Skip to main content
Original Issue

Going, Going Green

As global warming changes the planet, it is changing the sports world. To counter the looming environmental crisis, surprising and innovative ideas are already helping sports adapt

SEA CHANGE Asoceans get warmer and ice caps melt, the seas will rise and coastal areas,including parts of South Florida, will eventually be underwater.

AIR TRAVELTemperature affects how far objects, such as baseballs, fly through theatmosphere. Would Willie Mays have caught this ball today?

GOLF LESSON Theyonce wasted water, used pesticides and destroyed wetlands. Now courses arecleaning up their act and their parts of the planet too.

BEETLEMANIA Withits habitat expanding, the emerald ash borer is eating its way through theNortheast timber that is used to make the big leagues' best bats.

MELTDOWNDiminishing snowfall and warmer temperatures have put some of the world's mostfamous ski resorts in an uphill race for survival.

NEW VENUES Arenasand stadiums will have to adapt to new design standards that incorporateconservation, sustainability and energy efficiency.

The next time aball game gets rained out during the September stretch run, you can curse themomentary worthlessness of those tickets in your pocket. Or you can wonder whyit got rained out--and ask yourself why practice had to be called off lastsummer on a day when there wasn't a cloud in the sky; and why that Gulf Coastwharf where you used to reel in mackerel and flounder no longer exists; and whyit's been more than one winter since you pulled those titanium skis out of thegarage. ¶ Global warming is not coming; it is here. Greenhouse gases--mostnotably carbon dioxide produced by burning coal, oil and gas--are trappingsolar heat that once escaped from the Earth's atmosphere. As temperaturesaround the globe increase, oceans are warming, fields are drying up, snow ismelting, more rain is falling, and sea levels are rising.

All of which ischanging the way we play and the sports we watch. Evidence is everywhere of afuture hurtling toward us faster than scientists forecasted even a few yearsago. Searing heat is turning that rite of passage of Texas high schoolfootball, the August two-a-day, into a one-at-night, while at the game'shighest level the Miami Dolphins, once famous for sweating players into shape,have thrown in the soggy towel and built a climate-controlled practice bubble.Even the baseball bat as we know it is in peril (page 42), and final scores andoutcomes of plays may be altered too (opposite page).

Because of themelting of glaciers and polar ice, and because water expands as it warms,oceans are rising. Researchers expect an increase of up to a meter by 2100,enough to drown wetlands. In the last year and a half, scientists have noticedthat once indestructible ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica have begun tocreep toward the sea. If we continue to spew greenhouse gases as we are, theEarth could become five degrees warmer this century. The last time Earth wasthat warm, three million years ago, sea level stood 80 feet higher than it doesnow. Scientists don't foresee such a rise for centuries, but they agree that adamaging change in sea level will occur by 2100.

Global warming isalso leading to more dramatic swings in the weather in some areas. Since theearly 20th century, the amount of rain dropped in the biggest 1% of storms eachyear has risen 20%. A warming planet doesn't create hurricanes, but it doesmake them stronger and last longer. Tropical storms become more powerful over awarmer Gulf, turning a category 4 storm, for example, into a category 5, likeKatrina, which transformed the symbol of sports in New Orleans, the Superdome,into an image of epic disaster. In addition to more intense storms, higherseas, and droughts and floods, ocean flow patterns could change, leading to theextinction of marine species. Warmer temperatures could devastate agriculturaleconomies around the globe, and diseases such as malaria now confined to thetropics would spread to other regions.

Unlike many otherpressing environmental concerns--pollution, water shortages, overpopulation,deforestation--global warming is by definition global. Every organism on theplanet is already feeling its impact.

"There are manyimportant environmental battles to be fought," says Bill McKibben, theVermont-based writer, activist and passionate cross-country skier. "But ifwe lose this one--which we're doing--none of the others matter. It's crunchtime."

Sports condition usto notice first those things that happen at scatback speed, and until recentlyclimate change took place in world-historical fashion, the way a nil-nil soccermatch unfolds. But that perception is changing fast, especially for skiers,whose season has endured a whipsaw of extremes: One day in November enough snowfell at Colorado's Beaver Creek to cause the cancellation of practice for themen's downhill at a World Cup event. A day later on the other side of theglobe, officials at the French resort of Val d'Isère called off another WorldCup event on account of too little snow, as well as a forecast of prolongedwarm temperatures--one of seven World Cup events in Europe this season to haveall races canceled for the same reason (page 43).

When the U.S.Nordic ski team returned home early from the European circuit after a Decemberrace was rescheduled four times in one week, it left behind resorts desperatelytrying to lure tourists with promises of spa weekends, Christmas markets andhiking to be enjoyed during this "extension of autumn."

Indeed, the world'ssignature dogsled race, Alaska's Iditarod, hasn't begun at its traditionalstarting point in Wasilla since 2002 because of too little snow there. TheElfstedentocht, an 11-city skating marathon that the Dutch stage whenever thecanals freeze over, has been run only once in the past two decades. The highestski slope on the planet, Bolivia's Chacaltaya (altitude 17,388 feet), will soonbe unskiable for lack of snow, and the Swiss are wrapping an age-old glacier inan insulating blanket as if it were a foundling. Meanwhile backcountry skiingin North America and ice fishing in the upper Midwest are in jeopardy, and anyski resort below 4,000 feet is worried. Winter in Vermont is now the equivalentof winter in Rhode Island a generation ago.

Humans areaccelerating global warming, and we can at least minimize its damage, if notreverse it. By acting quickly, the two countries that emit most of the world'scarbon dioxide, the U.S. and China, might be able to avert that forecastedfive-degree temperature increase, slowing the rise of the seas enough to allowfor the development of new technologies to redress the problem. What would itmean to act? Decrease the burning of fossil fuels, improve fuel efficiency andconserve energy in our daily lives.

The good news isthat stadiums and arenas, if built with green aforethought, can be more thansymbolic Valhallas that remind us that we're all in this together (page 44).Site one near a public-transit line, and there's less need to build that mostEarth-hostile of features, the vast parking lot. (The greenest ballpark in thecountry may be Fenway Park, because only an idiot would try driving and parkingthere.)

Turbines mounted onupper decks would catch the same wind that plays whimsically with pop flies,turning it into the source of power to offset at least some of the energydemands of a ball game. Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., features a waterfiltration and reuse system that collects and recirculates "black" and"gray water" to make the most of all that beer and all thoseflushes.

A very familiarsports facility is already poised to help the cause: A golf course is bydefinition conserved green space. If not turned into a repository forpesticides or a pretext for building strips of single-family homes along itsfairways, it can serve as a huge filter, with the water draining from itcleaner than the water flowing in (opposite page).

Meantime, aneco-consciousness is leeching ever so slowly into the jockosphere. You'd expectenvironmental awareness among extreme-sport athletes like the snowboarders andBMX riders who belong to the Action Sports Environmental Coalition, or fromsurfers whose vocation and avocation depend on the health of the seas. But lesslikely candidates are thinking globally and acting locally.

• Saints safetySteve Gleason runs his Dodge Ram pickup on processed vegetableoil--biodiesel.

• NASCAR driverWard Burton's foundation is pledged to habitat management, land conservationand environmental education in his home of Halifax County, Va.

• The PhiladelphiaEagles may have some of the most discourteous followers in sports, but theirmanagement is a leader, having launched an environmental initiative repletewith catchy slogans like Go Green and Time for Some Serious Trash Talk.

• Two years ago themen's lacrosse team at Middlebury College calculated its "carbonfootprint" (the amount of global-warming carbon dioxide its dailyactivities generated) and raised money to purchase enough renewable-energycredits (investments in wind power) to offset those emissions. The team therebybecame carbon-neutral--a status also claimed by last summer's soccer World Cupin Germany, cycling's Team Clif Bar Midwest and the Vermont Frost Heaves, thiswriter's American Basketball Association team, which rides in abiodiesel-powered bus.

• The NaturalResources Defense Council (NRDC) is working with the NBA and Major LeagueBaseball to help their teams get greener. Scientists told the NFL that SuperBowl XLI would put one million pounds of carbon dioxide into the air--notcounting air travel to Miami--so the league planted 3,000 trees around Floridain an attempt to pull at least that much of the greenhouse gas out of theatmosphere.

By going green,motor sports could have the quickest impact on public awareness of the planet'sfate. The Formula One circuit has already discovered hybrids and biofuels, andIndy cars are mixing ethanol into their fuel. NASCAR is poised to phase outleaded gasoline, a neurotoxin. (The Clean Air Act of 1970 included an exemptionfor race cars even as the public was barred from buying cars that ran on leadedgas.) It's only a short jump from a NASCAR driver with a raised consciousnessto a NASCAR fan with the same.

"In theenvironmental movement there's way too much preaching to the choir," saysKen Rakoz of Centralia, Wash., who built the first biodiesel-powered dragster."There are people sitting on the fence, and Joe Sixpack doesn't really knowabout [biodiesel] until we do something like racing." Whereupon we'll bethat much closer to a future in which we define a winner as not merely the teamthat holds a lead, but one whose arena holds a LEED (Leadership in Energy andEnvironmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

From his home inRipton, Vt., McKibben, who sounded an early warning about climate change in his1989 book The End of Nature, surveys this disfigurement of the world as we'veknown it with as much melancholy as indignation. "If I were a deeply moralperson, I should be kept awake at night by the thought of hundreds of millionsof Bangladeshis fleeing rising waters and dengue and famine," saysMcKibben, who's helping to organize a nationwide call to action on climatechange for April 14 that will include iconic outdoor and sporting sites MountHood and the Key West coral reefs. "But at some level I feel this mostacutely in the winter, when I realize I've had fewer and fewer chances to puton my skis."

And therein may liethe great value of sports. What happens in an arena so familiar and beloved maysound an alarm we will hear and heed. At a time when so much in our lives islinear and digital, from the economy to technology, sports still run ingraceful cycles, marking time in rhythm with the seasons.

"It's the lastof the semipagan calendars we keep," McKibben says, "and a lot of it isgoing to disappear. All that Bart Giamatti stuff"--the pastoral invocationsof the former commissioner of baseball--"has a different valence if we'renot going to Florida for spring training, but to St. Paul. We're still so usedto the idea that we can deal with the forces of nature that we think nothing ofnaming our teams Hurricanes and Cyclones. In 10 years, that will be likecalling a team the Plagues."

Ten years. That'stwo-and-a-half Olympiads--enough time for our teams and athletes to take thelead, galvanize attention and influence behavior. When they do, per usual, maywe cheer and may we follow. But as we watch, let us remember that this game isdifferent. We don't have the luxury of looking on from the sidelines. We mustbecome players too.


Scientists projectup to a one-meter increase in sea level by 2100, which will alter the shape ofthe land in low-lying regions of the U.S.--including San Francisco Bay andSouth Florida--and swamp well-known sports venues

JUST AS theplanet's air is warming, so too is its water. Almost all glaciers, ice caps andice sheets are melting. Simulations by climatologists at the University ofArizona suggest that in less than 150 years, the Earth will be warm enough toeventually melt the 650,000-square-mile Greenland ice cap (assuming noreduction in greenhouse gas emissions). That would raise sea level by four tosix meters. Even if we were to stop all emissions today, the rise in sea levelcould be a half meter by 2100.

In the U.S., where150 million live along the shore, the hardest hit areas would be South Florida,the Chesapeake Bay region, New Orleans and San Francisco. Says StephenLeatherman, director of the International Hurricane Research Center, "Miamiis within 10 feet of sea level, and it's the Number 1 strike zone forhurricanes; it's a disaster waiting to happen."

Leatherman speaksfrom experience: He coordinated the major national study of damage done byHurricane Katrina.


A warmer day mighthave robbed Willie Mays of immortality

VIC WERTZ'S BLASTwould have been gone in just about any other ballpark. But the Polo Grounds'expansive centerfield gave Willie Mays room to run down the 460-foot shot inGame 1 of the 1954 World Series. As it happened, the Giants went on to sweepthe Series. According to newspaper accounts, it was 76° on Coogan's Bluff thatlate September day when Mays made his over-the-shoulder grab. By thecalculations of University of Illinois physicist Alan Nathan, had it been 77°(and according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Earth ison average 1.17° warmer than it was in '54) the ball would have traveled twoinches farther in the less-dense air and thus might have glanced off the edgeof Mays's outstretched glove.


Once criticized byenvironmentalists for their casual treatment of resources, golf courses are nowplaces where biodiversity is encouraged, wetlands created, water purified--anda round can be played guilt-free

GREEN IS GOOD,RIGHT? So 150 acres of grass and trees should make everyone happy. (Exceptmaybe the guy who just sliced his ball into the cart barn.)

Golf courses,however, have been criticized for being too green, for achieving a country-clubaesthetic through a profligate use of pesticides, herbicides, water andenergy.

Sometimes thecritique rings true, but the recent trend has been toward creating courses thatprovide positive environmental effects. When properly designed and maintained,a course fosters biodiversity, supporting a wide range of greenery and animals.Water hazards can be hospitable aquatic habitats that allow for the storage andrelease of rainwater. On a small scale, plants even help combat global warmingby taking carbon from the atmosphere and producing oxygen.

Golf courses, inother words, can be places where environmental science and recreation coexist.The course depicted here, Cooks Creek Golf Club in Ashville, Ohio--designed byMichael Hurdzan and Dana Fry in partnership with Tour player John Cook--has anAudubon sanctuary and a blue-heron rookery within its boundaries.


The race is wellunder way to clear the air before the 2008 Olympic Games get started

MARATHONERScommonly need a few days to recover from a race, but the lingering effects donot usually include itchy eyes and acne. Those were two of the complaints fromsome of the thousands of competitors who ran in the Standard Chartered Marathonin Hong Kong in February 2006. The smog was so thick that day, it obscured themajestic Tsing Ma suspension bridge, and 22 runners were hospitalized withsymptoms related to poor air quality.

The most dramaticeconomic boom in history has not been easy on China's environment. As part ofits bid to win the 2008 Summer Olympics, Beijing committed to a war onpollution. Progress has been made, but it is too early to declare victory. In1990 there were only one million cars in China; now about three millionroutinely clog the streets of Beijing alone. Satellite images of the capitalcity, which has a population of 15 million, reveal some of the world's highestlevels of nitrogen dioxide--a toxic by-product of automobile exhaust andfossil-fuel-burning factories. With the Games approaching, the government iskeen to avoid a public relations nightmare, such as the one after the Hong Kongmarathon.

In an effort tomeet its stated goal of 245 "blue sky days" in 2007, Beijing officialsswitched many businesses from coal power to natural gas and began movingfactories that burn fossil fuels out of town. For instance, the Capital Ironand Steel Group is being relocated to an island 190 miles east of the city.

The 2012 LondonSummer Olympics promise to be the greenest of Games. Already,hydrogen-fuel-cell buses have made trial runs on the city's streets--andspectators will need them. Private automobiles will not be allowed near Olympicvenues.


A warmer climateis inhospitable to ash trees but not to their enemy--the ash borer

MAJOR LEAGUERScome from all over the world, but the ash bats they wield have come from thesame northeastern U.S. forests for generations. A cool climate and rocky soilhave long made the area from eastern Pennsylvania to the Adirondack region ofNew York a geographical sweet spot for splendid splinters.

Now, however, awarmer climate threatens the quality of the ash, and of equal concern is thearrival of a tiny beetle, the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis). The ashborer snips the tubes that carry nutrients through the prized trees. The U.S.Department of Agriculture is so concerned that it's collecting ash DNA shouldthe tree be wiped out.

Bat manufacturershave been keeping an eye on the bug too. Until recently the ash borer, whichprobably hitched a boat ride from Asia to the U.S. in the 1990s, had movedstate by state through the Midwest. But last August trees in Maryland startedshowing the telltale D-shaped holes made by the insect. The ash borer maturesfaster in warmer conditions, and according to Columbia University entomologistJames Danoff-Burg, climate change will hasten the pest's spread.

Many professionalbaseball players have switched to maple bats for their rigid feel, but forhitters who want a thin handle and a big barrel, "[ash] just makes for abetter tool," says Ron Vander Groef, manager of Rawlings' Adirondack batfactory. The only way to save a forest from the ash borer, Danoff-Burg says, isto "keep it from getting there in the first place." It may be too latefor that.


With less snowfalling and warmer temperatures making artificial snow an expensivealternative, World Cup races are being canceled and ski resorts from the Alpsto the Poconos are suffering

JULIA MANCUSO hasbeen skiing since she was two, winning an Olympic gold medal last year in Turinwhen she was 21. Yet on Jan. 6, at the U.S. Women's Ski Team base in Kirchberg,Austria, Mancuso did something on a slope that she had never done--drive a carup one. "The hill was green," says Mancuso. "We were training onjust a strip of snow." The team could not practice the giant slalom becausethe 20-foot-wide swath of white was too narrow to place the gates.

Two weeks later,at nearby Kitzbühel, more than 100,000 cubic feet of snow had to be hauled byhelicopter, at a cost of $389,000, and dumped on verdant slopes so theworld-famous Hahnenkamm downhill could be held. Skiers are hoping that thisseason--with its eight canceled World Cup events through Sunday--is an anomaly,but it is more likely a taste of Alpine winters to come.

Climate warming ismost pronounced at high latitudes and over land. Since the mid-1980s, thetemperature in the Alps has risen at about three times the global average. Overthe last 500 years, 1994, 2000, 2002 and 2003 were the warmest on record in theAlps.

While there isconsiderable variability year to year, since 1970 the average amount of wintersnow cover in North America has decreased almost 4%--205,000 square miles, anarea larger than the state of Washington. More winter precipitation is fallingas rain instead of snow. Ski resorts are making artificial snow earlier in theseason, and warm nights make that an even more expensive exercise.

Some Alpineresorts have begun "wrapping" glaciers--draping football-field-sizedfoil sheets around them in the summer to keep sunlight out and cold in.Low-lying resorts are pushing their runs higher up mountains, or using moreslopes that face north to avoid the sunlight, leaving skiers in the dark.

RESORTS (with days lost)



Heavenly, Kirkwood (S. Lake Tahoe) El Dorado,Calif.



Taos Taos, N.Mex.



Breckenridge, Copper, Keystone Summit, Colo.



Steamboat Routt, Colo.



Alta, Snowbird, Solitude Salt Lake, Utah



Deer Valley, Park City, The Canyons Summit, Utah



Winter Park Grand, Colo.



Jackson Hole Teton, Wyo.



Aspen Highlands, Aspen Mountain, Snowmass Pitkin,Colo.



Vail, Beaver Creek Eagle, Colo.



Sun Valley Blaine, Idaho



Big Sky Gallatin, Mont.



Crested Butte Gunnison, Colo.



Angel Fire Colfax, N.Mex.



Big Mountain Flathead, Mont.



Squaw Valley, Northstar (N. Lake Tahoe) Placer,Calif.



Mammoth Mountain, June Mountain Mono, Calif.



*The season at high-elevation California resorts may temporarily get longer asprecipitation increases while it is still cold enough to fall as snow. Data andanalysis courtesy of J. VanDorn, K. Hayhoe and E. Maurer, ATMOSrearch


A WORLD AT RISK Read more about the latest science andhow to combat global warming, including which products are greenest, which carsare most efficient and which organizations can keep you informed about thechanging planet ONLY AT SI.COM/environment.


Illustrations by Slim Films




Slim Films

¬†• landcontour as it is today

• with one-meter sea-level rise

• with six-meter sea-level rise


NBA Warriors



MLB Athletics

NFL Raiders



NFL 49ers



MLB Giants



NFL 49ers



Slim Films

San Francisco Bay




Slim Films

 Dataprovided by the University of Arizona's Dept. of Geosciences; mapped by theNatural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)


NFL Buccaneers



MLB Devil Rays



NHL Lightning



Miami Hurricanes



NBA Heat



NFL Dolphins

MLB Marlins




NHL Panthers



NFL Jaguars



Slim Films

• COOKS CREEK GOLFCLUB Ashville, Ohio• GETTING AROUNDThe course is a great testing ground for vehicles powered by newly developedfuels such as hydrogen cells and biodiesel.• USING THE SUNSolar panels on the roof heat water and generate electricity.• LAWN CAREOrganic products replace synthetic fertilizers, water additives and soilsupplements.• FAIR WAY Onehundred acres of turf produces enough oxygen for a family of four for fouryears.• SAVING ENERGYIrrigation pumps and the recharging of cart batteries are programmed foroff-peak hours.• PESTS AWAYPesticides are used as a last resort--only after exhausting nonchemicalmeasures (such as introducing natural pest predators and mechanical traps andimproving soil aeration).• WATER HAZARD?Ponds with shallow slopes create an environment for flora and fauna. Shorelinegrasses stabilize banks and prevent erosion.• IRRIGATION Usingpartially treated wastewater keeps the course green while conserving potablewater.• RECYCLING Themaintenance crew recycles grass clippings, wood debris, water, petroleumproducts and scrap metal.








The area in white has had at least a dusting of snow on the ground for at least30 days of the average winter. By the end of the century, even light snowfigures to be confined to the area in blue.

• Snowcover by year 2100

• Historic area of snowcover¬†




Number of ski areas









As average winter temperatures rise by 1°, 2° and 4°C, more resorts, especiallythose at low altitudes, will not have enough snow to operate.

Resorts operating under current conditions