A response to George Monbiot

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Henry Edwards responds to an article by prominent journalist, George Monbiot, entitled 'How sport is killing the planet'.

Sport is destroying our planet. That is what The Guardian’s George Monbiot would have us believe. His article, published way back in 2006, entitled ‘How sport is killing the planet’, launched the controversial argument that the world’s major sports pose a substantial environmental threat to Planet Earth. According to Monbiot, the biggest sporting events attract spectators from across the globe, whose vehicles expend carbon to get them there.

The polluting cost of constructing elaborate new stadiums is another case in point. Certainly to the horror of many fans, Monbiot concludes by suggesting a “fixed site” for geographical variable sporting events, such as the Olympics, in the hope that it will restrict travel induced carbon emissions. Indeed, Monbiot urges us to “recognise that some sports are simply too wasteful to be sustained.”

Now, I appreciate my limitations. A second year university student is not going to come out with international pollution statistics concerning the extent of sport’s damage. But I would guess that in a world of massive conglomerates and corrupt politicians ignoring pollution regulations and rebuking climate change treaties, the impact of sport on the environmental state of the planet is surely comparatively negligible. In fact, a 2013 article published by the University of Pennsylvania concluded that American sports stadiums had a “relatively light impact” on the environment. Similarly, the New York Times stated, “sports stadiums consume just a sliver of the nation’s energy and produce a fraction of its waste.”

Completely abandoning certain major sports events would somewhat aid the planet’s health, but is it worth sacrificing the passion of billions for only marginal environmental gain? There are larger threats to the planet, making Monbiot’s specific condemnation of sport confusing and unwarranted. Indeed, this is the view voiced by website Sportskeeda in 2015: “any human activity leaves a considerable ecological footprint”, so why the specific focus on sport?

An important point to make against Monbiot is sport’s potential to inspire people to follow a more active lifestyle. Most would agree that an individual interested in physical activity would probably be more likely to walk or cycle from A to B, as opposed to driving petrol guzzling vehicles. Equally, those same people would presumably be prone to spending their leisure time engaging in carbon neutral activities: mother nature would prefer us all to go running rather than sitting in our heated homes expending constant power watching TV. Maybe the cost associated with major sporting events and stadiums is a price worth paying if it gets people off their sofas and into the wider world.

It should be noted, furthermore, that since 2006 numerous sports clubs have taken it upon themselves to launch ecologically beneficial initiatives. The aforementioned Pennsylvania based study highlighted the work done by baseball team Seattle Mariners in diverting waste away from landfills. In 2012, for example, the club averted 1,000 tons of landfill-bound rubbish. The 2012 London Olympics saw 99% of the 61,000 tons of waste it produced either recycled or reused, while some 86% of all spectators journeyed to the stadiums by train. Recent ecological advances by sporting institutions and events threaten to discredit Monbiot’s concerns.

@marcogonzales_’s spring so far: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 8 K. #MarinersST

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Although Monbiot may not have won much support for his article, it should be said that his questioning regarding humanity’s impact on the planet is admirable. Debates surrounding what we may be forced to abandon for the sake of the future are greatly important, no matter how inconceivable life without certain pleasures may be.

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