Credit: Keith Burt
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As a life-long sports nut, there's nothing I like more than attending the latest AFL game. But when I do, I also feel a painful twinge in my environmental heart.
Turning my back to the game to survey the scene behind me, all I see is waste and energy use.
On the ground are plastic cups by the thousands (two, three, four deep forming an ocean of castaways) interspersed with chip wrappers and Coke bottles and oversized plastic hands and whistles all covered in festering, mashed-up confetti.
Layers of used tickets line the stairwell while two massive scoreboards replay the action, loudspeakers blare and light towers send up beams visible from space.
There are thousands upon thousands of roaring spectators, and I shudder to think of the energy it took to get them all to the stadium.
As a nation we flock to the big games and unashamedly indulge.
We drive our gas-guzzlers all over the countryside so Johnny can play 20 minutes of soccer. We glorify V8 Supercars and Formula One. We demand that our golf courses are sparkling green and that our local gym has big screens and treadmills and lights, lights, lights!
When it comes to recreation, our enthusiasm knows no bounds.
As positively un-Australian as it is to criticise our sporting culture, the simple truth of the matter is that while we are jumping on the green bandwagon like never before, it seems most of us throw environmental caution out the window come game-day.
Like a dieter that binges on the weekends, a lot of our good work is undone.
The tally board
The fact that we may be adding to climate change simply by having fun is a hard pill to swallow, so in true sporting fashion let's look at the stats and make some predictions.
Here's a figure to contemplate: 12,100,572.
That's the number of fans, give or take a thousand, that attended matches in the four major football codes during 2007 - more than half our population and almost three times that of New Zealand.
Now, for the sake of an argument, let's suppose that just 25 per cent of those people (three million) drove a brand-new Holden Commodore 10 km to the match, emitting 2.560 kg of carbon dioxide.
Their total vehicle emissions would be in the vicinity of 7,680 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Here's another figure: 720,000.
It's the number of kilowatt-hours each MCG light tower (there are six in total) burns up during an average year.
Place that figure alongside the 4,600 kilowatt hours the average Aussie home uses in a year and you'll get an idea of the scale we're dealing with.
Or think of the paper it took to print 1,450,407 admission tickets for the SCG and Aussie Stadium between March 2006 and 2007.
This is consumption on a major scale - all in the name of a bit of fun.
Somewhere around this point in the argument it would be all too easy to put the boot into the big boys - the event organisers, sporting bodies and marketing companies that drive the machine that feeds us.
But the reality is that sports officials (despite the fact that they readily admit there's a long way to go) are happily doing their bit.
The AFL, who have teamed-up with Origin Energy to offset 120,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, is a shining example of what can be achieved. In fact, the AFL has thrown down an environmental challenge of Premiership proportions: by the end of 2009 it hopes to be carbon neutral.
Big steps are being made in almost all spheres, with V8 Supercars launching their Racing Green initiative, and introducing ethanol fuels.
At the Rugby and Soccer World Cups there is raised environmental awareness, with support from top-level players - ex-Wallaby Al Kanaar trained with Al Gore during a recent visit, for example.
Countless surf groups moonlight as green campaigners and there is a new-found Olympic devotion to treading lightly.
Even the UN is pitching in with the United Nations Environment Program "promoting the integration of environmental considerations in sports" since 1994 and holding a bi-annual Conference on Sport and the Environment.
Painting national bodies green
"I think, increasingly, major sporting bodies are looking at ways of making their events more sustainable," says Jess Miller from carbon offsetting company, Climate Friendly.
"But in Australia there is no regulation in place in regard to this. So you have to keep in mind that any action being done is voluntary - and the fact that they are doing anything at all is great.
"But it's still really important for the boards of sporting bodies to stand up and say 'We can to do this in a cohesive manner' and also, for example, to think about choosing advertisers in a way that addresses the green cultural shift and encourages fans to think in that way as well."
Me, myself and I
If national sporting bodies are prepared to paint themselves green, then maybe it's time to look in the mirror, because the issue delves much deeper than professional sport alone.
As a nation of weekend warriors our sheer weight of numbers makes a significant contribution to a warming planet.
"There's more than 10.5 million Australians that play sport every year, so if you think about it that's a lot of energy, a lot of water and a lot of waste," says Aaron Darke, manager of Sport 4 The Environment, a Melbourne-based organisation that helps sports clubs develop and implement environmental change.
"When it comes down to it, it's the impact that this usage is having right now that's the issue - for example not being able to train on grounds and shortened seasons. Sport is probably feeling the brunt of climate change before the general populous."
Let's go back to the figures for just a second and consider that more than 1.6 million Australian children aged 5 to 14 (about 60 per cent of the age group) are involved in organised sport outside school hours each year.
Of Australia's 1.6 million kiddies, more than 268,500 are soccer-playing boys who require devoted car-driving mums and dads.
If each of them was driven 10 km to practice or a game just once, the total carbon emission would be somewhere in the vicinity of 687,360 kg. And that's just the soccer-joeys - there are over 224,100 netball players in the same age group.
"I believe that everything we do - sport included - has an effect on the environment," says Glenn Beldor, a full-time musician and under-7s soccer coach from Perth.
"But it's probably a pretty hard job to change the way most sporting adults are doing things now. What we can do is educate our kids to enjoy themselves more responsibly. Maybe we could get some of those Volvo driving soccer mums to be just plain soccer mums!"
And therein lies one solution: education, starting with the next generation.
Darke, from Sport 4 The Environment, suggests it's the grassroots that can save the day.
"We've introduced initiatives like the '60-second sports power shower' and we help clubs obtain grants for water tanks," he says.
"What we're trying to do is educate clubs that you can actually get Green Power or recyclable styrofoam coffee cups or water-saving shower heads and, if you save power and water, it can also save you money."
Devotion to motion
Of course, educating the kids is one thing; changing the ways of grown-ups is another.
You've got a snowflake's chance in hell of getting Aussies to give up their games. Almost 65 per cent of the adult population participate in some kind of activity at least once a week, and we spend in excess of $357 billion on sports and recreation goods each year.
Some believe, however, that maybe - just maybe - this devotion to motion can be used to the environment's advantage.
Hal Paine, whose adventure company Capricorn Seakayaking introduces people to the wonders of Ningaloo Reef, off the coast of Western Australia, is one of those believers.
"Exposure is wonderfully powerful and if you can show people that there are things out there worth preserving, then you're halfway there," he says.
"Australians are trying new sports more and more often, so hopefully they will embrace more nature-based stuff and then be able to make the connection between lifestyle and preserving this beautiful country."
Give the future a sporting chance
Climate Friendly's Jess Miller can see the connections taking place already.
"Sports that rely more heavily on actually being out in the world seem to be getting the message a bit better, for example surfing," she says.
"There's a lot of really great environmental groups that have come out of the ASF [Australian Surfrider Foundation] and if you want a good example of how sports can be an effective mechanism for getting the message across then surfing is certainly on of the best."
At the end of the day it's going to take a combined effort, a collective conscience and a multi-level approach if we want to continue embracing the sports we love.
Already, the flag is being flown at the corporate level. Surely, it can be raised much higher.
Like all worthwhile sporting achievements it will take some blood, sweat, tears and more than a few sacrifices.
But as any good coach will tell you - whatever effort you put in off the field is returned ten-fold come game day.