Monday, May 14, 2012

NASCAR and the Environment


I've written before about how (stereotypical) emblems of conservative ideals, such as the U.S. military and Field and Stream, have demonstrated that environmental protection is truly a bi-partisan issue. These demonstrations support my view that true conservatism - despite conventional wisdom to the contrary - is quite consistent with, and actually mandates, conservation. Well, add NASCAR to the growing list of examples. The May 6, 2012 print edition of the Mobile Press-Register included an article written by Doug Demmons and titled "NASCAR embraces its inner environmentalist," which highlighted the "green hue" that NASCAR has taken of late - despite the fact that only 5 years ago the organization was still using leaded fuel. Now, however, NASCAR has launched a "Green Initiative" that includes "tree-planting, solar panels, electronics recycling, and more."

The article acknowledged that NASCAR has "long been associated with a conservative political philosophy," but that the policy was successfully put into place because NASCAR emphasized three areas in particular that resonate with NASCAR fans: 1) conservation, 2) job-creation, and 3) weaning America off of Middle Eastern oil. In fact, recent polling has demonstrated that "NASCAR fans have shifted even more than the general population toward support for such programs."  

NASCAR has moved away from leaded gasoline toward ethanol/conventional fuel blends and has further established a program to "offset the carbon that racecars pump into the atmosphere by planting trees at tracks and in the communities surrounding those tracks." In a somewhat funny sounding, but still awesome sentence, NASCAR has acknowledged that "the more wrecks and blown engines there are that require restarts, the more trees will be planted." NASCAR plans to double the size of the program each year until they have covered the entire racing circuit. These efforts are steps in the right direction, since according to NASCAR's estimates it only takes one racecar traveling 500 miles to put one metric ton of carbon into the atmosphere, while one tree over a 40-year period stores that much carbon. NASCAR racecars on the Sprint circuit alone burn through over 135,000 gallons of fuel in one season.

Additionally, Goodyear Tires shreds and repurposes most all of the used racecar tires, Safety-Kleen Systems reuses 180,000 gallons of spent motor oil and lubricants each year, at least one raceway (Pocono) is powered completely by solar power, one team (Roush) recycles nearly all of its wrecked cars, and one shop (that of Kyle Busch) is attempting to obtain LEED certification for its new facility in North Carolina. An all-electric Ford Focus was even the pace car that led the gas-guzzlers to the green flag at a recent race.

In the end, NASCAR's move demonstrates the power of appealing to the correct values, and how true environmentalism is about making real to everyone along the political spectrum the way in which the environment affects their daily life. Unlike so many contentious issues of our time, which involve issues of religious conviction or moral ideals, the environmental discussion largely depends upon the accurate dissemination of information. Sure, there are those who would argue that environmentalism invokes morals or religious convictions (on both sides of the debate), but ultimately when people understand the dependence of society on a clean and healthy environment, positive steps are typically taken.

In John Rawls' "veil of ignorance" he challenges us to consider what we would want society to be like if we had no way of knowing whether we'd be born rich or poor, black or white, powerful or disenfranchised. Rasband, Salzman, and Squillace frame the question a bit differently: if you had no idea when you would be born, how would you want resources to be managed today? I imagine most NASCAR drivers and fans would want us to be burning the most renewable fuels (and the cleanest), recycling racing materials, powering facilities with renewable energy, and preserving enough natural capital around the racetrack to stand in the shade on a hot summer day. Because if they don't, then in 300 years their descendents almost certainly will wonder about this strange artifact of a sport where 100,000 people gathered to watch cars drive around in circles.

- Blake Hudson

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