The GSB Interview: Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, On President Trump’s Decision to Pull the U.S. Out of the Paris Climate Agreement

The landmark Paris Climate Agreement was signed in December 2015 by 195 countries, including the United States—only Nicaragua and Syria rejected it. The Agreement, per the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) website, links the signatories “into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so. As such, it charts a new course in the global climate effort.”

Now we can add the US to the list of countries rejecting the Agreement. What is unique about the United States action is that it was one of the prime architects of the Agreement, so its withdrawal at this stage is unprecedented among all the countries in the world.

GreenSportsBlog reached out to Paris to contact Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, Founding Director of Sports and Sustainability International (SandSI) and the founder and former President of the Green Sports Alliance, to get his reaction.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Allen, thanks for taking the time to talk to us from France. What is your reaction to the reports from leading media outlets that President Trump has decided to pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement?

Allen Hershkowitz: Lew, honestly, my first reaction is more personal than analytical. I am physically nauseous. This is a very bad decision. It undermines so much good work, such incredibly important work. It is indisputably one of the worst environmental decisions ever made by any President in the history of the United States. It makes no sense. There is no basis for this decision in science. There is no basis for this decision economically. And it will weaken the United States internationally in so many ways. This is why diverse leaders from the Pope, to the CEO of Exxon-Mobil to leaders throughout the entire EU and 300 leading corporations have communicated to the President that pulling out of the Paris Agreement would be a mistake. It appears the President of the United States is accommodating a fringe group of climate-denying conspiracy theorists, people who know nothing about climate science, who seem not understand that our global interdependence provides economic value as well and political security, and who think—wrongly—that this move will bring back coal jobs. This is truly a terrible moment in our nation’s history.

 

Allen Hershkowitz J. Henry Fair

Allen Hershkowitz

 

GSB: So you are in France, where you just attended the first Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) Congress. What do you think the leaders of European sports federations, teams, governing bodies, businesses and the like will think of this move by President Trump? And will they expect to hear from their sports industry counterparts in the United States?

AH: On May 23rd, representatives from 30 countries and six continents — Europe, Asia, Oceania, Africa, and North and South America, joined together at the Sport and Sustainability International [SandSI] Congress in Paris to focus on the threat that climate change poses to sport and the communities in which they are played. The SandSI Congress was convened to help ensure a global shift away from fossil fuels. It reflected an unprecedented unified expression of support by the international sports industry for the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was an event of great consequence for the global environmental movement, going well beyond being merely a sports industry event. I know that they will feel bewilderment, confusion and, in many cases, anger. I know that because I am in touch with many of them daily, indeed I just got of the phone with some of them five minutes ago.

This coming Monday, on World Environment Day, I will be honored to attend a luncheon at Roland Garros hosted by Bernard Giudicelli, President of the French Tennis Federation, with sport and sustainability leaders from throughout Europe. I will no doubt be asked, what is the perspective of the US sports industry on President Trump’s decision. I would like to be able to say the North American sports leagues are outraged by this awful decision, and working with many of them as I do, I am sure that will be the case. But, as we’ve only just heard the news within the last hour or so, I haven’t had a chance to talk with any of my contacts at the leagues in the United States about how they might communicate that to their teams, venues, business partners and fans. But I assume that sports organizations in the United States that have prominent and authentic sustainability programs will express serious concern about this action.

 

SandSI Congress

Attendees at the inaugural Sport and Sustainability International Congress in Paris. (Photo credit: Sport and Sustainability International)

 

GSB: Do you think the NHL, NBA, and the rest will go public with their opposition to President Trump’s decision—assuming, that is, they are, in fact, opposed to it?

AH: I have had the privilege to get to work on environmental issues with all the professional sports leagues in the United States, and scores of teams and venues. All of these organizations take public stands against racism, against gender bias, against homophobia, against domestic violence, in support of our troops and poverty alleviation. Given that climate change is the greatest existential threat to the common future of human civilization, and given that these leagues and their teams have touted their authentic commitment to responsible environmental stewardship for a decade, I don’t expect that they will remain silent about this terrible event. One way or another, I expect them to make their voices heard on this. Remember, sports leagues in the USA express great concern about those who are most disadvantaged in our society. Well, guess what? It is the poor, the most disadvantaged, and communities of color who are going to suffer the worst effects of global climate disruption. They already are. That doesn’t mean that leagues are going to interrupt regularly scheduled broadcasts for a Commissioner’s press conference on the issue, that would surely be unreasonable to expect. But I do expect they will be communicating in some public way with their member organizations, their business partners and their fans that they will continue to advance the goals of the Paris Agreement with or without the US as a formal signatory. I don’t know this for certain because I’ve been in Europe for a while and have not had the chance to connect with the leadership of leagues back home, but these are smart, environmentally committed people and I expect they would speak out about this. I mean, this is an attack on the future of human civilization.

This indefensible action is a stain on American history.

Remember, it is important to note that the majority of the implementation actions of the Paris Agreement will come from non-state actors, from companies and NGOs, not government. This is why the sports industry committing its economic and cultural influence to its implementation regardless of this decision is so urgent…

GSB: …But governments will play an important and crucial role…

 

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Better days: President Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry at the global COP 21 Climate Conference in Paris in December 2015 at which the Paris Climate Agreement was agreed upon by 195 countries, including the United States. President Trump today pulled the U.S. out of the Agreement. (Photo credit: Business Standard)

 

AH: Absolutely. You know, with the massive cultural and economic influence of the sports industry, it is incumbent upon them—and never more important—to let the world know that this decision is a mistake and that they will continue to advance its agenda.

GSB: To me, if leagues, teams and venues are touting the great green strides they’ve made, how can they NOT speak out against this decision? But something tells me they might not speak out as forcefully on this, on climate, as they would on a different issue…They will, somewhat understandably, use the “we don’t do politics” card.

AH: This is not about politics. Everyone in sports who works with me on environmental issues, and there are lot who do, know very well that I don’t get them involved in politics. You yourself, Lew, have criticized me for this on a number of occasions. But I see it as my role to keep my partners at the leagues out of politics. This may be political for President Trump, there is no other way to explain such an indefensible decision. But for most honest people this about the survival of human civilization as we know it. It is about the survival of ecosystems, a chemically stable atmosphere, species preservation, clean water to drink and about limiting the number of climate refugees. It is about economic progress and international cooperation and so much more. So, it’s from that apolitical lens that I speak and that I would urge the leagues to do the same.

GSB: So I guess it’s timely that the SandSI Congress happened at around the time of the President’s decision…

AH: Well, of course, we had no idea the President would do this when we organized the Congress and chose the date of our event many months ago. I am so proud, as I wrote in a May 29th OpEd in Sports Business Journal, of the fact SandSI hosted top sport and sustainability representatives from six continents and 30 countries, to assert the sports’ world’s support of the Paris Agreement and of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And, especially outside of the US, the sports world is mobilizing to do exactly that. I even invited my contact at the Vatican to come to the SandSI Congress but it was at the same time as President Trump was visiting Pope Francis. So while they indicated an interest in joining future SandSI events, they couldn’t come to this Paris event. But last October, I attended an Audience with the Pope at the Vatican when he addressed the first Sport at the Service of Humanity conference. He said two key words to the sports industry: “DO MORE.” By pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, President Trump is not only committing to doing less, he’s guaranteeing we do damage.

GSB: So let’s say some of the leagues and perhaps individual teams do step up and speak out, how should they do so?

AH: Listen, the US sports industry influences billions of dollars of investments, it is as culturally influential a platform as exists in the US. Over 70 percent of Americans oppose this decision so they don’t need to be shy…and they can use every platform—social media, digital media, traditional media, athlete role models—to communicate that climate change matters and that they support implementing the goals of the Paris Agreement. I’m not saying they should interrupt the NBA Finals or the Stanley Cup Finals. But they do need to speak up.

GSB: You know who I would like to talk to? Green-Sports leaders who support(ed) candidate Trump..Like Brian France, the CEO of NASCAR…Or Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots—they legitimately tout the many greening efforts at Gillette Stadium…

AH: I’m not going there in terms of calling anyone out. No one has a monopoly on virtue, but what I will say is that no one in a position of influence should remain silent. And we at SandSI—our member governing bodies from around the world—and also individuals who now can become members—are going to do our part. In fact, this makes our work more important and urgent. Really, we are set up to provide the sports world with a platform to advocate for climate actions that are in line with the Paris Agreement. The Agreement advocates for carbon measurement and reductions, both for the teams and for their supply chains. SandSI advocates for carbon measurement and reductions and offers assistance for those seeking to do so. Our next Congress will be in Zurich in October. But, in the meantime, we are not helpless. The sports world, including I hope all the North American leagues will come together through SandSI and other organizational efforts. Our focus will be on initiatives that align us with the Paris Agreement and UN SDGs. And we will underscore the need for all US sports organizations to push back in support of remaining in the Paris Agreement.

 


 

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Protect Our Winters Slams President’s Anti-Climate Change Executive Action

The mission of Protect Our Winters (POW), an organization made up of leading winter sports athletes and the brands that support them, is to mobilize the outdoor sports community to lead the charge towards positive climate action. The group stepped up Wednesday with a strong statement and a positive action plan against President Trump’s anti-climate change executive action.

 

 

President Trump, with a broad-stroke executive order issued Tuesday, directed his Cabinet to start taking an axe to a wide array of Obama-era policies on climate change — from emissions rules for power plants (aka the Clean Power Plan) to limits on methane leaks; from the use of the social cost of carbon to guide government actions to a moratorium on federal coal leasing, and more.

Trump Signs Exec Order

President Donald J. Trump after signing the executive order on climate change. (Photo credit: Boston Globe)

 

Criticism came from expected and very important quarters: Former Vice President Al Gore called the President’s executive order that makes the United States’ 2015 Paris Agreement pledge to lower emissions by at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 virtually impossible to achieve “a misguided step away from a sustainable, carbon-free future for ourselves and generations to come.” Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman used but one word in his must-read column, “Trump is a Chinese Agent,” to describe the action: “Stupid.” 

Let’s be clear: the President’s actions are not orders that can immediately be implemented; rather they are directions to reconsider the Clean Power Plan and other Obama-era climate change fighting rules. Before those can be acted upon, legal actions can be filed that could take years to resolve. For an in-depth and insightful analysis of all this, I urge you to read Brad Plumer’s top notch piece in Vox. But, suffice to say, for the climate change fight, Tuesday’s actions were possibly calamitous in the long run and potentially dispiriting in the hear and now.

But this is not the time for discouragement. Again, I refer you to Al Gore: No matter how discouraging this executive order may be, we must, we can, and we will solve the climate crisis. No one man or group can stop the encouraging and escalating momentum we are experiencing in the fight to protect our planet.”

Discouragement is not part of Protect Our Winters‘ (POW) vocabulary.

POW is the Boulder, CO-based nonprofit whose leadership is made up of leading professional skiers, snowboarders and other winter sports athletes. To engage in the climate change fight, POW’s Olympic medal- and World Championship-winning athletes trade in their skis and snowboards for political advocacy and lobbying along with community-based activism. To my knowledge, there is no other athlete group or sports league that is as deeply involved in the climate change fight as POW. 

Exhibit A of POW’s climate change fighting chops is Tuesday’s Let’s Take Action”-type blog that was posted shortly after the executive order was announced. It urges its followers to:

  1. Call their governors, as states can move forward on limiting emissions from fossil fuel fired power plants.
  2. Keep focused. Per the blog, when the EPA and the other government agencies take up President Trump’s directions to change course, they will “have to prove that they have reason to change the Clean Power Plan and the other environmental rules under attack. (read: they have to prove it’s not just politics, but that there is new information or evidence requiring change). When they do this, there will be opportunity for the public to comment.” 

POW

 

 

At that point, you can be sure POW will provide their 94,000+ Facebook friends and 20,000+ Twitter followers with the tools to maximize the impact of their comments. And POW athletes will continue to lobby, blog and speak out against the Trump Administration’s assault on the climate change fight.

 


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