Sunday, February 20, 2011

Waving the Yellow Flag

I know. Nascar, like religion, is sacrosanct. It's untouchable.

You might know, or can imagine how I feel about stuff that is considered untouchable: the more something is viewed as untouchable, the more it needs to be poked and probed and disturbed. Nothing is sacred.

Let's look at some Nascar facts, some connections between Nascar and the environment, some positives, and some solutions... and a kitten.

Some numbers and things to consider :

  • the average Nascar vehicle gets approximately 5 miles per gallon of gas.
  • while our vehicles are regulated by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), Nascar's are not. Nascar's regulatory agency is itself.
  • In a single race weekend, 6,000 gallons of fuel are burned.
  • In that same race weekend, approximately 120,000 pounds of CO2 is released into the atmosphere
  • Nascar's yearly CO2 emissions from the races alone racks up to a whopping 4 million pounds
  • The average American, in both car and home, emits approximately 45,000 pounds of CO2 in a year.

Nascar is trying to green their image. They are promoting green vehicles at their races (not for the races, mind you) often through their efforts to promote the benefits of ethanol, they plant trees to suck up some of the CO2, they recycle their tires, and they buy carbon credits.

My opinion of carbon credits is rather low. Here's how I see it: we're all sitting around a large bowl of M&Ms. Everyone pays the same amount into the pot, and the M&Ms are divided evenly. But I want more than my fair share of M&Ms, so I buy M&M credits, allowing me to take more out of the bowl. Anyone else around the bowl with enough money can do the same. You poor bastards just keep staring into that empty bowl. Some people (Republican politicians) might argue that the problem isn't the M&M credits but the size of the bowl. In order to make it fair, they say, we need to make the bowl limitless.

Only we're not really talking candy. We're talking CO2... that which is emitted by the forces that drive our modern world, that define our current definitions of progress and wealth and freedom, and that are changing our world in ways we are not sufficiently prepared to deal with.

Other seemingly green solutions have unfortunate consequences. Ethanol, for example, which is grown from corn, has created a shortage of corn for food consumption. Plus, due to the need for more and larger corn fields here in the US, soy farms have moved into Brazil, leading to further deforestation of the Amazon rain forests. (Soy isn't just in tofu. It's everywhere... soy lecithin, textured vegetable protein, "natural" flavors, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, etc. It's another reason, in case you needed one, for ditching processed food.)

And though they say they plant enough trees to 100% mitigate the CO2, it must first use a resource that is in ever-shortening supply. This resource, rather than being burned in races or converted to rubber for tires, could be used to manufacture those things we need for a future without it (solar panels and desalination equipment, as just one example).

Recycling really should be thought of as a last ditch effort, for Nascar and all of us. We should be aiming at reducing more. Those tires, while being re-purposed and recycled, first had to be manufactured, pulling precious resources from the ground, pumping pollution in to the environment. While Goodyear is doing a good service by recycling those Nascar tires, they are a major offender in environmental pollutants. (If you follow the Goodyear link, notice how part of their efforts to clean up their act involve corn...)

It might be a stretch of the imagination at first to consider that a Nascar race, and even their green efforts, affect thins like food supplies and rainforests. But, that's the way this whole thing works. And that's why we get ourselves into such big messes. The big picture is just as important as the details, and we desperately need to look at both.

Solution: I would encourage fans of Nascar to in turn encourage Nascar to green their sport even more. Perhaps they could shorten their races a few dozen laps? Perhaps they could hold less races in a year? Perhaps they could lower their speeds just a bit? Perhaps they could drive slightly less powerful cars? As my son suggests, what about electric cars?

I know, I know... Nascar fans are clutching their chests now. I'm not a fan, so I don't connect. I can't offer some of the practical solutions to Nascar that would help the environment
and keep true to the sport. Nascar fans, it's up to you!


  1. You should look into golf courses next, something near and dear to me :(

  2. Oooh, good idea Nick. Some golf courses now use reclaimed water, which is good one the one hand, but on the other, agriculture also uses that water. If there is any question of need, it should go to agriculture first. Will do some research :p

  3. Did you suggest SHARING M&M's? It's an analogy I just can't follow...

  4. I think water is the tip of the iceberg. CONSTANT mowing, reshaping the landscape (cutting down trees, making artifical ponds, etc), and other things play into it, from what I've read.
    I think I'm going to have some M&M's now. Maybe I'll even share them with Rach :)