I know this is one awfully small sample size, but it is this type of experience that, we hope, will lead to more and more collective positive environmental action.”

 

McLeman ANNA on Backyard Rink

Young RinkWatcher Anna McLeman takes to the ice in the outdoor rink she, her dad Robert and their community built (Photo credit: Robert McLeman)

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog
#CoverGreenSports
Advertisements

Forest Green Rovers, Greenest Team in Sports, Safe From Relegation, Subject of Video from “The Years Project”

It has been a great week for Forest Green Rovers — the Greenest Team in Sports.  After flirting with relegation much of the season, the club assured itself of remaining in League Two, the 4th tier of English soccer/football, with two matches to play. And FGR was the subject of a short yet powerful video from the “YEARS Project.”

 

Management of Forest Green Rovers, almost universally acknowledged as The Greenest Team in Sports —it serves only vegan food to supporters and players alike and manicures its home pitch with a solar powered MoBot, among many other great, green things — realizes that the English soccer/football club’s ability to influence other sports teams and organizations on environmental issues in the future, is directly related to its performance on the pitch. The better it does, the higher up England’s football pyramid it reaches, the more media will cover FGR’s green story (#CoverGreenSports).

After a playoff win at London’s iconic Wembley Stadium last May earned FGR promotion from England’s 5th to the 4th division — the highest level it has ever reached in 125+ years of play. That led to more media coverage of the team and its sustainability story than ever before — GreenSportsBlog had been on this story since 2014 but suddenly, the ESPNs and The Guardians of the world were paying visits to the Forest Green’s New Lawn Stadium. 

Thus, the pressure was intense to avoid going down, the fate that will be suffered by the last and next-to-last place teams in the 24 team league.

Thing is, newly-promoted teams, whether to the Premier League or to League Two, often struggle to “stay up” in their first season against much stiffer competition. FGR was no different, wallowing near the bottom of the table (standings) for much of the campaign. But a strong late season run pushed Forest Green Rovers above the drop zone and the team clinched safety with two games to go on April 24 with a 0-0 draw at Yeovil Town.

 

FGR Stays Up

Members of Forest Green Rovers salute their traveling supporters after clinching safety from relegation in a 0-0 draw at Yeovil Town (Photo credit: Forest Green Rovers)

 

A couple of days later the, “YEARS Project,” an outgrowth of the outstanding, if not-nearly-viewed-enough climate change-themed documentary series “Years of Living Dangerously^,” went up on Facebook and YouTube with a short form (90 seconds) video that, despite (or maybe because of?) its brevity and no-narration style, tells the Forest Green Rovers story in eye-catching, memorable fashion. Check out the YouTube video here:

 

Here’s the link to the video on the YEARS Project’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/YearsOfLiving/videos/1714770931943291/

If you want to see other short-form, climate change-focused content, on a wide variety of topics, I heartily urge you to LIKE their Facebook page.

In the meantime, here’s hoping Forest Green Rovers’ Chairman Dale Vince and company continue to build the team’s quality so they can contend for promotion to 3rd tier League One in 2018-19. Which will result in even more coverage of the club’s green story.

 

^ If you haven’t watched Years of Living Dangerously, click here — it’s worth your time!

 


Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog

Let’s Start a Movement to Get the Sports Media to #CoverGreenSports

Longtime readers of GreenSportsBlog know I believe that Green-Sports 1.0 — the greening of stadia and arenas — has been a great success. They also know I believe that Green-Sports 2.0 — engaging the 65-70 percent of humans who are sports fans on environmental issues, including climate change — is the more important yet far heavier lift.

For Green-Sports 2.0 to have a chance of meaningful success, the media — sports and otherwise — needs to do a much better job of sharing the many inspirational Green-Sports stories with its sizable audiences. It says here that the media won’t do so on its own. So we, the GreenSportsBlog community, need to push them. And that starts today with the launch of the #CoverGreenSports hashtag. 

 

 

Since I launched GreenSportsBlog almost five years ago, I’ve found there are two opposing forces in the sports-greening movement:

#1: The sports world is greening rapidly: And that pace has picked up to the point where:

  • LEED certification for stadia and arenas is considered the cost of doing business. In fact, the biggest question is often not IF a venue will go for LEED, but will it go for Platinum or “settle” for Gold,
  • Zero-waste games — to qualify, stadia or arenas must divert 90 percent or more of food waste from the landfill — are increasingly commonplace, as are on-site solar panel installations, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, and much, much more.

#2: A precious few sports fans know about this: Despite an increased number of fan engagement efforts by a gaggle of teams and leagues recently, I would bet real money on the accuracy of this statement.

Absent any meaningful data on sports fan awareness of Green-Sports initiatives (note to the Green Sports Alliance — a quantitative, projectable study, updated over time, is much needed here) the best I can offer right now is this nugget of anecdotal data:

In early April, I moderated “The Intersection of Sustainability, Sports and Business,” a panel discussion held at the NYU Stern School of Business and hosted by their Center for Sustainable Business. Before turning to the panel, I asked the audience if they knew that Ohio State home football games are zero-waste, that the Super Bowl offsets all of the direct emissions associated game, and more.

 

Zero-Waste 1

Zero-Waste 2

Zero Waste Stations and signage, Lower Level Concourse at Ohio Stadium, home of Ohio State football. The stadium has been Zero-Waste — diverting more than 90% of food waste from landfill — since 2013 (Photo Credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

Maybe two or three hands moved skyward in response to each question — a tiny number considering there were 50-60 people in the room.

Not good, I thought.

We need to get awareness about Green-Sports waaaaay up among sports fans. How high? Given the existential nature of the climate crisis I would be satisfied with awareness levels similar to the number of people who know that you can save 15 percent or more on car insurance by switching to GEICO!

 

GEICO Ad Age

Awareness of Green-Sports approaching awareness levels of nearly ubiquitous GEICO ads? Now THAT would be surprising…and welcome (Photo credit: Ad Age)

 

The only way we get that close to that exalted neighborhood is through significant sports media coverage of the great, sports-greening advances happening virtually every day in many corners of the sports world.

Not so fast, you say! “TV networks and cable sports outlets like ESPN and Fox Sports want their announcers talking about the games. They don’t want them talking about the environment!”

Of course, the game is the thing during a broadcast, but it’s not the only thing.

Sportscasters often bring up the causes promoted by the league, teams and/or athletes they’re covering. Those mentions are sometimes prompted by a contractual relationship — i.e. when the NFL sponsored Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, the networks that broadcast the games in the U.S. (CBS, Fox, ESPN, and NBC) ran breast cancer-related public service announcements (PSAs). Or sometimes an announcer will organically bring up the cause-related work of a player he/she is covering (I’m making this up: “LeBron James scored 40 points tonight, which means $4,000 is donated to the LeBron James Family Foundation.”)

Environmental issues, especially climate change, need similar oxygen on sports broadcasts, no matter the medium.

But that won’t happen unless the broadcast and cable networks airing sports events, along with the websites, newspapers, and magazines that write about them believe there is an audience for environmentally themed content.

That means green-minded sports fans are going to have let the ESPNs, the CBS Sports’ of the world know that the sports-greening movement is important to them. That also holds true for sports websites like TheRinger.com and SI.com, news websites like npr.com and Slate.com as well as sustainability-focused sites like GreenBiz.com.

Fans should reach out to sportscasters who are active on social media and who are known for speaking about issues beyond the playing field. Bob Ley (@BobLeyESPN), the long-time host of ESPN’s “Outside The Lines,” is Exhibit A. Peter King (@SI_PeterKing), the long time Sports Illustrated NFL writer, and author of the must read MMQB (Monday Morning Quarterback) column on SI.com, is Exhibit B.

Newscasters with an expressed interest in sports (there are a lot of them!) should also be contacted. Mike Pesca (@pescami), host of The Gist podcast — which tackles sports along with other topics — on Slate.com, needs to be in the know about Green-Sports. And Alabama Crimson Tide, Red Sox and Liverpool F.C. fanatic Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) should be added to the list. I’m sure you can come up with more.

And that’s where #CoverGreenSports comes in.

When we (and that means YOU!) hear about a Green-Sports story, through this blog or anywhere else, we need to reach out to the folks listed above via social media with the #CoverGreenSports hashtag. Here’s what I mean:

Ex-UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen is expected to be selected in the top 10 in Thursday’s NFL draft. For argument’s sake, let’s say he’s selected by the Buffalo Bills (per my column a couple of weeks back, I hope he ends up with the New York Jets. But I think they’re going to pass on him in favor of Baker Mayfield so Rosen will shuffle off to Buffalo.) Any green-minded Bills fans should reach out to the team and to the local broadcast stations with a tweet that could go something like this: @Josh3Rosen is a member of the @BuffaloBills! How gr8 is THAT!? We have a QB that will lead us to the #SuperBowl and who cares about #climatechange! Please tell Rosen’s green story. #CoverGreenSports

If you’re not a Bills fan, you could still craft a tweet tailored for the national media (ESPN, Fox Sports, etc.): @Josh3Rosen, new @BuffaloBills QB, is also an #ecoathlete. Tell his green story during Bills games — millennials and GenZ viewers will thank you. Don’t be afraid of those opposed; Green-Sports a winner. #CoverGreenSports

And — now this is really important — we also need to give BIG shout outs to those who ARE ALREADY COVERING Green-Sports and who may start to use the #CoverGreenSports hashtag. That is a small club for now but membership is growing slowly but surely. We can be the catalyst that accelerates the growth trend.

I will tweet the #CoverGreenSports hashtag (and use it on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn) whenever appropriate – to “nudge” those who need to cover it or to “fame” those who already, wisely, are. Will you retweet? Are you with me?

Let’s DO THIS!

Of course we can’t just do this willy-nilly; a strategic approach is what’s needed. Since hashtags and connecting with influencers are not my bailiwick, I reached out to someone who lives and breathes strategic influencer outreach.

Andrea Learned (@AndreaLearned) is a Seattle-based, self-described “communications strategist, with deep expertise in influencer relations.” Sustainability is one of her primary beats on Twitter. Andrea has made it a cause to generate interest in urban cycling-for-transportation by promoting the #Bikes4Climate hashtag as part of the broader #Cities4Climate movement.

 

Andrea.Profile.HardiePic

Andrea Learned (Photo credit: Hardie Cobbs)

 

In a free-flowing conversation a few weeks back, Andrea enthusiastically offered these suggestions:

  • “Map out an influencer strategy that goes beyond the tried and true, established ‘influencers’ — in the environmental space, that might mean Leo DiCaprio — to find new up and comers.”
  • “Find social media influencers who are interested in sports and climate. Athletes and non-athletes. Use the community you already know and expand from there. For example, I am always attuned to climate journalists who also happen to be big city bikers. Those writers have the potential to be climate action INFLUENCERS in capital letters “
  • Reach out to them with Green-Sports messaging and #CoverGreenSports and retweet their responses. Love them UP for even mentioning green-sport elements in any of the reporting they do already. “

Suffice to say, while I will be on the lookout for new influencers to move the #CoverGreenSports hashtag, I realize I already am connected to a great group influencers — y’all!

So please help spread the #CoverGreenSports hashtag. I promise you three things:

  1. Doing so will take a minimal amount of time, and
  2. It will be fun, and
  3. Your impact per minute spent has the potential to be massive!

 


 

Please comment below!
Email us: lew@greensportsblog.com
Friend us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/greensportsblog
Tweet us @GreenSportsBlog