Time to postpone the Apocalypse

International Olympic Committee meets in Doha to promote sport's role in protecting the environment but ingrained human apathy means we can only slow down our demise.

    Osama bin Laden is dead and the US military and its allies continue their campaign in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond.

    But whatever the outcome of this 21st century warfare, the human race is probably doomed anyway.

    This week I have been a delegate at the 9th World Conference on Sport and the Environment in Doha.

    I was afforded this honour because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) accidentally added me to the delegate list instead of the media list. It's amazing how much more swaggering you do as a delegate.

    Before you doze off and click elsewhere to see if Jose Mourinho has burgled Pep Guardiola's mansion and scrawled swearwords on the mirror in the master bedroom, I realise that the environment isn't a very sexy issue. Just typing 'environment' made me want to go and drive a monster truck into a nuclear reactor to kill the boredom.

    The problem is that humanity's complete disregard for the thing that enables its own existence (it's the environment, stupid. It’s what we live in) is going to destroy us.

    No number of conferences or initiatives can change that. We're screwed.

    Fortunately, we can ensure that it's not our children or grandchildren who have to suffer. If we're lucky, it's only our great-great grandchildren who will have to prolong their miserable lives by living in a submarine or finding a way to breathe sand instead of air.

    The IOC realised decades ago that sport itself was contributing to our worsening situation, but could play a role in combating it. More on that later.

    One message from Doha this week was that recycling our household rubbish (something I've yet to see in Qatar), taking the bus or joining Greenpeace is not enough. "The stakes are too great to tread lightly," one speaker said.

    Chemical death

    The only way to ensure we don't breathe our last choking on chemicals or swamped by avenging oceans is to act aggressively, to treat our environment as we would treat our own bodies if we'd just had a heart attack after shovelling burgers down our necks for 30 years.

    I have a theory as to why this won't happen.

    We are currently consuming and polluting at a rate 40 per cent higher than the planet can renew or absorb.

    Unfortunately, you, me and every other human is psychologically programmed, deep down, not to give a flying one about what rate we are blah blah blah.

    The reason for this? There is an analogy from dangerous driving – which unlike household recycling, has been honed to a fine art in Qatar.

    Despite the horrific deaths we read about on the roads, a lot of us still drive while jawing away on our mobile phones.

    The first time we do it, nothing bad happens, so our subconscious logs that this is something that's ok to do even though in reality the attention we pay to the road has greatly diminished.

    As you continue to talk or text while driving, the brain gets more and more chilled out about the whole thing. "Ah, there's no danger – you carry on old boy," it might say. Then one day you bend your grill around a lamp post and realise your brain has been smoking too much reefer. It's the same with the environment.

    Yes there are fewer and fewer beaches where we're happy to go swimming, and we have to wear gas masks to sightsee in Beijing, but in general the environment hasn't grossly affected our everyday lives. So the brain prioritises eating, sleeping, making money and making love (thanks, brain).

    For this reason, we have to force ourselves to care. Annoying I know, but I reckon it's worth it in the long run.

    Where does sport come into it? The environmental cost of an event like the Olympics is huge. Pollution from building work, powering stadiums, fumes from transport, litter...it goes on.

    Green giant

    Injecting environmentally-sound or 'green' practices is a huge task given the number of contractors and sub-contractors involved just in building work. But now, any country bidding for an Olympics or World Cup has to have a colossal sustainability strategy.

    Sustainability – there's another one. Environmentalists are determined to be dull.

    The Rio 2016 Olympics are set to be the first 'carbon-neutral' games. The World Cup Qatar 2022 organisers have plans for solar-powered stadiums. Qatar has a host of major projects aiming to provide a green legacy from the tournament. It still needs to look at that recycling thing, though.

    Again, major change comes down to interest from the public. Speakers in Doha this week advocated that green messages from top athletes – who are usually happy to get paid millions for similar endorsements for sporting goods – are made compulsory when selling TV rights for major events.

    "I'm Usain Bolt – turn off your air conditioning when you go on vacation for three months." That kind of thing.

    Sportsmen and women also have a special relationship with the environment and nature. A youngster with a sporting future needs clean seas and lakes to swim in, clean air to breathe while running or playing football, grass to play on, and ski slopes that haven't melted. Scuba divers would probably like for there to be some fish left.

    There are people doing great things for this cause, and sport can be a valuable weapon in spreading the message due to its enormous popularity, especially among young people. "Sport is at the service of humanity," IOC president Jacques Rogge told delegates this week.

    The vast majority of us either do nothing or make token efforts, which can be a lonely task.

    It's hard to believe you're having a positive effect recycling a can when you think how many ballistic missiles (n.b. first carbon-neutral missile still in planning phase) are preparing for launch around the world in the time it took to lob your coke into its special bin.

    Or you look at your TV and see seven military planes performing a flypast at a royal wedding.

    The only difference you can make at that point is to switch it off.


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