“I’m an Athlete and These Are the Unexpected Ways Climate Change Is Impacting Sportspeople”
From a young age, I’ve always been passionate about the human body. It led me to pursue a career as a professional athlete in pole vaulting and I’ve planned to use a Bachelor of Science as a stepping stone to medical school when I am no longer able to compete as a sportsperson.
As part of these studies when it came time to choose an elective paper, I found the most science-based paper I could: marine science. It was deeply unsettling to learn about the human pressures placed on the marine environment. Particularly overfishing, habitat destruction, ocean acidification and the omnipresence of micro-plastics.
I felt I had to do something to learn more about these environmental issues, so I changed my major to environmental science. Since then, I have slowly changed many of my behaviours and practices to become more sustainable and educate and encourage those around me to do the same.
Climate change is already impacting the way athletes train, recover and compete. In athletics, the two most prominent impacts are heat and pollution. Many of the stadiums we compete in around the world are in big cities, where both heat and pollution are generally higher than surrounding areas, affecting athlete health and the ability to train and compete well.
As storm events increase in frequency and intensity, flooding and damage to infrastructure will increasingly disrupt sport. All of this will change where and when sporting events can be held safely. As a pole vaulter, we cannot safely train or compete in extreme weather, especially in electrical storms. As we compete for hours at a time, heat can be problematic for us too.
Unfortunately, these issues are only going to worsen before they improve, so climate change will continue to impact athletes and sport around the world for the foreseeable future. So what can we do on an individual level to make a difference? This is how I contribute to a more sustainable world and you can too:
Cut Down on Food Waste
Food related behaviours are usually considered the biggest impact we have as individuals and the biggest way to reduce our footprint on the planet.
I’ve slowly reduced the amount of animal products I consume. I started buying local and seasonal produce where possible. I’m more mindful about food waste and reducing it in any way I can, such as growing my own fruit and vegetables at home. We can all do something, whether it’s eating less meat or growing some herbs in a pot on your bench.
My best tip would be to make small changes that you can build on over time to ensure the habit sticks.
Be More Mindful of Consumption
Thinking about everything I purchase as having an impact on the planet, whether that be from using finite resources, water, energy or adding to pollution in one form or another, has changed what I choose to buy.
By mindful consumption, what I really mean is thinking about the products we buy — do you really need it? Is it second hand? What packaging does it have? Are there good end of life options such as the ability to recycle, fix, or sell a product? Finally, is it from a brand committed to sustainability?
This is why I love working with Nike because they understand the impact global brands have on the environment and they understand the role they have to play in a more sustainable world. My favourite planet-friendly initiative they have is the “sustainable materials” range. This is footwear and clothing made with recycled materials, like the Pegasus Turbo Next Nature.
Reduce My Energy Consumption
Energy consumption is another big area of individual impact, particularly in Australia. We can make a difference by thinking about the way we travel, the energy provider we use and the amount of energy we consume each day.
I’m very fortunate to have an electric car to drive around in, but I try to walk, bike or catch public transport where possible. I’ve chosen an energy provider that is generating renewable energy and I don’t use a dryer at home. And then I’m also careful to do the little things well, like turning lights off when leaving a room or trying to spend less time watching TV.
The important thing to remember is we can all do something, whether big or small, to reduce the amount of energy we use each day.
Believe You Can Make a Difference
It can be easy to be overwhelmed with the problems our planet is facing and lose the motivation to change our own behaviours.
I know the feeling of thinking my individual impact won’t make a difference but I’m here to assure you it will. Together, individuals can vote in democracies, choose where their money is invested, influence markets and influence the people around them.
If you make changes to be more sustainable, I can promise that in time, those around you will follow your lead. I’m optimistic and believe most people want to do the right thing and if they are shown how, they will. So don’t underestimate the power you have as an individual.
Spend More Time in Nature
This might seem trivial, but how can we care about something we don’t see or interact with? I find the more time I spend immersed in nature, the more I feel an overwhelming responsibility to care for it. We are in a mass extinction, rapidly losing species and ecosystems around the world.
Nature is both resilient and vulnerable; it will go on but humans are permanently altering what will remain. If you’re anything like me, being out in nature will motivate you, even more, to make a change towards a sustainable future.
Eliza McCartney is an Aotearoa New Zealand Pole Vaulter who completed in the Rio 2016 Olympics. Eliza is also an Environmental Science student who is passionate about making a difference when it comes to climate change. You can find here on Instagram.