An Open Letter To LeBron James: Be “The King” Of The Climate Change Fight!

Dear LeBron James:

Let me be the billionth person to congratulate you and the Miami Heat on winning your 2nd straight NBA Championship.  Your incredible play throughout the 7-game struggle with the terrific San Antonio Spurs will be long-remembered by NBA fans worldwide.  As Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News put it, you are the MVP of all professional sports in the US right now and your talent, in terms of all-around play, has never been seen before.  And that includes Jordan, Magic, Russell, et al.  Congratulations.  You’ve earned a well-deserved rest before your wedding and going after a ThreePeat this fall.

LeBron James

Except I’m going to request a small bit of your time before you go into full wedding-planning mode (mazel tov, btw!).  What I’m asking won’t tax you much physically, if at all.  All I’m looking for is a very public statement from you that, at its heart, says “climate change is real, it’s human-caused, and we have to take meaningful action to start to reverse it.  It’s the defining issue of this and the next generations.”

I know you have questions.  No worries–here’s a handy-dandy FAQ section:

Q1.  Is Climate Change really real?  I’ve heard it’s a hoax.

A1.  No hoax!  It’s the opposite.  Climate Change is real just like your 4th MVP award is real.  In fact, it’s not only happening, it’s probably far worse than climate scientists, 97% of whom confirm that human-caused climate change is real, have thought.

Q2.  What IS the human cause of Climate Change?

A2.  The burning of fossil fuels, like coal, oil and natural gas, which emits carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat trapping gases.  The burning of these fossil fuels is like steroids in baseball–an injection of an external force that changes the climate.  Steroids in baseball led to dramatic increases in home runs; after steroids testing, home runs declined just as dramatically.  We now have a Climate On Steroids, with CO2 being the “juice”. Higher temperatures, more severe and more frequent heat waves, floods and droughts are the results. Climate Change is causing catastrophic calamities in real time.  And, we’re not doing anything meaningful to reduce the amount of Climate Steroids we spew into the atmosphere. Coastal areas, including your adopted hometown of Miami, are at particular risk.  Over the next 100 years, it’s possible that Humanity As We Know It is at risk.  If nothing is done to stop or at least control the main cause of climate change, then your kids and grandkids lives will likely be far worse than you can imagine.  If you can help lead a movement to take the Climate Steroids (i.e. the burning of fossil fuels) out of the atmosphere, that will be a far greater legacy than the championships you win.

Q3.  Why should I take on Climate Change?  I mean I’ve got the LeBron James Family Foundation (LJFF), which is devoted to making sure kids in inner cities perform as close to their potential as possible by doing their homework, exercising, showing up on time, and respecting their parents.  That’s my cause.

A3.  In addition to doing your part to Save Humanity As We Know It, taking on Climate Change is a logical step for LJFF.  Many say that climate change is and will continue to disproportionately effect poor neighborhoods and the people the LJFF serves.  Think about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina.  Climate change likely didn’t cause the actual storm itself; it most likely made it much more severe.  Who was most impacted?  The people living in flood zones without the means to leave in a timely manner. Many, but not all, were poor and black. They lost homes that went back generations and communities were destroyed. Even if climate change does not cause every weather incident and hurricanes are natural, the whipped up versions we now experience are related to human impact on the environment.

This column, published by Harvard,  provides some details.  And, while the problem is so massive, so too will be the solutions.  And those solutions will provide job opportunities now and down the road for the kids being served by LJFF.

Q4.  What can I do?

A4.  In addition to the Climate change is real statement above, you can and should:

  • Sell your gas guzzling cars in favor of energy efficient rides.  Make do with fewer cars.  Here’s a statement you can issue:  I’ve taken a leadership role on the Heat by walking the walk–working overtime to improve my game.  Now I’m walking the walk on climate change.  I’ll start by getting rid of my gas guzzling Jeep and Rolls Royce and the rest.  Instead, I’m going to drive an all electric car or a hybrid.  I’m also going to do with fewer cars.  I mean, I don’t need 5 cars.  No one needs 5 cars!  It sets a bad example if we’re going to do something serious about climate change.  We need to be more energy efficient; it’s as simple as a pick and roll!
  • Downsize your houses.  McMansions are energy hogs.  Put solar panels on the roofs of the houses.
  • Engage your NBA brethren.  You know better than anyone that you can’t win a championship by yourself.  Nor can you reverse climate change.  You lead, the NBA follows.
  • Go beyond the NBA and engage athletes in other sports.
  • Push President Obama for a carbon tax.  Tthe President just made the most important presidential speech ever on climate change on June 25.  The centerpiece of his policy places limits on the amount of global warming pollution that can be emitted by America’s mainly coal-fired power plants.  That is a big move, but it’s just a start.  The carbon tax is the game changer.

Q4.  Whoa, dawg, why should I push for a carbon tax?  I don’t do politics.  Like Michael Jordan said, “Republicans buy sneakers, too” when asked why he didn’t endorse a democrat.  In this case, shouldn’t I want to Be Like Mike and stay out of politics?  Plus why do I want to pay more in taxes?

A4.  The NBA fan base has gotten younger/hipper since MJ’s time.  The young (i.e. under 30), and especially blacks get climate change and are open to a price on carbon far more than their elders.  Your audience is and will be the fight-climate-change audience.  You should lead them; they will follow you, big time.  As for not wanting to pay more in taxes, well we’re already paying price of carbon in terms of extreme weather (Hurricane Sandy, midwest plains drought, water shortages and asthma in urban areas).  The carbon tax will mean the carbon polluters and, to be sure, the public will have to pay for those” externalities”.  Higher prices for fossil fuels because of the carbon tax will allow non-polluting energy sources like solar and wind to better compete and grow, lowering our carbon footprint.  Revenue from the carbon tax can be used to fund research that will speed up the development of those new technologies.  It can help fund healthcare, education and other national priorities.  Put it this way–we can pay a carbon tax now or your kids and their kids will play dearly for us not having a carbon tax.

As a basketball player, your legacy is now secure–one of the top 5-7 players of all time and you’re still only 28!  But, in the scheme of things, basketball is relatively minor, as much as we love it.  Playing a key role in turning around the Climate Crisis?  NOW that’s a legacy!  And all it will really take is the “Climate change is real and human caused” statement.  Are you ready?

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How Green Is Your New York (New Jersey) Sports Team?

PART I OF AN OCCASIONAL GREENSPORTSBLOG SERIES ON THE GREEN-NESS (OR LACK THEROF) OF THE MAJOR NEW YORK-NEW JERSEY SPORTS STADIA-ARENAS

After a drought in new stadium/arena construction in the New York City area from 1981 to 2007, the 6 years from ’07 to ’12 saw an explosion in new sports palaces.  A combination of aging facilities (Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium), the desire to bring teams closer to urban population hubs (Barclay’s Center in downtown Brooklyn, Prudential Center in downtown Newark) and the need for more luxury box-based revenue (MetLife Stadium) fueled the boom.

Between the opening of the now-obsolete Izod Center (nee Continental Arena, nee Brendan Byrne Arena) in 1981 and the current era, stadium construction, like most other types of building projects, went green.  Washington, DC’s Nationals Park, opened in 2008, was the first LEED-certified major league stadium in the US and many other LEED projects have followed suit.

While none of the 6 stadiums/arenas built in the NYC-NJ area since 2007 were built to LEED standards, I thought it would be interesting to look at each to see how green they are (or aren’t).  Today’s column looks at the first of the 6, the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.  Opened in 2007, “The Rock” is home to the NHL’s Devils, Seton Hall basketball and many other events.

Its location in downtown Newark served as a major greening advance from the Devils’ prior home at the Izod Center in the Meadowlands, which until 2010, was not served by any rail transport (train service from Secaucus now deposits fans at MetLife Stadium and Izod).  The Rock is a short walk from Newark’s Penn Station, and thus accessible to fans via NJ Transit, Amtrak and PATH.  It is estimated that 35-40% of fans take public transport to Prudential Center, a significant improvement over the Meadowlands.

The greenest aspect of the Prudential Center is also is most visually appealing–the transparent glass exterior that rings the building.  The designers used a state-of-the-art (at the time) high-performance, energy efficient glass product that keeps the building cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.  It also maximizes natural light (the lobbies are incredibly bright) which minimizes the need for artificial illumination for day games.

What’s not clear is how much/whether other LEED protocols (i.e. use of local materials, storm water capture, etc) were part of the Prudential Center’s construction; I’ve not heard back from the Devils.  If/when I do, you’ll be the first to know.

The next installment of this series (not sure when it will be) will focus on the new baseball stadiums in the area, CitiField in Flushing and Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

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Auto Racing Turns Green? Welcome, Formula E

If there’s one sport to which I pay no attention at all, it’s auto racing.  I admit, I’ve never attended a NASCAR event nor an Indy Car race.  I’m ignorant of auto racing’s nuances.  I just don’t get the appeal of turning left, crashes, and incredibly loud noise.  When you add the fact that NASCAR vehicles average 5 MPG and that its fans seem largely hostile to the science behind climate change, well, you can see why auto racing doesn’t hold much appeal for me.

Maybe that will change with the advent of Formula E, a world class racing series for electrically-powered racing cars.  Organized in 2012, Formula E’s inaugural championship will take place in 2014.  Ten cities are planning races that will be run exclusively on public streets rather than at race tracks.  Host cities include Beijing, Buenos Aires, London, Los Angeles, Miami, Rio de Janeiro and Rome.  Former F-1′er Lucas di Grassi (check out these “electric doughnuts” in LA) was the first “name driver” to sign on.  So far 42 cars have been ordered, with F-1 team McLaren providing the motor, transmission and electronics for all of the cars.

One thing for sure…Formula E gets it.  From their mission statement:

The world is changing. An appreciation of our finite resources and the impact we have whilst using them is well documented. Sustainability is not only the phrase of the moment, but the mantra of tomorrow. As one world together, we must shift our habits and generate change.

The car very much part of this. An alternative fuel source must replace the fossil fuel technology we have known since Karl Benz launched his automobile in 1885.

To celebrate and demonstrate this new chapter in the story of the car, Formula E will be creating a breathtaking, captivating and unique event that retains enough of what we know and love about cars and racing, but challenges the community to participate and interact with it.

So, as Formula E gets ready to launch, I’ll be interested observer from the curb.  And, maybe, if F-E comes to the NY area I’ll get some headphones and give it a go in person.

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Natural Resources Defense Council: Changing The Game

Sports, a $400 billion global business and with billions of fans around the world, has, in many respects, taken the lead in making business more sustainable.  And it can and will do a lot more as the “Green Sports Movement” builds.  So said Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist, Urban Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in a compelling talk at the Better Business Bureau’s CSR Conference in New York on Tuesday.

Hershkowitz

Hershkowitz highlighted how NRDC has teamed up with the major sports leagues in the US to “Green The Games” since 2004.  NRDC is the exclusive sustainability non-profit partner of the NBA, NHL, MLB, Major League Soccer, the US Open.  They also work with the Council of Ivy League Presidents and other college sports associations.  NRDC’s work has led the leagues to examine a wide range of business practices, from purchasing decisions to transportation choices, from energy use to waste management policies, all with an eye towards to reducing sports’ environmental impact.

And, even though, as Hershkowitz noted, the greening of sports has gone on under the radar in most respects, the fact is sports has proven the business case for sustainability, through:

  • Reduced costs through energy efficiency
    • 15 stadia are LEED certified, which not only means they were constructed in as energy efficient a manner as possible, but also that they’ll operate efficiently
  • High-profile shift to clean energy
    • 18 US stadia/arenas have on-site solar
  • Improved brand image among fans and other stakeholders by becoming better corporate citizens
    • 67% of stadia/arenas have recycling and/or on site composting
  • And last but certainly not least, additional sponsorship revenue (if you hadn’t noticed sports and money go together like Minneapolis and St. Paul!)

And, if you think the sports-sustainability marriage is a bit of a PR play, a cynical “let’s keep protesters at bay”, kind of thing, you might want to think again.  While a bit of skepticism is certainly healthy, sustainability has visibility at the top of the league hierarchies.  Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, NBA commissioner David Stern, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman are all engaged on a personal level with Hershkowitz and the NRDC to maximize the positive impact of a sustainable business approach on the leagues’ operations and, at the same time, to use the incredible megaphone the leagues have and the passions sports generates to get fans to change their behavior in ways that will help us SHAWKI (Save Humanity As We Know It–for those who haven’t read earlier posts).

Per a prior post, I believe fan engagement is where the teams/leagues need to push much, much harder (and overcome their fear of wading into a political minefield) than they have to date.  Dr. Hershkowitz’ talk made me more hopeful than before that sports will continue that push–a push in which I plan to play a role.

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Babe Ruth, The Climate Crisis and The 6th Graders at P.S 171

This past Friday I had the privilege of giving the Climate Reality Project slideshow (an updated version of the slideshow that formed the basis of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”) to 100 6th graders at PS 171 up in East Harlem.  The event was the brainchild of Pamela Ito at the Horticultural Society of NY.  ” The Hort” provides a series of programs to NYC public schools that allows kids in underserved neighborhoods to get much-needed exposure to plants, horticulture and greenery.

Trained by Vice President Gore and his team in San Francisco last August, I’ve given the slide show to a wide variety of audiences, from church groups to ad agencies, from a law firms to library groups.  All have been engaged and interested to one degree or another.  But the 6th graders at PS 171 were special.  On a stiflingly hot Friday (the AC was on the fritz), with summer beckoning, these kids were INTO IT.  And sports played an integral role!  Here’s how:

  • HOCKEY STICK:  We showed that CO2 in the atmosphere was at stable, safe-for-life levels for thousands of years until humans started to burn fossil fuels in ever-increasing amounts beginning with the Industrial Revolution.  This led to atmospheric CO2 levels (and then temperature) shooting up roughly in the shape of a hockey stick.  We then discussed the idea of “hockey sticks” in general–a pattern, a trend remains roughly the same until an outside force, an externality results in a dramatic change.  ”Where else in the world could we observe ‘hockey sticks’?”, I asked?CO2-Temp
  • STEROIDS AND THE MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL HOME RUN RECORD:  One high profile example was the single season home run record in baseball.  From 1927-1960, the single season record was 60.  I asked who owned that record.  Hands shot up throughout the auditorium and a young fellow yelled out “Babe Ruth!”  Then, in 1961, the record inched up to 61 (no one knew that it was Roger Maris who broke The Babe’s record) but the season was 8 games longer than in 1927, so it essentially stayed flat.  Then, in 1998, the record shot up (pun intended) to 70 (70!) when Mark McGwire blasted through the record.  A few years later Barry Bonds broke that record by hitting 73 home runs.  Another hockey stick!  A discussion ensued about why the records were  being broken and baseballs were flying out of ballparks (“Steroids!”) and why home run totals have dropped back down to pre-steroid era levels (“testing!”).  And then it was a natural segue to the idea that we’re living in a “Climate on Steroids” but with no testing, no brakes on the system.  The kids were leaning-forward attentive.Hockey Stick

Of course sports analogies and metaphors (and even similes!) cannot be brought into every climate change discussion or presentation.  But, I bet if we could’ve measured the cumulative interest and intensity of 6th graders of PS 171 last Friday during my talk, you would have seen a hockey stick when the subject turned to baseball.

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Making Good On The Potential of the Green-Sports Intersection

In Tuesday’s post I wrote about the good start that the sports world has made in terms of green initiatives.  Those programs, like the NHL’s Green Program looking into the effects of climate change on outdoor pond hockey, are real, not greenwashing.  There are many more, from solar hot water panels on the right field roof at Boston’s Fenway Park (maybe the last time you’ll hear me say something nice about anything to do with the Red Sox) to the fantastic commitment to onsite solar and wind made by the Philadelphia Eagles in their much more modern Lincoln Financial Field.

But…BUT…The Powers That Be in sports have yet to really tap the Power of Sports Fans in the service of sustainability.  Now, you may say that fans are only fanatic about their teams, their favorite players.  They aren’t fanatic about Saving Humanity As We Know It (I’ll use this term a LOT in this blog so I’m going to create an acronym:  SHAWKI).  That’s profoundly sad when you think about it but understandable.  Sports is fun/maddening/torturous/exciting/hopeful/compelling/inspiring.  SHAWKI is hard/discouraging/like climbing a mountain in a mudslide/like putting on an Olympics EVERY YEAR (CLICK ON THAT LINK, great article from the Guardian on, well, putting an Olympics EVERY YEAR)/sometimes inspiring/did I mention really hard?

Sports fans care about winning.  You can see results right away.  At best, SHAWKI will mean that we (humanity, globally speaking) take some significant steps to turn around the carbon emissions train.  Which would YOU rather read about, talk about?

Yes, all this is true but what if sports teams got fans involved with sustainability in ways that could help their teams on the field, court, pitch????  THAT’S where the real power of the Green-Sports intersection lies, methinks!

But, “Lew”, you say, “that’s impossible!”  Not really.  Here are a couple of thought starters for teams/leagues:

  • How about a contest at all [you name the league] stadia in which fans’ recycling efforts are measured?  The team which recycles the most on a per capita basis gets an extra draft choice in the next draft.  I think THAT would capture fans’ attention.
  • Imagine that a team establishes a baseline for the number of fans who access the stadium by mass transit (where that’s possible).  If fans increase mass transit access by, say, 15%, the team will be allowed to go over its sports’ salary cap (or, in the case of Major League Baseball, its luxury tax) by an amount TBD.

You might say “Lew, these are some good ideas.  Why haven’t teams/leagues done this type of thing yet?”  My guess is that the teams/leagues are risk averse and don’t want to piss off a) fans who don’t believe in climate change and/or b) sponsors/advertisers as being prime causes of with Climate Change like the fossil fuel industry.  That fear is misplaced because ideas like these are POSITIVE in nature, rather than PUNITIVE (i.e rewarding teams for good environmental behaviors).  And I bet that the sponsorship/ad revenues gained by these green initiatives (plus positive PR) will far outweigh any possible loss in revenue from sponsors/advertisers leaving the fold.

SO, my take away about Sports-Green is that good early steps have been taken but big, BIG steps are out there IF the teams/leagues can overcome their fears.  Or are nudged by the fans to do so. Please feel free to add your thoughts, comments, ideas.

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