Why Sports Need to Be the Next Frontier for Climate Activism

Why Sports Need to Be the Next Frontier for Climate Activism

February 16, 2021 Blog

By Shoa Moosavi

“Mars.” “Jimi Hendrix’s ‘The Sky is Crying.’” “The apocalypse.” 

These are a few of the comments made by Oakland Athletics players and staff about the eerie orange skies that resulted from the wildfires that have been devastating their home state of California. While the A’s ended up playing several with a fiery orange backdrop behind the Oakland Coliseum, two of their games against the Mariners had to be moved to Seattle because of the smoke. 

Science suggests that the frequency and severity of these wildfires are a consequence of climate change. As we continue to face the consequences of our changing climate, sports will be negatively impacted. Heat waves, rising sea levels, and natural disasters threaten the viability of stadiums and venues. Baseball games, horse races, cricket matches, and more have already been delayed or canceled due to rising temperatures and air pollution from wildfires. 

However, the global sporting conglomerate is not a blameless victim in the context of climate change. The global sporting economy conducts activities with deep environmental impacts, such as team travel, manufacturing and distribution of apparel, and stadium maintenance. Although there is a considerable lack of data about the environmental impacts of sports, one report estimates the global impact of sports to be on par with entire countries, such as Denmark and Spain, while also acknowledging that the actual figure is probably much higher. 

One of the foremost issues of climate justice is the idea of the moral hazard – the groups whose actions contribute most to climate change are usually more privileged than those who bear the most risk of bad outcomes. The world of sports provides a unique opportunity- one of a few situations where those who contribute to climate change also experience the effects so deeply. 

Climate change is, of course, a daunting collective action problem. Anyone who’s pondered their role in this crisis has inevitably come to the conclusion that it is difficult for individuals to enact widespread change. That’s where raising awareness comes in- educating others about this very real threat has the possibility to multiply one’s impact. Seeing examples of individuals who take climate change seriously and use their capacities to positively impact the climate can show both the desirability and feasibility of a climate-friendly world, where sustainability is a major consideration in the ways we interact with each other. 

Athletes have been very successful in bringing attention to causes they support, such as racial justice and disaster relief. While climate advocacy has not been widely discussed in these conversations, such as the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” movement, it relates directly to issues that athletes have demonstrated interest in. For example, recent disasters, such as the wildfires in California and Australia this year, and Hurricane Harvey have become more frequent in the conditions of our changing climate. The fallout from these disasters also disproportionately affects minorities and lower-income groups. When it comes to disaster relief, pollution, and countless other issues, environmental racism causes Black and Indigenous people of color to disproportionately bear the burden of climate change. 

This is where teams, their athletes, and their staff come in- using their platform and impact to educate others and set a good example. Teams across many different leagues are already setting examples in sustainability and energy use. The Sacramento Kings and Cleveland Indians sustain their stadiums with solar and wind power, respectively. My dear Philadelphia Eagles power 100% of their operations with sun and wind. They also offset all of the carbon emissions generated by their travel.

As a proven, impactful, and diverse forum for social engagement, sports are an excellent way to educate a large population base about an issue that hasn’t been taken as seriously as it should be. Athletes, teams, and others involved in the wide-reaching world of sports have the power to address a large audience, the privilege to be able to make impactful economic decisions, and demonstrated interest in intersectional issues related to climate change. If they communicate through their forums and actions, they have the ability to encourage larger collective action and contribute to a healthier, more sustainable society. 

Shoa is a sophomore studying Global Health in the NHS and a Core Pathways student. This article was written for the Core Pathways Ethics of Climate Change with Professor Olsen.