Is the WSL Carbon Neutral, and Does Anyone Care?
Cop26 in Glasgow is over, and depending on your point of view it was:
Humanity's last best hope to avoid catastrophic climate change,
A total failure,
The complete abdication of states to corporate greenwashing,
An effort by Global Elites to ram through One World Government.
Choose your interpretation. About the one thing we can agree on is the primacy of the issue. You simply cannot escape it.
The surf world is not immune from these global convulsions. The spear point of a lifestyle that is hedonistic and will come under increasing scrutiny for its environmental cost is that of the international pro surfer. Pro surfers criss cross the world in fossil fuel-guzzling jets, drive rent a cars, gobble up innumerable boards made of petrochemicals, own multiple houses in different continents etc etc.
Don't get me wrong, I don't want to pass judgement on that. It is what it is.
But the Woz certainly has. They must have been aware that the day would finally come when the fossil fuel-guzzling lifestyle would come under the microscope and questions might be asked by those who are of a mind to believe that we are in a climate crisis and nothing but a radical reduction in the burning of fossil fuels will slow it down. Even if it's never been made explicit, the savage irony of pro surfing - a sport that's reliant on nature - playing a role, even if a minor part, in aiding and abetting it's destruction must have crept into the midnight thoughts of the Woz hierarchy.
Which explains why, in April 2019, with a tremendous media blitz, the Woz announced by the end of 2019 they would be carbon neutral. The presser is classic Woz/US hyperbole. They were going to set a “new standard for global professional sports”, the commitments were “designed to inspire, educate, and empower ocean lovers while addressing critical environmental issues,” and so on and so forth.
Heavy hitters like the Goat, Kelly Slater, weighed in. "I think it's a great stance and an important message to send to people around the world," said the eleven-time WSL Champion. "The ocean is vital to everyone, for food, for oxygen and especially to us surfers. I think everyone should make it their priority to care about this issue and make changes in their lives to help."
Kelly might have forgotten on that day, that under his name, the Woz intended to bulldoze wetlands in a coastal “blue heart” zone to build a wave pool and canal estate...
..but back to the main story.
How does a fossil fuel-heavy organisation become carbon neutral? If you haven't been paying close attention, the favoured tactic is called carbon offsetting. In colloquial terms, carbon offsetting is basically having your cake and eating it too. You keep pumping out the pollutants and pay someone else to plant trees or not cut down forests to try and balance the carbon emitted with these 'credits'.
In the modern parlance, carbon offsets are what you might call, problematic. To put it impolitely, it's a scheme ripe for rorting and performative greenwashing. Those aren't my assessments. If not done right, according to journalist Eric Niiler writing in Wired magazine: “the purchase of offsets can act as a marketing campaign that ends up providing cover for companies’ climate-harming practices”.
Meanwhile, Australia's Climate Council claims: “Offsetting greenhouse gas emissions with vegetation projects – for example, by planting trees – is no substitute for preventing the burning of coal, oil, and gas in the first place”.
That's one problem; the whole concept of carbon offsetting in the first place.
The other one is accounting. Things aren't true just because someone says they are, and nowhere is that more evident than in the murky world of carbon offsetting. So, how to tell after the Wozzle's breathless “ocean-saving” pressers whether anything actually happened? In short, it's somewhere between impossible and really fucking hard.
In a 2019 paper for the Harvard Business School Jack Smith determined that 79% of California's offset supply was “illegitimate.”
The revolving door of CEOs at the Woz is another barrier to gauging the strength of the commitments. The architect of the 2019 carbon neutral declaration, Sophie Goldschmidt, is no help here. Sophie has moved on to become CEO of US Ski and Snowboard. It's unclear whether Sophie has maintained her zeal for preventing climate change and ocean conservation in her new role, but there is zero mention of it in her public utterances.
As for the hard working PR team at the Woz, who might have been expected to let the world know during Cop26 about their carbon neutrality. Quiet as church mice. Not a word.
In fact, since the 2019 announcement was made, there has not been a single mention of it in any WSL communication that I can find.
In April this year, Woz hosted a round-table Zoom meeting entitled, 'To Protect and Surf', hosted by Ronnie Blakey and featuring a panel of experts including Dr Simon Bradshaw from the Climate Council, Belinda Baggs from Surfers for Climate, Ace Buchan, Billy Bain, and Dr Cat Dorey from the Australian Marine Conservation Society. The effect of climate change on the ocean was discussed at length. We were, Dr Bradshaw assured us, at the end-game for climate action.
Great, I thought, finally we will get a more fleshed out update on the WSL's carbon neutral pledge. There's no possible way this could not be discussed.
Nope. Not a word. Code red cognitive dissonance was the only thing I took out of that call. It was as if The Promise had been erased from history.
Following that Zoom call I made multiple overtures to the WSL, and to their certifying partner STOKE, asking about the status of the pledge. The response? They referred me back to the original April 2019 press release, assuring me they had already done it.
Is that a credible response?
It brought to mind Tom Wolfe's book Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers where Wolfe describes a certain level of bureaucrat sent out to pacify militant interest groups, while hustlers game the system. There's no doubt that carbon offsetting is a hugely gameable system and there are many hustlers within it.
While it's impossible to know whether the Woz's commitments will ever face proper scrutiny, what we do know is that there are very sound business reasons to make those commitments; to appear as a clean, green, organisation. Big money is flowing into the green space. Total assets under management in sustainable investment funds have doubled over the past four years to around USD $3.6Tn. That's trillion. 3.6 trillion dollars. More money than you and I can imagine.
Credible rumours have circulated in the last few years that the Woz is being fattened up and shopped around for sale. An anachronistic, fossil fuel-guzzling dinosaur of a business does not smell as sweet to private equity firms as one that wears the halo of a carbon neutral organisation.
In countries where the Woz requires not just a social licence to operate but taxpayer funds to underwrite its operating costs, like Australia, a clean and green image is even more valuable. Climate change is a clear sovereign risk for the WSL, particularly if the mood of the public or government turns against it and it is forced into a deeper accounting of its impacts.
Before Cop26 in Glasgow, there was Cop25 in Madrid. Yes, I'd forgotten too. Cop25 - which was held in December 2019 - was the 'blue' Cop, when oceans were supposedly put at the forefront of climate change concerns. The Woz had a representative there in Reece Pacheco, who runs the WSL Pure not for profit. When asked by a UN Climate Action representative what was the WSL's commitment to climate action, Pacheco did not mention the pledge to become carbon neutral.
Bizarrely, Pacheco focussed on education and outreach to the fans, pointing out where they could reduce their carbon footprint.
Bizarre because punch in some rough estimates into a carbon footprint calculator for, say, Kelly Slater, and you'll get an estimate that if everyone had a footprint the size of Slater we would need eighteen planet Earths to sustain us.
Clearly, the fans are not the issue here.
It highlights the devilishly thorny hypocrisy issue which is so pervasive in these arguments. Reduce your carbon footprint, says the WSL, while it's marquee athletes emit vast amounts of greenhouse gases in their day to day lives, living the dream.
Is this argument sustainable? Believable? Effective on any level?
At the global level, developing nations like India and China can likewise argue with developed nations: You grew your national economies and prosperity on the back of cheap fossil fuel energy, so why shouldn't we?
The hypocrisy argument is very hard to refute.
Now, if Kelly Slater did a version of the Fergal Smith manouevre, which was to stop flying altogether so as to minimise his C02 emissions, then we would be having a very different conversation. If Kelly released a presser tomorrow saying he's abandoning the Coolum wave pool development, and he's going to invest the money into Bornean rainforests to save Orangutans and only going to travel twice a year, then we would all have no alternative but to shuffle our feet, look at the ground and think about our own impacts.
I know that sounds ridiculous...for now, but according to a study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, the global cost of carbon must rise from roughly $10 a tonne globally now to $60 a tonne immediately, and $75 a tonne by 2030 in order to hit the Paris Agreement targets (or 2 degrees and “preferably” 1.5). That may force a heavy price signal on carbon intensive activities like jet travel. It may change the entire economic viability of the World Tour.
To be fair to the WSL, attempts to regionalise the QS, do seem on the face of it to reduce the reliance on international travel. That reduction in air miles also looks to be cancelled out by the introduction of another tier to the tour in the Challenger Series.
To be honest, it's all a hell of a mess. The messaging is in direct contradiction to the actions, at least at the most basic level.
The bigger question rising over all of this is: Does anyone actually care?
// STEVE SHEARER
(Homepage illustration Grist / Amelia Bates)
great read, thank you
someone should do a carbon audit on kelly slater...
he claimed years ago, if not a decade or more, to be going carbon neautral... I wonder how that held up in this 'murky' world of accounting and accountability?
not hating on kelly, I say good on him for trying... but it all seemed to go quiet after his big announcement...
if he has held up to the deal... I'm thinking that big bath tub may have blown the budget!
Even drilling down on the 'board-miles' for his Thai-built blades! Adopt a similar approach to food miles as you would your boards (and anything else for that matter) and this is even more of an incentive to support your local shaper.
a good argument for the virtue of localism
The Woz breathlessly announces various greenwashing spiels, while also celebrating surfers flying in from all over the world to chase a single swell… hahaha it cracks me up
A quick Ikea refresher from September (following their initial announcement in 2019):
"Since 2019, IKEA has partnered with the leading sports organization for surfers, World Surf League to develop a new collection inspired by a lifestyle that is close to the ocean, conscious of the planet, and active in its form."
Fantastic article. Once again you just have to love the elitist hypocrisy… they absolutely love telling everybody what they are doing and what everybody else should be doing without actually doing anything!
Great read and links too.
So much smoke and mirrors eh!
The WSL forgot one part of their carbon equation.
If they achieved their goal of dramatically boosting the participation on the worldwide masses in surfing to spread the joy to those who never before knew they needed to surf to be happy (or maybe boost their profits .. oops reduce their losses) ... and say another 10 million surfers swarmed out into the crowded lineups of the world to share the dream with us all then a whole new carbon generation burden arises.
By my calculations, if the WSL succeeds in its growth mission, another 200,000,000 trees will need to be planted over the next 10 years to offset the new frothers weekend trips and surf travel
That is 54,794 trees to be planted a day for ten years just to tread water.
Some working bees for the executive team and the GOAT coming up.
Planting trees Willy nilly, creates quite a problem come fire season .
Unmanaged forestation has no future.
Ensures a future volatile situation.
Every organisation has to pay lip-service to climate issues today lest they be labelled climate change deniers - the Woz is no different, nor should they be. Bugger all difference will be made but everybody gets to feel good.
A mate told me all pro surfers are going vegan as well as carbon neutral...
Yes people care and should, Australians will all be driving electric cars powered by solar panels on the roof of their homes in the near future. People will choose not to follow the material trappings of competitive commercialism. Communities will value green space and design their living arrangements too co exist with the natural world as they realise it increases their own wellbeing. People will enjoy more free time to connect with the community, families and not have to work all the time to pay off massive debts accrued on their reckless consumption journey. The government will invest in renewable technologies instead of handing tax payer funds to multi national coal mining companies for the promise of a few jobs.
We can just stay on the track we are on, out consuming our neighbours and friends. Work your whole life to pay off a couple of trophy houses and an endless string of oversized 4WD's, jet skis, boats and caravans and turn a blind eye to a fact that every scientist on the planet believes climate change is legit and we need to take action now. It's up to every individual to change their habits, doesn't do anyone favours just pointing fingers.
You're spot on with those two trajectories, Surf Nerd. The latter is a sad truth and what we're staring down the barrel of. Not paying true economic cost of the said material trappings – someones' gotta lose.
It blows me away that nearly every dual cab ute I'm seeing advertised is actually becoming 'bigger'... Americanisation of our market and culture...? Too much Joe Rogan? We need to be cutting back on this shit but there's still so many V8 200-series cruisers doing suburban driving. Yet, people will whinge about the price of fuel not realising that it is indeed a finite resource. I've heard the environmental vandals in-chief (LNP) are attempting to 'vote-buy' by advertising "lower fuel prices under LNP". The best part about this car pigeonholing is that you almost always see a few brand-spankin' white-glowing pumpout boards in the tub/boot.
Had a conversation with a mate in the surf the other day when we saw blokes on a ski buzz past Kirra on a tiny day with a few boards in-tow. Why not use a ski (because you can) to feed your wave-count greed? What's wrong with your arms and paddling? Embarrassing standard of greed set by a few in the limelight.
Disclaimer: I own a 4wd myself and am happy to be called out on this, but, I found the most efficient configuration on the market with the longest service intervals – also UN approved for foreign aid work so you know it'll survive in the most remote armpits of the world. I also only average about 5,000km a year which is considerably lower than most.
In the market for a 4WD and have been pretty disappointed by the fuel usage.
May I ask what make / model that is?
He is almost certainly talking about a 6 cylinder 70 series landcruiser imo. An excellent choice :D
(HDJ78 owner myself)
When I heard 14s as consumption for some of the new turbo diesels, that raised eyebrows as my old 60 with 2H would run 9.5 to 10.5 all day. That's before the new ones' EGR burns and smokescreening...
Gentle reminder, from one of our threads: if you own a dog, that's 2x 200 Series Landcruisers worth of CO2 enviro impact each year.
Well there's at least one scientist, Professor Steven Koonin, former professor of theoretical physics at California University of Technology , who doesn't believe "it's legit".
Well put, Steve. A great wake up call. And well researched. It's been a long time since I saw the Mau Mau flak catchers quoted in a scholarly work, love it. I think a lot of young surfers are beginning to understand the global dilemma and will really try to be part of the solution over the coming decade.
Offsets and carbon neutrality (net zero emissions) policies fail to recognise that present atmospheric CO2 concentrations are heating Earth. Current concentrations therefore have to be lowered. The critical question is whether current concentrations have reached a tipping point ie Earth's heating and related climate perturbations cannot be reversed and spiral out of control. Neither offsets nor carbon neutrality reduce current concentrations, they at best sustain current concentrations, serving as a deception for business as usual.
They probably should look to the past./ future.
Multiple contests in each region.
Teahupo/ cloudbreak/ Tahiti.
Put the trials in to the main event.
Fly everyone on the same plane.
I actually think they did pretty well with the Australian format last year.
Flying all the way to Brazil then back to j bay . for each contest seems like a waste of energy, and don't get me started on flying all the way to the states for the tub....
Steve Shearer for PM. You are one of greatest voices in surfing at the moment. Keep up the good work mate. Good to see some true environmental awareness and accountability actually seeping into the surf culture. Instead of just Seppo Greenwashing circle jerks (Water Person of the Year Dirk Ziff..... eat a dick)
Does anyone else remember an article written a few years ago which may have even been written by Freeride but posted on another site about Dirk Ziffs Great Barrier Reef destructing investment in the Stuart Shale Oil Project in North Queensland?
If anyone has a link please post as it was a very informative piece and exposed our green washed Water Person of the Year
Great read Steve......do you think you could give us a comp run down as well please? I miss them. Love to know your thoughts on Griffin and how he was trying to throw the heat for his buddy this morning. Could not believe that they put that interview to air, that Strider never dug deeper on it (actually not surprised) and that Griffin even mentioned his strategy (actually not that surprised either).
Well that was a very informative and annoying article Steve! I actually think it deserves a wider audience (even wider than Swellnet!).
Corporate and commercial greenwashing shits me to the core, and it's becoming normalised.
It's basically lying. And depending on the context it could be illegal.
That Wozzle claim and blurb is outrageous! So bad it's laughable: ".... in April 2019, with a tremendous media blitz, the Woz announced by the end of 2019 they would be carbon neutral. ...... They were going to set a “new standard for global professional sports”, the commitments were “designed to inspire, educate, and empower ocean lovers while addressing critical environmental issues...”
Just. Farken. WOW!
But you know what... the WSL should be held to account for such crap. And yes we do care.
Gee you could maybe team up with a forensic journo outfit with resources (ABC 7:30 Report type of thing?) and expose them as an example?
See I actually care less about the industries etc that carry on doing sweet f.a. about their impacts (for now) but without trying to hoodwink us, than those that run impactful systems and claim they're doing great by the planet, i.e. deliberate BS.
My gripe extends to businesses that go for green cred in name only. Eg there's a business here called Eco Guxxxx and Roxxxxx (name redacted). The word "Eco" is the most prominent word in their logo and advertising. Their "corporate colouring" / signage / vehicles are swathed in bright green. Now, I make no judgement on their professionalism and business, they may or may not do a great job as advertised, but as suspected, not ONE SINGLE WORD on their website as to why they are "eco" / ecologically minded.
I work in an area that has a bit to do with coastal tourism development and if I had $10 for every time someone has described or mentioned their proposed development as "eco-cabins" "eco-tourism" or "eco-friendly" in the last 10 years I could buy a new (carbon-neutral) surfboard. No exaggeration. Prolly two or three, with wax thrown in!
think local not global - get your boards glassed properly, for starters. Say good by to pop out labels manufactured in "file" glasshouses.
Has anyone noticed how Covid has put a clamp on international and domestic travel? And 2020 was the first year in the last few hundred that actually saw a reduction in international carbon emissions - due to Covid. And just as we come into another holiday period - ert - new Covid, let’s call it Omricon (moronic), let’s pump the breaks on travel before the holiday, just like last Christmas.
I wonder if it could possibly be related as the UN and whoever else is in charge looks at the world and says there is only one way we can get these greedy capitalists pigs to slow down?
Fuck the virus.
I like how Kelly focuses on awareness about plastic pollution and not carbon emissions, being concerned about one effects his life style and the other doesn’t. Recycled plastic surf shorts are cool, jetsetting around the world is cool and Kelly Slater is also cool.
We have come this far as capitalist pigs, let’s enjoy it and not go backwards. If the world is uninhabitable for future generations, I don’t give a shit. I am a capitalist like Kelly. We don’t care about people that don’t exist yet. We care about the Dow going up and alternate and pointless investments like Bitcoin that release more co2 into the atmosphere and have no actual purpose but help pay for our surf trips to remote locations where we can plan future resorts. And offer the locals jobs they didn’t need until our capitalist exploitation jacked the local price of living. Luckily there are no labour laws in this new utopia so we can run our minimal margin businesses at a profit by exploiting the locals in a modern form of slavery. Putting more coin in our pockets to keep searching out epic new spots.
We don’t seriously want this to end do we?
"Code red cognitive dissonance " > nice!
To start with amplification of the exposure of Carbon Offsetting as a proxy tax haven for FF profits is a good thing IMO............, however, it's been bought to my attention that a valid counterargument is that setting a price for the cost of carbon emissions; that is before the offset calculation - is the beginning of systemic change. The philosophical argument goes along the line that the primary calculation leads to a shift in perception. Sometimes I believe the dream, like sucking-in TW's koolaid, only because I've seen so many idealistic dreams for change dissolve because they didn't follow the money trail.
Good article Steve - I agree with others that this deserves a wider audience. Whilst surfing, surfers and the WSL are a drop in the ocean in terms of global carbon use - there sufficient ‘code red cognitive dissonance’ for the media and general public to be interested (or perhaps just momentarily titillated)
But anyway - a great piece - thanks
Surfers generally don't care - but make a lot of noise about caring. Boards, wetsuits, wax, international travel to excess, killing any creature which might pose some danger to them while playing in the ocean. That's just off the top of my head. Seen a big man ute or big 4WD around your local suburb lately? Guess what? Fairy dust does not come out of that pipe in the back.
Thanks Steve for giving this topic the air it deserves. To your question: Does anyone care? A: 100 and 10 fucking percent I care.
How do we actually get kudos / credits / etc for NOT chopping down something that is already there? Kind of seems akin to me being hailed as an Eco-Warrier by walking down for a surf check and NOT tipping out a garbage bin of Maccas wrappers and cigarette butts onto the beach.
Also where are all these trees supposedly being planted? Who keeps an eye on that?
Pro surfers are not the innocent byproduct of this machine that some people think. I mean does Pro X require a 20 board quiver for each leg of the tour? How many of these spoilt wankers give a new board the old 'arm test' or a quick surf only to resign the new marvel of petrochemical engineering to the other 60 in their garage? The examples are endless.
I don't claim to have the answers but I think at the very least we can look in the mirror and have a good think about the small things we can do ourselves. Hopefully societal pressure and private industry will drag governments kicking and screaming into a less environmentally damaging future (even if not through altruistic or philanthropic means but ongoing sheer greed)
PS - as someone said above, get thicker glass jobs!
Boards all made from timber, travel under sail to events rather than jets (JJF would rock this), walk the walk.
Great article, thank you. Would be great to have less of these swell chasing overseas strike missions represented in the surf media too. Or even just called out as irresponsible without the photos/video. Plenty of good material with local surfers or longer trips out there. Lot of respect for fergal.
The hypocrisy in pro surfing on many levels is staggering. Many of the pros have enjoyed vaccination free travel willy-nilly during Covid, while Joe Blow has been bent over just to keep a job.
+1. Some of those fuckers deserve a swift blow to the forehead I reckon.
I haven't read a surf related article that solid in ages. Well, pre 2000 tracks mags was probably the last time, character along with journalism, existed in surf media. Very bloody nice. The theory is bang on also. A Carbon credit will be the new Bitcoin, greenwashing and auditing of these credits will be an absolute joke.
Interesting article, thanks Steve. I’m the founder of Wave Changer, we’re a NFP that’s doing our bit to clean up the surfing industry and phase out oil-based surfing equipment (98% of the market); building on academic research and coming up with planet-friendly solutions for the surfing world. Please take a look: wavechanger.org
We’re pro-actively addressing a lot of the real concerns that surfers have, rather than any greenwashing or carbon offset schemes, which as Steve points out, doesn’t stop the polluting. Would be great to chat to someone at Swellnet (or anyone reading this who has useful connections in the industry) to help amplify our message. Ultimately we’d like to work with surfboard manufacturers (in a collaborative and friendly way) to explore alternative materials and rely less on offshore manufacturing, where often cheap nasty materials are used and environmental regulations are less stringent. We want to speed up the transition to cleaner materials and less harmful production methods. Cheers, Tom. [email protected]
Solid article. People who make big carbon neutral/ clean energy statements should back up their claims with Evidence/proof not hyperbole. Otherwise it has the sniff of fraud. Plenty of self interested ‘idealists’ pushing a toxic industry trying to make themselves feel better with lies about saving the planet - but less and less of the audience believing the deception.
Have a read of this - I may be being cynical but does anyone else feel this is really fuck all considering the show that the WSL is?
Few surfers planting a couple of trees and a bit of weeding?
well, it's not total greenwash, but micro-scale efforts. Also just one-off efforts - any planting, weeding, reveg effort etc. needs long-term monitoring and maintenance.
WSL - what's your strategy to ensure those plants survive and the weeds dont return in 6 months?
maybe they are doing good things helping build some capacity of those partner organisations?