Climate Change Denial

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June 24, 2006


George Marshall @ 4:08 pm

One recurring quality of addicts is their capacity to create self serving definitions of their own problem behaviour. In his last years my father claimed he was not an alcoholic because he didn’t start drinking until 6pm. After spending half an hour watching the clock he then poured the first of several large tumblers of whiskey. I know people who are seriously obese who like to believe that salads have magical non- fattening powers even when they are smothered in mayonnaise

With this in mind, what do we make of the first ever “climate neutral” World Cup? We are told that ‘for the first time ever…unavoidable greenhouse gases, emitted throughout Germany, will be balanced by investment in climate projects, ensuring the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ ends up “climate neutral” ‘ (see 

In partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme FIFA aimed to reduce emissions through low emission stadiums, encouraging people to take the bus to matches, recycling rainwater for the urinals. They said the remaining emissions of 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide would be offset through a project producing biogas for cooking in Tamil Nadu, India.

I tried to put aside my deep suspicion of offsets, my irritatation with the superficiality of some of the Green Goal measures (such as providing renewable paper cups), and the cynical observation that the UN is a sad old organisation that loves to hitch uncritically onto anything vaguely sexy. After all, there is real value in a climate change initiative that reaches the huge mainstream audience of football enthusiasts.

I’m all in favour- providing people are being told the truth.

But there is a big problem- the figures deliberately exclude the flights that people took to attend the matches. There were 13,000 Brazilians attending the World Cup. Given that a return flight from Rio to Germany has the same climate impact as 8 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide (see that’s already more than doubled the stated emissions. There were 3.2 million spectators in Germany for the World Cup- the vast majority arriving by air. The millions of tonnes of CO2 they produce in their air travel are an inherent part of the emissions for an event which can only function if it brings in people from every country in the world.

No one in the entertainment or tourism industry ever wants to talk about air emissions, whether they are for ‘carbon neutral’ tours by rock bands or eco holiday resorts.  But Green Goal was supposed to be more than corporate PR. The UN backed it as a piece of public education. In this respect it is deliberately mendacious, minimising the actual scale and seriousness of climate change and the measures we will need to take to deal with it. I think it is worse than saying or doing nothing.

FIFA would never have paid millions of Euros for offsetting the full emissions and no doubt argues that flights are “avoidable” emissions that are the responsibility of the fans. When I was a smoker and trying to give up I used to stop buying my own cigarettes and smoke my friends’. That way I could argue- to myself at any rate- that I wasn’t really smoking. Is the Green Goal really any different?

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One response to “FOOTBALL PANTS”

  1. Michael Buick says:

    Come on, George. Eco travel articles in the press regularly mention the impact of flights. And increasing numbers of travel organisations do too.

    You should be celebrating that climate change even made the radar screen of the World Cup.

    [George writes: I have thought long and hard about whether I am being petty on this- after all, this does represent some form of progress. But I still maintain that it is dangerous and counter productive form of public communication that concentrates entirely on the minutiae and utterly ignores the big ticket items. It is a form of selective morality that is very common to human behaviour. I am quite open to being told that I am wrong on this particular issue, though, because I recognise that there is a balancing act in this case]


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