Tanya's Take

What cricket can do for the environment

Players need to travel to play, but do they need to play so frequently?

Tanya Aldred
Tanya Aldred
The New Road outfield as been totally submerged by the latest flood, New Road, January 14, 2008

Floods at New Road left the ground unusable in 2008  •  Worcestershire CCC

Last Saturday I was in London at a big march calling for action at the UN Climate summit in Copenhagen. Everywhere there were banners and flags and t-shirts: Friends of the Earth, the Co-operative, Christians against Climate Change, even Christian Vegetarians against Climate Change. But I looked and I looked and nowhere was there the slogan Cricketers against Climate Change.
This issue is rather more urgent for some members of the cricket family than others - south Asia in general, Bangladesh in particular. According to the UK Royal Society, a rise in one metre of the world's seas could flood a third of Bangladesh, one of the world's poorest countries, displacing tens of millions of people and reducing its rice-farming land by half. If that happened then India, whose own coastal cities of Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai are vulnerable to sea-level rise, would be flooded with refugees. India could also be seriously affected by scanty rainfall and glacier melt in the Himalayas, which supply the river systems. Delta areas of Pakistan could be in trouble too.
The north of Sri Lanka, around Jaffna, is relatively flat and will be prone to flooding as the sea level rises, and less rainfall and higher temperatures will badly affect the rice-growing areas. The 2004 tsunami, which killed so many also destroyed the cricket ground in Galle, showing how easily cricket's infrastructure can be washed away.
Australia is getting hotter and drier, and large swathes of its farm land could be barren if global temperatures rise by four degrees. There is coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, with predictions that 95% of it could be dead by 2050. Zimbabwe's weather is increasingly unpredictable, and it is suffering more frequently from drought; water resources are under pressure in South Africa.
Nor is England immune. We have increasingly unsettled weather: the flooding in Worcestershire in the summer of 2008 left the County Club with sewage on the pitch and rendered the ground unusable for the remainder of the season. The Cumbrian floods of October, which cut off Workington from the rest of the country, seriously affected five local clubs.
So the cricket community has a real and urgent reason to battle climate change and reduce its carbon footprint - for the recognisable survival of its member states.
It has some advantages - in theory it does not carry a large carbon burden. It is not motor-racing. At its simplest, it is a bat, a ball and players - an exercise in simplicity. But the razzmatazz that surrounds international cricket weighs heavy.
Unless we are going to end up playing virtual cricket, players have to keep travelling, and so do those coming to watch them. But do they have to travel quite so frequently, play quite so many games? The administrators now have another reason to trim, if not scythe, the Future Tours Programme. (Factor in player fatigue and crowd indifference and you've got a no-brainer.) Let's make Tests special again, Twenty20 special again, let's bring back the tingle factor.
Would it be too much to ask players to get the train between Sydney and Melbourne? Probably - it's a 12-hour marathon, though it really is pretty comfortable. But administrators could look at their schedules and try to plan tours so that they don't involve players flying into one city only to fly out a few days later and then return again the following week.
There should be drinking fountains in all grounds, where people can refill water bottles. All waste found at the end of games should be recycled. Spectators who arrived by public transport could get money off the entry fee
Perhaps every international cricket board could be environmentally audited. Maybe artificial pitches, even outfields, will eventually be the answer in countries that lack rain - it will be hard to justify using gallons of water on a pitch if people are going without.
Then there are the little things. There should be drinking fountains in all grounds, where people can refill water bottles. All waste found at the end of games should be recycled. Spectators who arrived by public transport could get money off the entry fee. Clubs should try to install solar panels to help provide for the vast amount of electricity used during playing days, and they could then feed back into the national grid on rest days. And encourage all their partners - TV companies, advertisers, brewers, to do the same.
Is the ICC in the best place to introduce these measures? Dubai isn't known as a place famed for its dedication to the environment. But they just need to find the collective will.
The MCC has taken a lead. Back in 2004, Lord's signed up to npower's green electricity tariff (a tariff that has since been criticised as doing no more than the legal minimum). They have been trying to reduce water consumption, boost recycling rates and use environment-friendly printing methods. The new audio-visual system at Lord's uses 30% less energy than the previous one. The MCC also offsets all the travel made by its touring parties - and although offsetting is increasingly felt to be a smokescreen, at least they are thinking in the right way. The ECB too walks the walk, having announced a green audit in 2007 to try and reduce the 25 million kilowatt hour collective annual energy consumption by the Test grounds.
We will all have to change. Cricket could be at the forefront of the low-carbon economy. How much better to be at the front of the revolution than bring up the rear. And how much more lucrative too. As in Copenhagen, the rich boards have a moral duty to help the poor adapt. And do their bit for saving the youngest full member from disaster.

Tanya Aldred lives in Manchester. She writes occasionally for the Guardian