01.09.2015 Our Earth

A Sporting Chance

In our sports mad country we could work wonders if we applied the same passion to the environment, suggests Jeremy Ball

Now please bear with me through the opening paragraph, this article is about the environment, not about sport. Moreover, it is about our nation's, and most of the world's, attitude to the environment and where we place saving our planet on the priority list. If you watch the news or read the papers in Australia you will have heard all about how England thrashed the Aussie cricket team in the Ashes last month; pages of coverage, in fact, from apportioning blame, to determining the cause, to digging up and poring through the history of the sport.

But did you hear anything about how in India electricity generated by solar power is now cheaper to produce than from coal? Or that Denmark creates 140% of its power requirements from wind turbines in one day (and 39.1% of its total energy requirements during 2014)? Both examples demonstrate that a world powered 100% by renewable energy is not a fantasy; in fact, it is within our grasp if only we put as much effort into it as we do with our sport.

There was no dissecting of our nation's failure to achieve similar goals on the front pages. This news was either consigned to a small section on the inner pages, or did not even make it from the scientific journals. These miraculous achievements were not heralded at all because there is no room for this "real" news for a world facing daily calamities when you can celebrate the fantasy of our rugby team beating the local rivals with an oval ball.

Don't get me wrong, I love sport, I was fanatical as a child, I still enjoy it. But let's get real here. We are on a planet with almost 7.5 billion people who, in the last few hundred years, have cut the forested area of the earth by half and continue to reduce what is left by an area the size of Greece each year. It does not take a mathematician to work out that the more people you have, the more trees you need to create oxygen to breathe, not fewer!

But as well as cutting down the trees or, even worse, setting them alight, we are digging up ancient forests buried under the earth to wreck the landscape and burn it, spewing pollution and carbon dioxide out into the air. All this while it is cheaper, cleaner, prettier and not suicidal to put up solar farms and wind turbines.

Every four years the world comes together for the Olympics and it is a wonderful event, with great cooperation and unity for humanity. People run and jump and throw things and chase balls and pieces of metal are given out and then everyone goes home and starts preparing for the next four years. During the in between years we have the even more fanatical Football World Cup, through which men and now women are immortalised and made millionaires many times over. Just imagine if the hero who invented the solar panel or the team that worked on making a wind turbine that was 20% more efficient was lauded and supported and encouraged as much as the person who could run in a circle the fastest. Now wouldn't that be a world that evolved rapidly?

What would our world look like if we put the same effort into solving the global environmental crisis? If, for example, instead of the Olympics one year we held a competition to see which country could clear up the largest mass of the Pacific Ocean garbage patch. Did you know there is a huge vortex of rubbish, mainly plastic and chemical sludge, coalescing and swirling around in the world's largest ocean, like having a shopping bag in your guts? It is huge - conservative estimates make it an area the size of Texas, the upper scale says close to the size of Australia.

Can you imagine instead of China, USA, Australia and all the other countries vying for how many gold medals they could muster, it was how many tonnes of this gunk they could suck up and recycle or bring it home and bury (perhaps filling up some of the defunct coal mines)? I can hear the commentary now, "And Australia with a colossal effort today leapfrogging Russia on the leader board with a 70,000 tonne haul and going into the silver medal spot behind Taiwan. And now we will hear from Paul Duggan of Bendigo, captain of the Australian ship New Endeavour …"

It is estimated that for solar panels to provide all our earth's power requirements, an area only the size of Spain needs to be covered. If we take into account wind and other clean energy, we could get away with Portugal perhaps, which is roughly the same size as Tasmania.

What if the world governing body for football (FIFA) came out and said, "Look chaps, I know a few of you are going to be disappointed, especially the players, but we've decided that sustaining life on earth is more important than kicking a round ball across a patch of grass, even if some of you are getting pretty good at it. So we've decided, we're not going to have the tournament in Russia in 2018. Instead we are going to award the trophy to the country that covers the most number of football pitches in their country with solar panels. You can have your football kits and your scarves and your songs and we'll even make posters of the best teams, but solar panels is what we are doing this year so get on with it. And if we get 100% renewable energy we will play football again in 2022." There would be uproar, there would be pandemonium and you can bet your bottom dollar there would be a lot of solar panels going up, and very quickly, perhaps even in time for 2018.

The current Australian renewable energy target is a paltry 20% of our power needs by 2020. Twenty percent in this sun soaked, windy isle! Not to mention we are one of the wealthiest countries. It costs $70,000 a year to incarcerate an asylum seeker on Christmas Island, why not let them out and get them laying solar panels in the desert - you could cover a couple of football fields for that. If the continuation of our national sporting contests were at stake we would achieve that target within a year.

The AFL Grand Final is coming up next month, possibly the biggest day in the Australian sporting calendar, and jeepers those boys train hard just to get into an AFL side, let alone to make the finals. Just imagine if all the boys and girls around Australia put the same effort and passion into making their household and communities green, clean and renewable. And that coaching environmentalism was as honoured as coaching football. We would have solar panels on every roof, as well as water tanks and veggie patches. Just think of all the new ideas and ingenuity that would surface.

Solar power in Australia is almost cheaper than electricity generated by coal - it will be in a few short months, so the argument will soon be dead and buried. But you still hear people saying they won't invest a few hundred dollars in putting a solar system on their roof when, and it's sport again, they would not think twice about spending a few hundred dollars on a outfit for the Melbourne Cup, not to mention the boozing and the betting. The money spent on that one day could revolutionise homes across Australia.

And then there are human rights. Imagine if instead of, or as well as, the Australian Institute of Sporting Excellence, there was the Australian Action Alliance, training up youngsters to go to Africa and provide support for people facing famine, or to fly to Nepal and help people rebuild their homes.

Don't get me started. And this is come from a once fanatical sports fan who still loves his sport but is learning to put things in their proper place. Come on Australia, come on world, give your country's and our planet's health a sporting chance.

Jeremy Ball

At 26, following a “shamanic intervention”, Jeremy closed his business and left London to visit sacred sites and elders, later creating Transformational Tours and SacredFire.

When not roaming mother earth, you will find Jeremy at home in Byron Bay's hinterland, playing with his children and planning the next adventure. jeremy@transformationaltours.com.au