Climate Change Threatens Sports

As Prepared for Delivery on the Senate Floor

Mr./Madam President, I rise today, for the fifty-first time, to urge Congress to wake up to the effects of carbon pollution on the Earth.  Climate change is taking its toll on our way of life—on long-cherished American pastimes we do in the great outdoors. 

New Englanders, for example, have memories of ski trips in Vermont, ice hockey on frozen ponds in New Hampshire, or fishing trips off the coast of Rhode Island.  All of these activities are fun and fulfilling, and leave us with indelible memories of the wonders of our natural world, but climate change is putting many of them at risk. 

The New York Times reported that declining snowfall and unseasonably warm weather were a drag on winter sports and recreational tourism during the 2011-2012 winter.  Before the end of the century, the number of economically viable ski locations in New Hampshire and Maine will be cut in half; skiing in New York will be cut by three-quarters; and there will be no ski area in Connecticut or Massachusetts.  Rhode Islanders have been skiing our beloved Yawgoo Ski Valley since the 1960s, and we don’t want it threatened by climate change.

As drought and increasing temperatures reduce the snowpack in the Cascade Range and the Rocky Mountains, the future of ski and snowboarding there is at risk.  The Park City Foundation in Utah predicted an annual local temperature increase of 6.8 degrees Fahrenheit by 2075, which could cause a total loss of snowpack in the lower Park City resort area.  Beyond the loss to the skiing tradition in Park City, the report estimates that this will result in thousands of lost jobs, tens of millions in lost earnings, and hundreds of millions in lost economic output. 

No part of the country will be immune from these changes our carbon pollution is driving.  Studies have found that extremely warm days in the Southeast are on the rise; ice on the Great Lakes is forming later and disappearing earlier; rain will continue to decrease on the Great Plains; wildfire seasons are getting worse in the West, where the snowpack is melting earlier; sea-level rise threatens Hawaii’s famed beaches, and warming in Alaska is degrading the permafrost that entire communities are built on. 

Climate change has already changed rainfall patterns and can load the dice for bad weather conditions like heat waves.  This past summer, a heat wave prompted the Kenosha public schools in Wisconsin to cancel all outdoor student practices and sporting events.  The district stated on its website: “Keeping the best interest of our athletes in mind, we are canceling/rescheduling all contests today.”

According to the Denver Post, this past spring, a prolonged drought forced the Denver Parks and Recreation to postpone opening of the grass sports fields for soccer and lacrosse, which kept thousands of children and adults from starting their athletic seasons. 

For some, warmer temperatures mean more time inside because the air is just not fit to breathe.  Ground level ozone, commonly known as smog, forms more quickly during hot, sunny days, causing asthma attacks, emergency room visits, and even hospitalizations.  In August, I met with two Rhode Island children, Nick Friend, a fifteen-year-old from East Providence, and Kenyatta Richards, an eight-year-old from Warwick, who have asthma.  They have to stay indoors and avoid being too active on bad air days.  We had six bad air days from ozone in Rhode Island this year.  That is six days when Rhode Islanders like Nick and Kenyatta can’t enjoy the outdoor activities that are so much a part of our American childhoods. 

The effects of climate change aren’t limited to hotter days and smog. 

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Oceans are warming, ice is melting, and sea levels are rising.  This puts coastal infrastructure like dams, bridges, and power plants at risk, but it also threatens many of our most beloved—and expensive—palaces of sport.  As far back as 2007, Sports Illustrated ran a special issue on Sports and Global Warming.  “Scientists project up to a one-meter increase in sea level by 2100,” warned one article, “which will alter the shape of the land in low-lying regions of the U.S.—including San Francisco Bay and South Florida—and swamp well-known sports venues.” Places like the American Airlines Arena and Sun Life Stadium in Miami, and AT&T Park in San Francisco are at risk. 

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As Congress sleepwalks through history, blind to the harmful effects of carbon pollution, responsible groups are acting—including our major professional sports leagues.

NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL.  Letters that almost every American knows.  These leagues and their teams are cultural institutions.  They’re also big business, with annual revenues in billions of dollars.  They take the threat of postponed games and washed-out stadiums seriously. 

Earlier this year, the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, which I started with Representative Henry Waxman to keep attention focused on climate change and what we can do to address it, asked the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, and National Football League, as well as the United States Olympic Committee, to tell us what climate change means for their sports. 

Each of these organizations is awake to the dangers of carbon pollution, and they are acting.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig wrote to the Task Force:

"I have often said that Baseball is a social institution, and to that end we recognize our responsibility to be part of the national effort to preserve our environment.  And that is why MLB and many of our Major League Clubs have adopted practices that have resulted in clean, energy-efficient ballparks and environmentally friendly baseball events."

One of those practices is the partial offset of the energy used at all the All-Star Game events, including FanFest, the Home Run Derby, and the All-Star Game, by Green E-Certified renewable energy credits, including wind and solar energy.

NHL Deputy Commissioner William Daly wrote:

"Hockey’s relationship with the environment is unique.  Our sport was born on frozen ponds, where to this day—players of all ages and skill levels learn to skate.  For this magnificent tradition to continue, it is imperative that we recognize the importance of maintaining the environment."

The NHL has partnered with ENERGY STAR and the Natural Resources Defense Council to make its own facilities more energy efficient, and it has called on the U.S. government to develop a nation-wide retrofit strategy to help upgrade buildings such as ice rinks and to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. 

Kathy Behrens, Executive Vice President of Social Responsibility and Player Programs at the NBA, told us:

"While Professional NBA games are played inside climate controlled arenas, most basketball around the world is played outdoors.  If air pollution, extreme heat, and other forms of climate disruption make it difficult to enjoy or attend our game and, of much concern, actually threatens the health and safety of basketball players, fans, and business partners, that matters greatly to the [NBA]."

Pro basketball is working to reduce carbon emissions through improved energy efficiency at its arenas.  A number of NBA arenas have achieved LEED certifications and some have installed on-site solar panels.  The NBA has also come out in support of standards to reduce carbon pollution from electric power plants, a cornerstone of President Obama’s recently announced Climate Action Plan.

Adolpho Birch III, Senior Vice President of Labor Policy and Government Affairs for the NFL, wrote us that:

"Twenty years ago, the NFL became the first professional sports organization formally to address the environmental impact of our marquee events—Super Bowl and Pro Bowl."

The program to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions during every Super Bowl has resulted in the planting of more than 50,000 trees in the Super Bowl host communities.   The league estimates that the 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans achieved a reduction of nearly 24,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, for the equivalent of 8,000 American homes’ energy use for an entire year.

The U.S. Olympic Committee has also joined in the fight to reduce harmful carbon pollution.  According to USOC CEO Scott Blackmun:

"The Green Ring program aims to mitigate the USOC and our athletes’ impact on the environment through a number of sustainability efforts, an area that is a passion for many of our athletes.  Through Green Ring, we hope to contribute to sustainability while using our platform to educate and inspire our constituents to do the same.  Our focus is more action, less carbon."

Other international bodies have also launched aggressive plans to fight climate change.  The 2014 soccer World Cup in Brazil is aiming to be carbon-neutral by offsetting 2.7 million tons of carbon dioxide estimated to be generated by this year’s Confederations Cup tournament and the World Cup next year. 

Our major sports leagues join a great army amassing on the side of climate action:  virtually every major scientific body; the insurers and reinsurers; the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the National Academies; NASA, and the Government Accountability Office; the U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishops; leading American and international corporations; and the American Public Health Association.  To them, and many others, we can add our friends in the world of sports, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, and National Football Association, and United States Olympic Committee.  There is a growing chorus of voices from every sector of American society calling for action.

But there is work to be done. 

The major sports organizations are doing their part because they know that few things define American society like the teams we cheer and the games we play.  But we here in Congress need to join the fight.

Mr./Madam President, it is time to wake up.  It is time to set aside the partisan nonsense and polluter-fueled fantasy and at last take real steps to preserve our American way of life.

I yield the floor.