With Trump, green sports world suffers severe setback
Trying to make some sense about where the green sports movement goes from here in the immediate aftermath of Donald J. Trump's election as President of the United States and to see if there are any silver linings, I spoke to Allen Hershkowitz, co-founder and former president of the Green Sports Alliance and co-founder of Green Sports International.
He did not sugarcoat the seriousness of the election results for the climate change fight. That said, he believes sports becomes an even more important platform for climate action, post-November 8, 2016, than it was before.
Lew Blaustein: Allen, thank you for taking the time to talk after a gut-punch of an election for those on the frontlines of the climate change fight, including those working at the intersection of green and sports. What is your reaction to the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States in general, and to the future of the green sports world in particular?
Allen Hershkowitz: Lew, there’s no way around this fact: Americans have just elected a president who, if he follows up on his campaign promises, will tear up the historic Paris Climate Accord, the most important climate change agreement ever approved.
Mr. Trump is a vocal denier of climate change, claiming it’s a hoax concocted by the Chinese — and he’s a President-elect who has promised to get rid of 80 percent of federal environmental regulations. So this is a major blow for people concerned about ecological progress and the climate change fight.
Blaustein: I know it’s hard in these early hours after the election, but can you share what you see as the way forward for the sports-greening movement?
Hershkowitz: Clearly, when I helped start the Green Sports Alliance six years ago, it was with the notion that climate change and other environmental issues would not be solved mainly by government. That it would take a cultural shift from the ground up, with citizens leading the way, along with the private sector, popular culture and yes, government playing positive roles. If the statements by President-elect Trump during the campaign are to be believed, it is clear that we won’t be getting that positive leadership during his presidency.
So it will be up to the marketplace, to culture, including sports, to move ecological action and the climate change fight more aggressively than we have in order to limit the damage from a federal government hostile to environmental protection and climate change. This past September the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere permanently exceeded 400 PPM, marking the start of our new 400 ppm world.
This year is also set to be the hottest year on record as global temperature has increased right up against the 1.5°C (2.7°F) warming threshold, a key metric in last year’s Paris climate agreement. Even if all carbon emissions were to end today, catastrophic ecological impacts are inevitable. The sports industry is well positioned to communicate about these ecological issues and we in the green-sports movement have helped the industry do exactly that over the past several years.
Blaustein: Roughly 124 million people voted in the election, a number only slightly greater than the 115 million people who watched Super Bowl 50 in February. The reason I make this comparison is to show how massive sports’ platform is. In fact, as you often say, 16 percent of people care about science but 71 percent of people care about sports.
Thing is, people go to games and watch them on TV for entertainment. So how do you see the industry using its platform to advance the climate fight, a serious issue in the fun-and-games arena, during the Trump Presidency?
Hershkowitz: Look, the sports greening movement is now a global phenomenon. Next week I’ll be meeting with representatives from more than forty European and international sports federations and organizations at the IOC in Lausanne, Switzerland to launch Green Sports International, the most diverse assembly of sustainability experts in sports ever to gather.
My colleagues and I at Green Sports International are taking sports greening to a unprecedented level of global influence. When I started the Green Sports Alliance, there were no sustainability experts in sports. I had to focus on educating league Commissioners and a handful of venue managers.
Now, the sports industry is saturated with sustainability experts, from the NHL to UEFA, from the IOC to the USTA, from NASCAR to the NBA, really too many to name, and they are acting on environmental issues in a myriad of innovative ways — energy efficiency, on site solar, in stadium recycling, food donations and composting — the list goes on and on. With Mr. Trump about to take office, and, as I said earlier, threatening to pull out of the Paris Accord, the sports industry will have to intensify its greening efforts, and I have no doubt that it will.
Blaustein: And communicate those efforts more clearly and in a positive, relatable way to fans so they take environmentally friendly actions.
Hershkowitz: Absolutely. I am convinced the collective, positive influence of sports will help counter the anti-environmental policies of the Trump presidency should he attempt to carry out his anti-environment campaign promises. Not just here, but around the world. All day I have been fielding calls and emails from my sports sector colleagues around the world indicating their commitment to re-double their ecological work.
Blaustein: I suspect there will be those in the sports world who will voice their opposition to the Trump environmental agenda if it turns out to be as severe as promised.
I am sure, for example, that Protect Our Winters, the climate change-fighting group of elite winter sports athletes, will be ramping up the fight, perhaps as soon as today. Still, I imagine others in the green-sports world are trying to figure out what to do next. What do you have to say to them?
Hershkowitz: My message to those in the sports greening movement is simply this: Don’t despair, but if you must despair, work on. The sports sector in the US and internationally can be a source of healing progress. Why? Because; outside of the family, nothing brings people together like sports. And sports fans want a clean, healthy environment.
Blaustein: So the industry can and will, through its high-profile greening efforts, model healthy, environmentally friendly behaviors at stadiums and arenas.
Hershkowitz: Absolutely. And, despite Mr. Trump’s win and his dangerous, reckless, backward-looking campaign remarks about environmental policies, the sports world and the broader world at large will continue to move in the right direction.
Think about it this way: Trillions of dollars worldwide are already embedded in investments in renewables, energy efficiency, clean transportation, and the like. Those investments are not going away. The Pentagon says that climate change is an urgent national security imperative. That will not go away, either. Yes, for the next four years, if Mr. Trump’s statements are to be believed, we in the US will have important environmental policies made unavailable to us. But we will move forward. Because science is not a political opinion. Physics is not a political opinion.