Extract from Climate Change for Football Fans – short-termism v long-termism

This is chapter 45 from Climate Change for Football Fans.

45. The madness of long-termism

Emissions markets might be a good long-term solution, but as we are talking about a short-term problem (to stabilise emissions), we should be looking at short-term measures.

Joe and Frank went off to check where our turnstile was and the rest of us
waited in the bistro. A few minutes later the brothers were back. “They’re
not letting us in for another hour,” said Joe. “This froggy copper told us to
bog off and come back later. I think we’d better have another ale.”

Doris spoke up. “You aren’t having another ale, Joe Sugden. You’ve had
enough ale to sink a ship today, and enough wine to sink another. That’s
enough. You’ll have a headache like a pickaxe’s gone through it in the
morning. And you’ll stink,” she added.

She turned to the Professor for support. “It’s always the same. They get
pissed now, and completely forget about tomorrow.”

Igor sympathised. “All today, no tomorrow – it’s the scourge of society.”

“Well I believe in short-term,” said Frank. “Long-term is just a lot of shortterms
stuck together, end to end. What’s the difference? If you win every
match, you win the league. It’s simple.”

“Except …” continued Igor, “except in the case of climate policy. In climate change policy short-term thinking is now needed more than ever. Desperately so.”

“Short-term thinking?” said Joe. “That’s a new one.”

“I must have told you before. We’ve two or three years to stabilise emissions.
To limit warming to two degrees we can emit no more than 400 billion tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from now on. Not until 2050 or until 2100. Just full stop. We emitted 40 billion tons in 2008 and that’s growing. At this rate we will have run out of our budget by 2020. The clock is ticking very loudly. Very loudly…”

We were quiet. Igor continued. “It’s an annoying old alarm clock with bells
on top. The wake-up will be … horrible.

“This means we have to stop any growth in emissions by 2011 and after that
we have to cut them by ten percent a year. If we wait much longer, we risk
getting to the point where we can’t avoid breaching the limits.”

“We have to focus ruthlessly on the immediate present. It’s the only way we
can make it. 2050 and 2020 are completely irrelevant. We should not be
worrying about them. For winning time against climate change 2050 and
2020 are just a distraction.”

“You mean all these international conferences and stuff are-“

“Yes,” nodded Igor sadly. “Little ants on autopilot…”

“Just wasting taxpayer’s money, that’s all,” said Frank eagerly. “If they
worked for me they’d be focussed on the next couple of years and that’s it.”

“Well why aren’t they, Prof?” asked Joe.

“You ask me very … sensitive questions, my friend. Where to start? Partly
it’s because politicians, with few exceptions, find it comfortable making bold plans for a time when they will be out of office or propping up a zimmer frame.”

“Wasting taxpayers’ money, like I said,” said Frank.

“It’s partly because academics, with some exceptions, prefer to amuse themselves with elegant long-term models instead of tackling the really tough gritty, smelly, messy, bruising problem of what to do tomorrow…”

“Lazy buggers,” said Frank. “That’s all taxpayers’ money, too.”

“It’s partly because democracy has hit a brick wall … but liberals can’t contemplate such a momentous admission.”

“Tossers,” added Frank.

“And partly because the greedy right wants to squeeze that last bit of oil out of the ground before … before it has to confess that … it was wrong about the oil.”

“Well … er,” said Frank.

“We can’t reconcile savage focus on the short term with the habit of rejecting short-term thinking as the problem.”

“Exactly,” said Frank.

“Our policies should be desperately focussed on steps to cut emissions
drastically in 2010 and 2011 and the next years. The long-term is a distraction
from the real business of cutting emissions.”

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Football’s real carbon footprint: a vector of consumerism

There has been a lot of interest recently in the carbon footprint of football, both clubs and competitions. UEFA has announced it is offsetting 450,000 tonnes of emissions from Euro 2020; league tables of clubs’ green performance have been published in the BBC and the Daily Telegraph.

However, there might be an elephant in the room: football’s biggest carbon footprint probably comes from its role as a vector of consumerism. As football is funded in great part by advertisements for consumer goods and services, the more we pollute, the more we can pay our heroes, and the more trophies we can win.

Something like £2 billion is spent on promoting consumer brands through the UK Premier League each year. This is in the form of sponsorship, advertising and TV rights which are partly funded by advertising sales.

The annual spend on Premier League club sponsorship of shirts, sleeves and other assets is something over £700m, and breaks down by sector as follows (data from Sportspro Media, figures in millions of GBP):

The environmental impact of these sectors, might be broadly evaluated as:

Note that I classified gambling as low impact – low environmental impact, that is. The social impact of promoting gambling is not considered here.

Thus, £234m is spent encouraging high environmental impact activities, £422m on medium impact activities and £72m on low impact. (Figures in the table below in millions of GBP).

What could the impact of this be on emissions? Thought experiment: assuming that you only spend on advertising if you generate gross margin from additional sales of at least that much, then the additional gross margin from high impact sales of air tickets and cars needs to be at least £234 million. That implies additional sales of around £500m-£1bn. That’s about 1-2m tonnes of emissions.[1]

As well as the direct sponsorship, there are also the advertisements on the TV channels which broadcast matches. During half-time of the Man Utd v Newcastle game on 26th December, Amazon Prime showed advertisements as follows:

This was a positive surprise – two of the advertisements arguably had a relatively positive environmental impact – an electric car and a home cooking service. This is a big difference from watching US broadcaster ESPN where the advertisements were mainly about big cars and hamburgers with high carbon footprints.

It is not so simple. Advertisements might result in increasing sales in a market as a whole – persuading someone to buy a car which they might not have bought otherwise. Or they might just cause changes in market share without actually causing a net increase in sales in that market – persuading someone to buy a Chevrolet rather than a Volkswagen. There would only be a significant environmental impact if the ads cause an increase in sales rather than just a shift in market share. We will need plenty of careful academic study if we want to understand the impact of football advertising.

Notwithstanding the mechanisms of impact, football is a window onto consumerism. Its sponsorships and advertising encourage us to spend and consume; they reinforce the pernicious notion that spending and possessions make us happy; they conveniently gloss over the horrific environmental damage caused by the lifestyles which they promote.

At the same time, some advertisements can be positive in the case of Amazon’s broadcasting on Boxing Day. This points to the potential for football to be a vector of good.

If football really wants to reduce its carbon footprint it needs to substantially decommercialise. It needs to move away from the advertising model which primes (yup, that’s why they call it Amazon Prime) us all to be spenders and polluters. It needs to scale down dramatically, stripping out the promotion of harmful products and eliminating socially and environmentally damaging messaging. Too big an ask? Of course. But at least we can start by knowing the facts when we talk about football’s carbon footprint.

I haven’t found research on the mechanism of football as a vector of consumerism. If anyone is interested in pursuing that, do get in touch.


1. We’d need an academic to calculate this more precisely. Here is a rough and ready approach. For airline sales take Wizzair as an example – their sales are around €2bn and their emissions around 3m tonnes a year. So an extra £500m of airline sales might generate an extra 750,000 tonnes of emissions. For car sales, assume a car costs £20,000 and needs 20 tonnes of CO2 to manufacture and emits a further 4 tonnes a year for 5 years, that’s 40 tonnes CO2 for a car. So £500m of car sales would imply around 1 million tonnes of emissions.

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The problem with net zero

The problem with net zero

Many companies and organisations are saying they will go net zero by 2030. This is in response to the climate emergency.

The intention is good but flawed. It is not suitable for a climate emergency. It is suitable for a mild climate headache, several notches less serious and less urgent than a climate massive heart attack. There is another approach suitable for a climate emergency: companies and organisations should go net zero now and then work to drastically improve the quality of the zero by 2030.

Net zero means that your net emissions are zero. That is the net of the emissions of your business less the offsets which you acquire. Offsets are actions which suck up CO2 such as planting trees, switching to regenerative farming or using technologies like carbon mineralisation or direct air capture of carbon. These technologies are not yet widely available, unlike the technologies of trees and soil which have been around for a few hundred million years and can be considered proven.

To go net zero you add up all the emissions of your business and then buy offsets to match.

After that, during the years to 2030, you improve the quality of your zero, by cutting your own emissions more and more, so you steadily need to buy fewer and fewer offsets.

In practice it takes a few months for a company to calculate its emissions to a reasonable accuracy and buy offsets to match those emissions. This means you can easily be net zero by 2020.

There are plenty of offsets available, plenty of projects which are ready to go once they get commitments from offset buyers, and plenty of entrepreneurs ready to embark on new projects if they see demand and prices growing. So for the next few years, at least, there is not going to be a shortage of offsets.

Saying you are going net zero by 2030 is not ambitious and not particularly impressive. It makes more sense to go net zero now. Then, in the knowledge that you are having no net impact from day one, you have ten years to design and implement a plan to drastically reduce your own emissions, through efficiency measures, changes in strategy, operations, products and services, procuring genuinely renewable energy, establishing your own renewable energy sources, banning leaf blowers and so forth. Thousands of energy and environment consultants can advise on that.

For companies and organisations with high added value per unit of energy consumed – media, IT, FMCG brands, commercial and light industry, going net zero now is not a costly exercise. Heavy industry could make a similar step, but they would have to thwart pesky monopolies commissions and do this in synch with their competitors so that some of the additional cost could be passed on to customers.

After voluntary offsetting had its first vogue in the mid 2000s, and then got hit with scandal and accusations that it stops people putting in the effort to reduce their own emissions, it became standard practice to say that you first reduce the emissions you can, then you offset the residual amount. That was ok in the leisurely years after the financial crash and before the emergency, when we still had forty years until 2050 to solve climate change. But now we have only ten years, we have to approach it the other way round. Offset first, then reduce what you can.

The original approach runs the significant risk that you do nothing for ten years and then in the last year you offset all your emissions. The new approach of net zero now demands action now and creates an incentive to search for real emission reductions in the following years.

The message is: Net zero now. Not 2030.

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Who ate all the pies? The fate of American birdlife

Peritonitis Girth, the chief mathematician to the government of Onan Hash, recently delivered his report on the tragic decline in American birdlife.[1]

Since the 1970s, bird numbers in North America have fallen by one third. 3 billion birds have disappeared. “Where have they all gone?” ask Doctor Girth.

He outlined his explanation at a press conference in at the Telford Centre for Ecological Restoration.

“I am a man of numbers. In numbers we can find every truth. This is the beauty of mathematics.

“There are 300 million Americans, with an average weight of 81 kg. This is some 10 kg more than the average weight of a European– 71kg, whose diet, though scarcely wholesome, is markedly more modest.

“This implies an excess of American flab of approximately 3 billion kg or 3 million tonnes.

“We assume a feed conversion ratio of 4 – this is typical of a pig, the closest farm animal to the North American. This implies that Americans have eaten 12 million tonnes of pie more than the Europeans.

“It is commonly known that there are traditionally 24 blackbirds baked in a pie, according to the Song of Sixpence. Now, American food standards being what they are – since President Randolph Blast closed down the food safety agency – a standard 2kg bird pie only contains 2.5% bird, or 50 grammes. Thus 12 million tonnes of pie contain 300,000 tonnes of bird.

“The average bird weighs 100g. Thus 3 billion birds have evidently been consumed in American Pies. This is our missing number.”

And indeed that is where the birds have gone. Destroyed by death farmers who, with impunity and outside the framework of the Chemical Weapons Convention, wage warfare, conventional and unconventional, on the land , as they cram the gargantuan gullets of the American people.

[1] See earlier tales of the regime of Onan Hash in the Bustard under the Chronicles of Nat Eb.

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Notes on Sweden, Saudi and behaviour change

When I read that someone had bombed Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities and their production was down 50%, I assumed that Sweden had finally realised that climate diplomacy was doomed to failure and decided to take proper action.

Disabling Saudi’s oil industry is something I have dreamed about many times, not only when delirious with fever. As a complement to advocacy, policy, technological improvement and behavioural change, taking out important fossil fuel facilities makes sense if you want rapid decarbonisation of human society. This is easier because few people have deep, emotional sympathies for the regime of Saudi Arabia.

Then I read that it wasn’t the Swedes but the Iranians. That’s smart of the Swedes. Getting an equally odious regime to do the dirty work. With the added benefit that the obvious response of Saudi will be to knock out Kharg Island.

All this puts up the price of oil (and stretches military budgets which should be charged on to oil traders), with a bigger economic impact than timorous attempts by governments at imposing carbon taxes. No chance of a backlash: the French yellow jackets won’t go to Teheran to demonstrate.

Even until very recently bigwig academics, technologists and bureaucrats have been trying to make us believe that it’s really quite simple to deal with climate change. “All you need is a global carbon price,” they used to say – say five to ten years ago. Then a bit later they corrected that. It’s really quite simple to solve climate change. All you need is innovation. An energy revolution.” That would be a few years ago. And so on. It was a whopping misrepresentation born of narrow thinking and naivety: hopium.

Now they have started to join the dots a bit more, they have realised that technological innovation in energy does not help solve deforestation or the criminal malpractice known as industrial farming. They have remembered the age-old Jevons Paradox – when you save energy in one area, you just spend it in another. They note the rise of soft fascism which despises environmentalism.

I was pleased when finally someone with public responsibilities, Professor Sir Ian Boyd, the chief environmental scientist of the UK government, warned us last week that: “People must use less transport, eat less red meat and buy fewer clothes if the UK is to virtually halt greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”

He added that the public has little idea of the scale of the challenge to cut greenhouse gas emissions out of our lives.

“We need to do more about learning to live sustainable. We need to change our behaviours and change our lifestyles.”

Yet to that, people protest indignantly at threatened loss of freedom: “Who’s to tell me I can’t have a holiday in the Caribbean? It is my right to have cheap food and petrol! Isn’t this the job of government and big business?”

People have been asking these indignant questions for decades and it amazes me that they still have any political clout. It is blindingly obvious that everyone needs to pull their weight and tighten their belt. It’s ok to dick about like the Victorians did when there were a couple of billion humans on the planet most of whom lived simply; but with 8 billion people aspiring to middle class: you redesign a ketchup bottle and you kill a billion fish.

And then I see that even the best of those that run our nation states – ok, the only normal one left, Mrs Merkel, and she’s going – ultimately lack the courage to put their careers on the line for the sake of the Planet – and the hapless carnival that is the New York Climate Summit with Greta’s beautiful, heart wrenching and futile plea.

I find myself wishing for an authoritarian regime: it would be so much easier not to fly if I was not allowed to fly. And if no-one was allowed to fly, there wouldn’t be any FOMO.

Today we have a bleak menu:

  1. Stop eating meat, stop industrial agriculture and stop flying
  2. See the bright side of a war in the Middle East.
  3. Endure an authoritarian regime

The alternative is, obviously, no choice. We fry.



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