COP26, football and a green revolution that won’t happen

COP26 protests

COP26 plays out over the next couple of weeks across the water from me in Glasgow. How many minutes to midnight is it?

Increasingly, scientific data is pointing towards something very big and very bad for humans happening to the planet’s climate, with all of its underlying systems, checks and balances being disturbed, which leads to a domino effect of tipping points being triggered, accelerating the breakdown of our climate systems, turning some places into deserts, others into seas. Mass death and displacement awaits. Expect a fixture list pile-up as games are called off due to extreme weather. As the song goes, ‘stormbringer coming: time to die’.

Here’s some things football can do to be more green and help with climate change. Some clubs are already doing some of these, especially Forest Green Rovers and Norwich City.

  • Travelling to games for fans and players cut radically by dividing all divisions into north and south.
  • All travel made by sustainable transport options.
  • All football kits made from recycled and biodegradable fabrics.
  • Kits must rarely change so people buy far less.
  • All power at stadiums generated from renewables.
  • Everything sold at the stadium is biodegradable.
  • No virgin paper used for programmes or club stationary.
  • No single-use plastic sold at the ground. All plastic must be biodegradable.
  • All waste composted or recycled.
  • All food sold unprocessed, seasonal and grown close to the club in market gardens, not imported.
  • Teams travel to games in electric buses or powered by other green energy solutions.
  • Flying to a game banned.
  • Flying to play European football and World Cups banned.
  • All new stadiums built without using concrete.
  • All water within stadiums recycled.
  • All waste matter put into a club biomass generator.
  • All club cars electric and club bikes provided for staff.
  • No sponsorships with airlines or other polluters.
  • No carbon offsetting.

None of these are especially radical. All are achievable. Football can be a force for a greener future, right?

Nah. Yer bollix it can.

All of these things, while basic for a sustainable lifestyle, will make almost no difference to carbon emissions and will not touch the sides of climate change. If we do none of them or all of them, buckle up because we’re heading into the flames either way.

That’s not just because China is still building coal power stations (though it is that as well), it is because carrying on with the economic system as it is, carrying on with all the underlying beliefs in consumption and wealth, that come with it – all of which have led us to global climate collapse – is where the problem really lies. Fix that and we’ve got a chance. Ignore it and we’re just avoiding falling overboard on the Titanic as the iceberg nears.

So let’s add more radical ideas to that list:

  • No funding from petro-states, hedge fund managers, sports investment firms, corporate asset strippers, international financiers or TV companies.
  • All income to clubs derived from a division of gate money, local sponsorship and civic services.
  • No transfer fees.
  • Strict wage and club income caps.
  • A level playing field, free of financial hegemony at the core of all policy.
  • Every club has to conform to a strict green agenda or be suspended from the league.
  • All changes and improvements paid for from an FA green levy on all clubs as a percentage of turnover.

Don’t try and apply any thinking to this that is based on how things are now. That’s dead and gone and irrelevant. We need a new football economy.

The governing principle involves doing the opposite of virtually everything we’ve been brought up to believe is our birthright. It means local, not global. It means small, not big. It means respecting nature as holy, not something to exploit. It means we can’t just do what we want, whenever we want. It means ending what John Harris has called ‘the continuing fetishisation of economic growth’.

We have to organise and play the game based on an entirely different economic ecosystem. We shut down how things are now and reboot on a wholly new basis, in practice and in philosophy. It means all have enough, but none too much. It means no wealthy elite clubs, or insanely wealthy players, it means no clubs going bust. All the madness ends to help end the climate madness.

But if we just piss around the edges of this massive conflagration – which is what I suspect will happen at COP26 – we might as well party on and welcome the floods dragging us under and the fires razing us. Come Armageddon, come. We’re on the eve of destruction.

Tweaks and targets are all well and good, but without a shift in underlying philosophy, it will make little difference. We are where we are because of how our economics informs how our society is built and organised. Football, its supporters, clubs and associations, should adopt all of the above measures not because in themselves they will halt climate change, but because doing them will involve accepting a volte face against the old way and show we are fully understanding that we need to turn to a new way.

This new way coexists with a more holistic, pantheistic understanding of life on earth. And understanding that changes its priorities from the extreme economic model of obsessing about, accruing and aggrandising wealth, towards embracing a more equal and fair and friendly world, with an acknowledgement at its core that we are all one family of sisters and brothers, not competitors in a market, out to screw each other and the planet over for one more step up the greasy pole towards the worthless and illusory nirvana of material wealth.

But these changes can’t just be optional club by club, they need to be institutional so football’s authorities have to accept all of these green proposals and impose them.

This isn’t some exercise in holier-than-thou, plant milk-based hipsterism for gap year students in Goa called Josh and Olivia, it is a grassroots rejection of how things have been and the embracing of an entirely new tomorrow. A rejection that needs to happen from the bottom up, if the top is ever going to take notice. So why not start with football? FIFA, UEFA and the Football Association, will you be part of the future, or the failed past? I think we know the answer.

Will any of this happen? Clubs are already doing some of the easier things, but sadly I find it hard to believe significant change is possible and I think COP26 will prove this with outpourings of words and not actions, with deceit, obfuscation, outright lies and total bullshit, not least falling from the face of England’s own bloated liar-in-chief. Work on the basis everything you hear is an actual lie, or a lie by omission, simply because it almost always is.

Boris Johnson at COP26

Some of our children see the way forward and are on the streets trying to get us to see a new way. Lord forgive us, we have sown them the most bitter of harvests with our selfishness.

A change to an economic system based on respect for nature and not on her exploitation? No chance, pal. Just look at the violent behaviour of some motorists held up by protestors. Their freedom-mobile must be kow-towed to and given free passage at all-times, no matter the harm. We’re literally on the wrong road, behind the wrong wheel.

By the time enough of us profoundly realise the extinction is underway and underway now, it will be far too late to mediate the damage we have done. Football doesn’t want to change, just like governments don’t want to and they don’t want to because not enough of the people want to change. We might drive a massive car to the recycle bins, but that’s about it. That is not proper systemic change. That is disparaged and dismissed by too many. But one day, not too far in the future, we’ll wish we bloody well had understood and had changed.

Ach well, not to worry. What time is the match on?