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Climate change will require action from big business and baseball

Climate change will require action from big business and baseball

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - APRIL 01: An aerial drone view of Globe Life Field, home of the Texas Rangers MLB team, on April 01, 2020 in Arlington, Texas. The grand opening of Globe Life Field has been postponed after Major League Baseball delayed the start of the 2020 season in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

It was a 90-degree day in early juillet, just before the All-Star break. Milwaukee BrewersAssistive technology Brent SuterCiti Field, where he squinted into sunlight, he said that he often feels fear for the future.

Suter studied environmental science and public policy at Harvard, he namechecks the teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg as one of his biggest heroes, he’s a self-described “bird-etarian,” who hopes to go fully vegetarian or even vegan when his playing days are done.

Lately he’s noticed that more and more games feel like the hottest ever. He mentions that the Texas Rangers had been his favorite team. Their 25-year-old open air stadium could be replaced with something that can be artificially cooled to encourage fans to attend games. He’s 32 and worries what kind of world his son will inherit.

“I’ve talked with a lot of environmental activists throughout the years,” Suter said, “and we share that same sentiment of like, we’re hopeful, but then there’s fear there.”

The fear is of A future that is already here: Climate change and the record-breaking natural disasters it causes are wreaking havoc in the environmentAnd Killing people. This is an everyone problem and sports are not immune — not From the effectsThe responsibility to work towards a more sustainable future is not theirs. It is a unique responsibility for powerful corporations to prioritize the radical shift necessary to stop the worst projections. MLB aims to be part of the solution. Its current efforts lack urgency.

Big business must take the initiative

Andrew Hoffman studies the intersection between the corporate and environmental worlds. He’s a professor of sustainable enterprise at the University of Michigan, at the nexus of the university’s business school and school for environment and sustainability. When he talks about sustainability, he speaks in an expert’s jargon about sweeping philosophical issues.

“We have entered a new geological epoch, we have left the Holocene and we’ve entered the Anthropocene, the age of humans, where you can’t describe the Earth without the impact of humans,” he says. “And that is a significant shift. Climate change is one such marker. This isn’t an environmental problem. It is a system breakdown that requires a system change. The system is the economy.”

That’s where the business side of things comes in. Our global economy is made up of a vast network of corporations. They will play a significant role in how we get out of this mess.

“And so that’s why we’re seeing a lot of companies starting to step forward,” Hoffman says. “You can talk about it being role modeling, and I think that’s important. It’s also about educating and teaching others that they can do it. This can be done without destroying our lives. That’s the key.”

It’s a hopeful way to put it. Even if science is not the science,The intentions of the human forces involved are at the very least known.

But does Hoffman really believe that — that we can repair the systems by changing the economy?

“Uh, that’s a good question, and I don’t know,” he says.

“But we have to try.”

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - APRIL 01: An aerial drone view of Globe Life Field, home of the Texas Rangers MLB team, on April 01, 2020 in Arlington, Texas. The grand opening of Globe Life Field has been postponed after Major League Baseball delayed the start of the 2020 season in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

In 2020, the Texas Rangers replaced their baseball park with Globe Life Field. It boasts a retractable roof that protects against the heat and keeps it cool in the summer heat. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images).

A player-driven climate movement

A decade ago, as a baseball player who cared deeply about the environment, Chris Dickerson found that when he tried to talk to his teammates about sustainability in the clubhouse, “They looked at me like I had two heads.”

“Largely people thought that global warming was a hoax,” he says now.

Of course it’s not, though. This is made all the more urgent and obvious by the past ten years. There are holdouts — a troubling An American segment remains skeptical of climate change or ignores the calcifying scientific consensus that human behavior is to blame — but The likelihood of younger generations inheriting the responsibilities is increasingTo recognize the truth.

A growing number of athletes are now committed to sustainability, even in conservative baseball clubs.

Dickerson, a former Cincinnati Reds fielder, helped them to do this through Players for the Planet. The nonprofit organizes beach cleanups, electronic waste collection at ballparks, tree plantings, and in-game recycling. The Brewers have a strong contingent of players involved, including Suter and Willy Adames. This past season, we hosted an on-field discussion about environmentalism. The organization is player-driven. Dickerson was delighted to see Wander Franco, a young Tampa Bay Rays player, at a recent beach cleanup.

“I had heard through the grapevine that he was interested,” Dickerson says. “The education coordinator got ahold of him, and got ahold of his mom. But, ultimately, it was Nelson [Cruz] who called and was like, ‘Hey, I’m gonna be doing this, why don’t you come along?’ And sure enough, [Franco] was there with him.”

Dickerson believes in the power of athletes to model best practices — to make small but meaningful change in their communities while promoting sustainability to a broader audience. To inspire each other and their legions.

“Because scientists don’t have the following or reach that professional athletes do,” he says. “It’s being able to reach out to 400,000 followers on social media platforms and being able to to educate people about best behaviors.”

And he believes that players can force the industry itself to evolve — calling it a move that’ll come from within to make Major League Baseball more sustainable. But even he knows that’s an optimistic view of the situation. One thing is that individuals can be hostile to change, or indifferent to the issues. Then there are corporate sponsors to contend, legal battles and systemic immobilia.

Apart from personal responsibility, combating climate change will require a war that is waged at a policy level.

“Individual action is not enough,” Suter says.

Hoffman would agree. He likens environmental purity to religion — individuals should strive for an idealized state, while understanding that sinning is inevitable. However, corporations can be held to a higher standard.

“They have more power,” he says. “With power comes responsibility.”

What MLB is doing right now

Suter has gotten to know the people who work in sustainability at the MLB commissioner’s office through his recent years of activism. It has made him feel largely encouraged.

“They really care,” he says.

The league boasts many concrete examples: 20 teams have switched over to LED lighting over the past seven years, 12 baseball parks have on-site gardens where they source produce for concessions, and the league boasts that there are other initiatives. Minnesota Twins recycle rainwater for field irrigation and installed water bottle refill stations around the stadium, the San Francisco Giants have won the league’s Green Glove award a dozen times for leading the league in waste diversion. All 30 clubs are part of the Green Sports Alliance.

There are educational programs associated with the sport’s so-called jewel events and a community service program for league employees — all part of a commitment to “practicing responsible and socially conscious sustainability efforts.”

“Not only changing the ballparks over to be more energy efficient, more water efficient, but also hopefully spurring the fans to say, ‘Oh my gosh, I can go to this ballpark and they’re doing this for 35,000 people — recycling, in the case of the Giants and the Mariners at 92%, with only 8% going to landfill — maybe I can start to make change at home,’” says Paul Hanlon, MLB’s director of ballpark operations and sustainability.

“So not only making that operational change, but also hopefully spurring the fans to make change.”

It’s a worthwhile effort, certainly, but one that feels out of sync with the It is critical to make immediate, meaningful changes..

MLB does not keep detailed data about its carbon footprint or environmental impact. All league teams were provided with software to track things like energy, water, and waste in 2018. Twenty-three clubs, but not the commissioner’s office itself, have since made use of the system, which is entirely self-reported. And while it’s been useful for clubs to monitor their own trends — one team uncovered a water leak based on anomalous data — there isn’t an evaluative or actionable component yet. It is not planned to immediately implement numeric benchmarks to track progress.

“I want to understand where we are, I want to get a few years of collecting that from everyone,” Hanlon says. “I think then we can understand OK, what goals make sense for what we’re doing? That is the goal. Definitely.”

Baseball’s power extends far beyond the immediate area of its playing fields and the stadiums surrounding them. Despite repeated protestations that they are apolitical, MLB’s money and influence in Washington present a profound opportunity — to push for meaningful change or, as Hoffman fears, hypocrisy.

“One area of very significant greenwashing is when companies make loud statements — ‘We care about climate change. We’re gonna do something about it.’ — and then they lobby against climate policy in Washington,” he says.

“That’s greenwashing. Because we need policy.”

Exhaustively tracking the money from MLB’s political action committee and the voting patterns of the recipients could be a worthwhile standalone project, but we can see some glaring contradictions from just a top-line analysis.

See Also

From 2019-20 — in 2021, MLB temporarily suspended political donations following the insurrection at the Capitol — Open Secrets tracked $127,000 in donations to federal candidates. Over 56% of the money went to Democratic candidates. However, Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. House Minority Leader, received the most money of any individual. Despite the fact that a package of was unveiled recently, “narrow environmental bills,”McCarthy has a lifetime score only 3% in voting for environmental issues. According to the League of Conservation Voters. McCarthy was the majority leader of the 2015 election. I wrote an opinion piece for the Washington PostAn announcement by he to oppose U.S. involvement with international efforts to combat global climate change

In that year, MLB donated $5,000 to his campaigns.

What would an impactful change look? 2020 is a hint

“When people talk about sustainability in sports leagues, a lot of the time, maybe they’ll talk about recycling, maybe they’ll talk about how their players did a tree planting program on the weekend. A lot of those things are pretty close to greenwashing,” says Seth Wynes, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment at Concordia University in Canada.

“You’re doing an action that looks nice, but is not really substantial. It’s not making a huge dent in your emissions in any way.”

What canThe most significant way to make a dent in travel is to restrict travel as all major sports leagues were forced by 2020 as a result of the pandemic.

In a study recently published in the journal Environmental Science & TechnologyWynes calculated the decrease in carbon emissions per games for MLB, NFL, NFL and NHL using their specific schedule alterations. This resulted to significantly less travel across the sports.

Travel accounts for about a quarter of the leagues’ total emissions — extrapolated from data from the NHL, which is the most transparent. But Wynes argues it’s an important area of consideration because air travel is inherently difficult to make more environmentally friendly.

“And no one else is really going to do it for you,” he says.

“So the leagues could kind of sit back and, this wouldn’t be advisable, but just wait. Fans will eventually start to show up in electric vehicles to games, as the industry is set to decarbonize thanks to other agents and government. Air travel will not be as simple. So as time goes on, that fraction is going to grow larger and larger for sports industries.”

Baseball already has an advantage. Its multi-day series played against the same opponent naturally limit travel, but the regional schedule implemented in 2020 — where teams played only opponents in their own division and the corresponding geographical division in the opposite league — still resulted in a 22% drop in carbon emissions per game.

Cutting cross-country travel entirely might not be feasible from a fan enjoyment perspective, but the increasingly arbitrary division between the two leagues — especially if they become aligned in their use of a designated hitter — could provide an opportunity to draw up a more sustainable schedule. Teams could avoid their neighbors out of league loyalty and play them as often as their own division.

MLB is not currently looking at anything like that.

Hanlon’s sustainability efforts are centered on the ballpark operations. He sees concessions the next frontier. Dickerson, of Players for the Planet, agrees — suites generate an incredible amount of food waste, he says — but he has encountered roadblocks from corporate sponsors in trying to swap even the dugout beverage options for reusable water bottles.

(“I think it’s just that maybe like years ago a contract was put in place to guarantee we’re gonna use this particular vendor,” Hanlon says. “So I think it’s … like … it’s a temporary barrier.”)

Improving sustainability of stadiums is a worthy and necessary task. But Wynes believes MLB could be aiming bigger precisely because radical action is what it’s going to take to stem the apocalyptic creep of climate change.

“It’s hard to imagine a world in which humanity really gets their act together on climate change, which is a big and difficult task, and sports just keeps on trucking and doesn’t alter anything,” he says.

Neglecting the urgency is a form delusion, denial or solipsism. Even as a younger generation — more attuned to climate change and more terrified of what it means for the future — inhabits clubhouses, Suter encounters resistance to his environmentalism from people who just don’t care.

“I mean I hear the line all the time, ‘When these things go down I’m gonna be old or dead and gone, so I don’t really care.’ I’m like, it might be sooner than you’re thinking there,” he says.

“But that’s a tough level of selfishness to combat because it’s just so so selfish.”

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