Super Bowl highlights for climate nerds
You can't escape climate change. Not even at the Big Game.
Image source: Timothy A Clary/AFP via Getty Images
Football is not a sport I know much about. I was raised to be more of a baseball girl. Go Mets.
I do know a lot about climate change, though, and I know I can make anything about climate change if I try hard enough. I don’t even really have to try that hard. Climate change affects and infiltrates literally everything—including big fancy football games.
The climate highlights of Super Bowl LIV extended beyond the game itself. While the players tossed their pigskin in a sinking stadium, companies used the climate emergency to promote their climate-friendly products, and a group run by a prominent oil industry messaging consultant ran an ad attacking plant-based alternatives to meat, among other things.
Haters might say this is a dumb way to interpret the Big Game; that I am forcing a listicle in order to fit my warmist agenda. To this I say: probably. But guess what—this is a climate change newsletter. Ya’ll don’t have to be here.
Here are the climate highlights of the 2020 SuperbOwl.
Both teams played in a climate-threatened stadium
Today’s email was made possible, in part, by whoever decided to hold this year’s Superbowl at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida. You can’t do anything in Miami anymore without talking about the fact that the city’s being slurped up by the rising ocean. I can’t, at least.
In fact, Climate Central reports that “almost all areas” of the Hard Rock Stadium of property may experience occasional flood risk by 2070 under a worst-case warming scenario where greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated.
The image below “illustrates what Hard Rock Stadium could look like if the water level was 6 feet above the local high tide line,” Climate Central reports. “Water could reach this level through a combination of sea level rise, tides, and storm surge.”
Image source: Climate Central/Nickolay Lamm
It won’t take a worst-case scenario, however, for climate change to start affecting football games in South Florida—because it already is. Miami Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel recently told CNBC that the team “is already feeling the effects of hurricanes and extreme weather.”
“The last three years in September, we’ve had climate issues ... We had to actually move a game,” Garfinkel said. “We’ve had lightning strikes that we’ve never had in 30 years here, where we had to delay a game. It was the longest game in the history of the NFL.”
Gas-powered car companies tried to sell themselves as climate-friendly
To my legitimate surprise, the American Petroleum Industry did not spend any of its seven-figure climate ad campaign money on Super Bowl ads this year. Probably because they’re spending it all on Facebook ads, which aren’t subject to as rigorous fact-checking. (We’ll get to that in a later edition of this newsletter.)
The most explicitly climate-themed commercials of this year’s Super Bowl were electric car ads. The most clever of the bunch of was Audi’s. It was a superb piece of marketing, near-guaranteed to go viral: The star of America’s most beloved television program (Maisie Williams, Game of Thrones) sang the hit song from America’s most beloved children’s movie (Let it Go, Frozen) with the intention of solving America’s most pressing social justice issue (climate change).
Of course, the solution Audi is selling in this ad isn’t really the end of gasoline. It’s the beginning of low-carbon consumerism. The company’s end game is not to convince you that gasoline must die. It’s to convince you that, if you already think gasoline must die, you should buy this electric car. The answer to climate change is buying things! And Audi’s things are the best things to buy.
In some ways, the electric car Superbowl ads showed companies attempting to convince people not only that a hyper-American way of life can be maintained amid a climate emergency; but is, in fact, the solution to it. Want to solve climate change? Buy a Hummer! We have electric ones now!
Perhaps I’m being too cynical. After all, I’ve written before that solving the climate crisis requires replacing gas-powered cars with electric ones. Doing that will require chipping away at American’s cultural love for said gas guzzlers and replacing it with a societal love for electric vehicles. I imagine using LeBron James and Maisie Williams and Hummers and Disney is a good way to do that.
But mass consumerism—that is, our cultural addiction to buying a ton of shit we don’t need—is a huge driver of climate change, too. It is, in fact, a bigger driver of climate change than cars themselves. We all still live in a fossil fuel-based economy. So as long as the core climate message is buy, buy, buy, the planet will continue to warm, warm, warm.
An oil industry front group ran an ad attacking plant-based alternatives to meat
People are always looking for ways to hate on vegetarians and vegans—especially during a Big Strong American Holiday like Super Bowl Sunday, where people are supposed to eat MEAT, dammit.
This commercial from the “Center for Consumer Freedom” gave people the perfect opportunity to do just that, airing a commercial implying that plant-based meat products contain synthetic laxatives.
The commercial appears to be educational in nature. But it’s… really not that, as The Atlantic’s James Hamblin pointed out on Twitter:
Indeed, as CNET reports, The Center for Consumer Freedom is “led by Rick Berman, who 60 Minutes descibed as Dr. Evil for being ‘against Mothers Against Drunk Driving, animal rights activists, food watchdog groups and unions of every kind.’” Berman is well-known for being the guy who will take anyone’s money to spread wild claims about their opponents, while concealing who his funding sources are.
Berman has served as a “consultant to executives at some of the world’s top oil companies,” 350.org reported, where his job was “to advise the fossil fuel industry on how best to argue for inaction on climate change, and pretend there’s really no problem.” Now he’s apparently working on how best to argue against plant-eating, one of the most effective climate solutions.
And no, there are no “laxatives” in plant-based meats. Here’s a parody commercial Impossible Foods ran of Berman’s ad in response:
BONUS: Latin women proved, once again, to be the most powerful forces in the known universe
Listen, I’m not sure there’s really a climate angle to Shakira and Jennifer Lopez being the most impressive Superbowl performers of all time. But the duo’s complete domination of last night’s halftime show seems like a good opportunity to remind everyone that Latin women will be key not only to making Halftime Shows Great Again, but also to ensuring the planet’s livability.
As this NRDC blog post from 2018 reads:
Latin America is a region particularly vulnerable to climate change where yearly economic damages due to climate change are predicted to reach around $100 billion by 2050. Rural and indigenous women in particular have fragile livelihoods that rely heavily on local natural resources, which climate change is making harder to secure. Read more about how climate change impacts women here and here. Of the region’s 300 million women, 59 million live in rural areas. Forty percent of rural women engage in unpaid labor and have less access to land and other financial assets than men.
There is still work to do in the region to achieve gender equality in rights and opportunities. Yet, women in Latin America play critical roles in their communities and are key to securing food, resources, and income for their families. Especially in rural areas, women participate in productive activities and in natural resources management, for example, they account for 20 percent of Latin America's agricultural labor force.
Such roles and knowledge in different arenas, makes Latin American women powerful “agents of change,” able to make significant contributions to climate action and crucial to achieve a resilient future and make our communities thrive. In turn, empowering women and moving towards gender equality is critical to a thriving society and contributes to reducing climate change vulnerability.
In sum, Shakira forever.
*Correction: a previous version of this newsletter spelled “Super Bowl” as “Superbowl.” In fairness to me, I told you I don’t know anything about football. But I regret the error nonetheless (Sorry, Tyler).
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If anyone is curious about the background on the Hummer here is a Vice article with a lot of background. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/m7q7eb/electric-or-not-big-suvs-are-inherently-selfish
Seems to put into words a lot of my gut feelings around big SUVs and the people who drive them.