Anthropogenic Impact

Soccer arguably the biggest sports in the world. It is followed by about 1/3 of the world, and I am not an exception. Though I have never had the pleasure to play competitively, my life greatly revolves around me playing for fun and watching it. But, as everyone watches and enjoys the game, it is easy to forget that we are harming the environment through very little acts. For starters, soccer is a very physical sports, so the players are required to stay hydrated. In what form does water usually come in? Bottles. Plastic bottles. I have seen grass fields being littered with plastic bottles, a sight which is unpleasant. How hard is it to throw the bottle in a bin? Many people have complained about this, but not everyone has make an effort to solve this problem. It is a simple problem to solve, if people are willing to improve the community.

Litter on soccer field. Image by user SpaceCowboy via chicago.everyblock.com

Soccer development has been mostly well maintained, especially stadiums. Most stadiums have been built with the goal of being environmentally friendly in mind. Despite this, there are some unavoidable problems. Soccer stadiums are huge, roughly as big as a American football field, and the stadium are about the same size, so large areas are needed to build them. For the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, new stadiums have to be built. Arena Amazonia was built in the heart of the Amazon. Watching the World Cup, I was completely concentrated on the soccer so couldn’t be bother with the environmental impacts of the stadium. But later, after reading articles by NPR on the construction of the stadium, it made me angry that the Brazil government could made such a bad decision. Build in Manaus, a city in the middle of the Amazon, the heat and humidity is unbearable, making working conditions extremely harsh. In fact, three workers had died during construction. Also, because it is built in so deep in the forest, it is hard to access, meaning in order to facilitate traveling, more ways must be made to access the city because planes and boats are the only way. What’s the solution? Cutting down trees to make roads. This caused outrage and criticism from environmentalists, due deforestation of one of the world’s most diverse ecosystem, the Amazon. Many believed that the $300 million dollars spent on the stadium would have been better spent improving Brazil’s poverty, a pressing issue in the country (read more on NPR about how the stadium is affecting Brazil).

PHOTO: General view of construction work at the Arena Amazonia, formerly known as Vivaldao Stadium, in this Sept. 27, 2010, file photo in Manaus, Brazil.

Arena Amazonia, Manaus, built in the middle of the Amazon. Image by Rodrigo Baleia via ABC News.

This problem is getting worse. In Brazil, soccer is basically a religion to the population, and people tend to care more about the sports than anything else. If this is the case, I fear in the future, the government might commission for more trees to be cut down to make space for more stadiums. Also, Brazil is hosting another upcoming big sports event, the 2016 Olympics. If this keeps on happens, the Amazon forest as we know might no longer exists in the future. This will have a detrimental effect on Brazil, as the biodiversity in Amazon is greater than anywhere else in the world, holding many rare species that cannot be found elsewhere. It would be a great loss to Brazil if the species living there were to go extinct. The Amazon produces 20% of the Earth’s oxygen and drinkable freshwater, as well as many other valuable herbal medicines, so you can imagine the destruction of forests will set off a chain effect that will affect the Brazil and the entire world. Studies find that we are losing 10 football stadiums of forest a minute. To make this clear to see, here is a time-lapse to show the forests’ destruction from 1984 to 2012.

On the right is a part of the amazon forest where trees have been logged for usage, the left is the part that remains untouched. Image by Andre Penner (follow him on Twitter) via The Guardian.

Realistically though, the destruction will take a few decades, and their are activists actively participating in the conversation of Amazon. But, there are still unavoidable problems. According to researches by FIFA (soccer’s highest governing body) via climateprogress, the 2014 World Cup will dump 2.72 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into Earth’s atmosphere. Where does this massive number come from? 80% of it comes from transportation emissions, from planes that travels across the country to locations matches are played, and from buses and cars as well. It doesn’t help that Brazil is the world’s 5th largest country by area, making travel distances longer. This problem is unavoidable, because their are no cheaper and more efficient methods for transportation. CO2 is a pollutant and a greenhouse gas that acts as a insulator, trapping the Earth’s heat inside, making the climate much hotter. The CO2 emissions from this has contributed greatly to global warming, causing unpredictable climate changes around the world that is affecting you, the reader, without you even aware that soccer is making summer hell for you (especially if you’re from California, like I am).

Transportation is the largest contributor to carbon emissions, as most players travel around by air. Image via gadling.com

All the carbon emissions are definitely harming the Earth, but there is another surprising factor that greatly affects the players as well: the playing surface. To be precise, artificial turf. Artificial turf surface, which is made of rubber and fake grass in place of soil and real grass, has rise to prominence lately due to it being easy and cheap to maintain, requiring no mowing, watering, etc. Many people who support it claims it is healthy, but an article by Alternet claims otherwise. The rubber cushioning for the turf, which is made from ground-up rubber car tires, apparently contains styrene butadiene rubber (SBR), a toxic chemical. SBR contains metals and toxins like lead, dioxin, styrene, butadiene, and other known carcinogens (cancer causing). These dangerous chemicals spread through the air easily when vaporized, and people who are near the fields are exposed to high amounts of toxic chemicals, especially when it’s hot. Combined with global warming and the drought in California, the extreme heat is exposing us to even more danger. Many soccer players who played on turf have been diagnosed with cancers like lymphoma and leukemia. An article by NBC News tells the tragic story of a University of Miami goalie who frequently played on artificial turf. In 2008, Austen Everett was diagnosed with lymphoma – along with three other goalkeepers. This caused them to raise questions about the material’s safety. Even so, lawmakers and regulators have turned a blind eye towards this situation

Goalkeeper Austen Everett (pictured left), played on artificial turf was diagnosed with lymphoma and died 4 years later. Image courtesy of June Leahy (Austen Everett’s mother), via NBC News.

There are many other side effects of soccer that people are not aware of, because it isn’t as noticeable. Replacing grass with plastic and tire crumbs destroys habitat. Besides the surface, the lighting for the stadium can be problematic, as they negatively impacts birds’ reproduction and navigation, and they contribute to carbon emissions also.

What do all of the points above have in common? All of the environmentally-unfriendly activities mention above are all caused by the actions of humans (hence the title Anthropogenic Impact). Though it is for the sake of our entertainment, certain steps must be taken to prevent a future where the environment is destroyed, or we will no longer be able to live, let alone be entertained. First, we can start small by avoiding littering when playing and watching matches. This small act helps because plastic bottle releases toxins under high heat exposure, and you could be be making others inhaling toxins if you leave your bottle laying around. Another thing that can be improve is if the stadiums can change their lighting to LED (light emitting diode) lighting. This type of lighting has a long life, which saves replacement costs. LED lighting is also more energy efficient, which improve energy savings, and LED bulbs are also environmentally friendly, which makes them a great alternative over others light fluorescent bulbs. Their downside is that they are more expensive than the other lights, but if use frequently, the increasing demand should create a drop in price, making it more affordable in the future. In fact, many stadiums around the world, big and small, have started making this change and has receive mostly positive comments over the change.

As we can see, LED lights beats the other commonly used lighting system at everything except the price, but as demand rises, prices will hopefully drop. Image via cyberlifeled.com

As mentioned, the problem with carbon emissions coming from transportation is unavoidable, as planes and buses are the most efficient way to transport soccer teams around. This problem is the biggest underlying problem regarding soccer as teams travel by planes and/or buses on a weekly basis, so their is no stopping the problem. The only solution to this problem is if future technology allows us to create a vehicle that doesn’t as impact the environment as severely, maybe an electric plane. However, that might be costly, so that technology of the future might still be very far away. Meanwhile, the problem regarding deforestation for land to make area is one that can be fixed, although it requires great effort. Unless someone of power (or money) decides to stop the deforestation with their own hands, protesting is the only way to avoid this problem.

As for, it is not only a Brazilian problem, it is also a huge problem in the modern world, where we have the technology to rapidly cut down trees, and have a great demand for the wood’s versatility. This problem is the most serious in Brazil as it houses the largest and most diverse forests in the world, and a problem with Brazil is that there are many poor, uneducated people. This means many of them don’t know and care about the effects of deforestation, and this should be fixed by having experts come over and educate these people. That way, the activists can get more people to protest for their cause but that is about all they can do with the political power they have. This is a fairly cheap method, but it will only as effective as the amount of people joining in the protests (the more people, the more effective).

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