I started playing soccer when I was six years old and immediately fell in love with the game. Some of my most cherished memories come from soccer: first learning to play, going to nationals with my club soccer team, the pregame chocolate chip muffins my college coach made before each game — the list goes on and on.
So when the Women’s World Cup comes around every four years, I’m transfixed. It’s like my birthday, New Years Eve, the 4th of July and summer vacation all wrapped into one. One of the things that I love about playing and watching soccer is that while it’s happening, I don’t think about anything else. It was one of the few times that I could stop thinking about homework, or the multitude of problems that we’re facing in the world.
When you work in environmental advocacy as I do, particularly working on an issue as challenging as climate change, it’s nice to have distractions that briefly take your mind away from our dangerous fossil fuel use, the continued warming of the planet and the increase in severe weather events.
This year, however, it was impossible to watch the Women’s World Cup without recognizing the effects of climate change.
In the midst of the knock-out round, France (the host country for those not religiously following the U.S. Women’s National Team run) was hit by a major heat wave. Temperatures in parts of southern France climbed to 114 degrees Fahrenheit, and the French national weather service activated its highest-level heat danger alert for the very first time. Across France, thousands of schools closed because the temperatures threatened children’s safety.
These dangerously high temperatures also have practical effects on the games, such as requiring extra water breaks for players and changing coaches’ substitution strategy to keep players from becoming over-fatigued.
Reading about and watching this heatwave brought me back to the summer of 2010, when I experienced firsthand how difficult it is to play in intense heat. That year, my club soccer team made it to nationals, which were being held in July just outside of Kansas City. Kansas in July is remarkably warm (it gets regularly into the 90s), and turf fields feel even warmer. On a sunny day, a turf field can be 40 to 70 degrees warmer than the surrounding air.
Officials instituted extra water breaks and placed giant fans blowing cool water all around the fields to try and control the temperatures. Even so, everyone, from the players to our parents, were exhausted from the heat. Playing in that kind of heat is not only hard, it can be dangerous.
As the planet warms, the weather that we saw in France could become the norm. Future World Cups could all feel like they are being played on a turf field in Kansas in July.
But this future isn’t a forgone conclusion. We can stop the use of fossil fuels and transition to 100 percent renewable energy sources, namely wind and solar. To do that, we will need institutions like colleges and universities, cities, states and our federal government to champion clean energy and commit to moving toward a renewable energy economy.
There is a long list of reasons I care about stopping climate change and ending the pollution and environmental destruction caused by fossil fuels, and I am happy to include protecting future Women’s World Cups on that list.