A storm cloud of environmental accusations and controversy surrounds the 2014 FIFA World Cup. I can see why people are incensed by some of the environmental impacts and arguably poor choices Brazil has made, but – to liberally paraphrase former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – who are we to talk?
Yes, the World Cup’s environmental impact is tremendous. Yes, efforts to greenwash it are largely transparent (in a bad way). And yes, seeing rainforest cleared to erect what are, in several cases, fundamentally single-use stadiums is about as much “in your face” to the environmental movement as anything could be. The details are chronicled in multiple places, and they certainly are worrisome. Forbes published an article more than two years ago entitled “Greed, Greenwashing and Brazil’s Hail Mary for a Green World Cup.” It pointed out, and rightly so, that achieving a “green” World Cup is a monumental task and, given Brazil’s circumstances, pulling that off would be even more challenging. The Nation recently published a piece that referred to the event as a “kick in the teeth” to the environment.
But, who are we to talk? That is the question posed not just by Brazil, but by emerging economies around the world. Let’s ask ourselves a question: If the industrialized world had not launched a no-holds-barred assault on the planet for decades, would we have the quality of life we enjoy today? Not only that, but much of the current exploitation of resources in the developing world continues to fuel our own lifestyles.
What we are seeing in Brazil is a sign of difficult things to come. We saw it in Russia during the Winter Olympics, and we will no doubt see it again in 2016 in Rio. There are multiple emerging economies that want what we have. Chances are they are not going to get it by selling sandals made out of banana leaves. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying we throw in the towel. But we should be mindful of their perspectives.
For us, going green is a relatively new effort after many years of very dirty business. There were generations of soot and fossil fuel consumption that happened before we could afford to drive our hybrids to the community garden. Much of what we are doing now to make the world a better place is fundamentally financed with good ol’ industrialized money earned with dirty factories and toxic chemicals.
As we continue to promote sustainability, we need to remember where we came from and have a little less outrage and a little more humility. We can hope that the developing world will see and learn from our mistakes. And we should try to work together to invent new ways to get them what they want without destroying what we all need.
For the time being, I’m going to bite my green tongue and enjoy a futbol-crazy nation’s “day in the sun” as they host one of the world’s premiere sporting events.