With the upcoming Kansas City Chiefs vs. Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl matchup at the top of every sports report in the United States, it’s easy to forget about other NFL teams, especially the Houston Texans. Their third straight lackluster season in a row saw them lose more games than almost any other team. With the Texans’ few victories overshadowed by a multitude of defeats, it’s easy to understand why otherwise loyal fans might act as if they no longer care.
It’s similar to what we see happening with our climate. Everywhere you turn, there’s bad news about climate change, and there’s only so much negativity you can take. New technological breakthroughs and forward-looking environmental policies provide glimmers of hope that the climate crisis can be turned around. Then, the global equivalent of a game-ending pick-six happens: intergovernmental talks fail, or we learn that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise year after year. We respond with frustration, apathy, anger, and anxiety. Out of self-preservation, we act as if we no longer care.
News about the NFL’s connection to climate change is rare. After all, what role does professional football have in addressing catastrophic climate change?
In an early contender for 2023’s most interesting collaboration, the Houston Texans have joined forces with 1PointFive, which is now the team’s “preferred carbon removal partner.” The Texans have agreed to buy Direct Air Capture carbon offsets from the subsidiary of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum to cover three years of flights to away games.
What exactly does this mean?
Direct Air Capture (DAC) is a method of removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. It specifically removes carbon that has already been emitted and is contributing to climate chaos around the world. Once the CO2 is removed, it is stored in stable geological formations for centuries or longer.
Right now, DAC is expensive and relatively inefficient, just as most technologies are in their infancy. By making this early stage investment, the Texans are not simply trying to find a quick way to prove their green credentials; they’re acting as seed investors for a concept that can contribute to returning atmospheric levels of greenhouse gasses back to pre-industrial levels – aka restoring the climate.
DAC is just one of many solutions that have the potential to play a part in climate restoration. Some, like DAC, are engineering- or technology-based. Others, such as reforestation, regenerative agriculture, and cultivating kelp and other ocean macroalgae are nature-based. Deployed at scale safely, intentionally, and responsibly, these solutions together could do in decades what Mother Nature does over tens of thousands of years.
Restoring the climate is no small task. There are over 1 trillion tons of excess carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gasses blanketing our atmosphere. In addition to removing excess CO2, the global energy transition must be completed swiftly so that we stop adding more literal fuel to this fire.
Carbon dioxide removal (taking historical carbon emissions out of the ambient air) is occasionally confused with carbon capture and storage, which filters CO2 emissions at an industrial point source, such as a smokestack. Carbon dioxide removal is also sometimes criticized as an excuse for fossil fuel companies to continue with business as usual while doing nothing more than offsetting some of their future emissions. In isolated incidents, there is some veracity to this criticism, but in climate restoration, there is no room for maintaining the carbon status quo. The ambition is not to simply achieve net zero or keep the world to 1.5°C of warming, but to bring CO2 concentrations back to pre-industrial levels of less than 300 parts per million by 2050.
The game clock is ticking, and we can’t afford to punt. All of us have to go for it together on fourth down. Companies, especially those that have profited from the use of fossil fuels, have a responsibility to get involved in restoring the climate. So do our elected officials, who have the power to put into place policies that enable climate restoration solutions to flourish.
What can one person do to ensure a future in which all humans can thrive? Actions like planting trees or observing Meatless Monday are helpful on an individual level. You can augment this impact by joining with like minded friends to demand that your state and federal elected officials, companies you buy products from, and — as we just found out — professional sports teams you support all take meaningful action to restore the climate.
We know for sure that the Texans won’t be lifting the Lombardi Trophy on February 12th. But by becoming an early adopter of carbon dioxide removal, they’ll be taking home the ‘W’ for the climate we all share.
Rick Wayman is President & CEO of the Foundation for Climate Restoration (f4cr.org).