Is sport killing the planet?

Perhaps more than any other writer, the sportswriter is given great freedom to pass comment on their chosen field of interest; ie, the televised melodrama we generally refer to as sport. We are given license to groan at the stupidly large salaries of the likes of Beckham, wince at the blatant cash grab of Twenty20 cricket and bemoan the racial violence that accompanied this years Australian Open. And, we can publish our moral judgments without fear of writ or reprisal, unlike our journalistic colleagues. Its a prized and even honoured position in sports mad Australia, but I wonder if we turned the investigative torch back upon our own lives and interests, whether we would be quite so self-satisfied and willing to proselytize.

I recently read an article by George Monbiot in the Observer Sport Monthly entitled: How sport is killing the planet. In the searing and insightful piece, Monbiot drives home the realities of global warming and the need to reduce our carbon emissions by 90% to avert a global disaster. Monbiot then details the carbon emission our major sporting events create and asks the obvious question are our sporting events more important than the continued existence of a host of endangered species, the inundation of millions of peoples homes and the collapse of the world economy?

I dont want to be a killjoy and I recognise that many sports are considered a matter of life and death by their fans, Monbiot writes. But climate change really is a matter of life and death. However important the next fixture might seem, it doesnt compare to the drying out of sub-Saharan Africa or the flooding of some of the worlds major cities.

Virtually everyone agrees that our profligate burning of carbon-based fuels is the primary cause of the greenhouse effect and consequently global warming. But no one wants to bite the bullet and reduce their own levels of consumption to avert the coming catastrophe.

Motor racing is an obvious culprit. In short, the race to produce the fastest car is also a race to the end of the world as we know it. Yet the Dakar Rally, and the Indy 500, and all the international Grand Prixs still draw massive amounts of media coverage, when they should be something we feel deeply disturbed and embarrassed about.

But the problem doesnt stop there. The Olympics doesnt make the cut either.

Just one return journey from Australia to China uses almost twice a persons sustainable emission of carbon dioxide for an entire year.

Beijing is expecting 1.5 million visitors to the 2008 Games, a third of whom will come from overseas, Monbiot writes. Like most Olympic hosts, China hopes the new airport and tourist facilities it is building will attract custom for years. It is hard to think of a better formula than a global sporting event for causing maximum environmental damage.

Monbiots arguments are compelling and I hope that the giant corporate promoters and the media will move quickly to remove support for motor racing and international tourism sports. But Im not holding breath. Well not until I have to swim to Tabulam.

However, the core premise that sport is killing the planet is erroneous international tourism and the consumption of carbon-based fuels is the issue.

In Cuba, where they have survived the last 17 years on extremely limited quantities of petroleum, sport participation rates are on the increase. After all, un-motorised sport brings neighbourhoods together, produces little carbon and is a great way to keep fit and healthy.

Everyone knows change is necessary, but no one wants to make the change. But this change isnt negotiable. It isnt optional. Its inevitable. We can sink in our own fumes and swim for higher ground, or give up overt consumption. Your call.

Theft of the commons alert!

Dear reader, dont forget the public hearing into the re-classification of Lismore Park is on at the Lismore City Council chambers this Wednesday, January 31 at 5pm. Come along and keep the commons, common property.

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