Thursday, 17 March 2011

Climate Change for Football (or Soccer) Fans

 Paul Haynes in conversation with James Atkins
Climate change policy is certainly an issue that receives attention – the search term generates more than half a million hits; however, a similar search for “Manchester United” generates nearly 100 million, and they are only 1 of the 92 professional football clubs in England.  This statistic seems to support my prejudice that football supporters (like myself – Wolverhampton Wanderers in case you wondered) are involved with their club in ways that very few issues can match.  If climate change apathy is the problem (and the blog title gives a clue about my view), the question is could we learn anything about the enthusiasm and engagement of football fans.  It turns out that someone else (a Manchester United fan no less) has already thought about this and written a book about football fans, for football fans that also examines climate change policy issues.  The novel, which I’m reading at the moment, is a well observed and comical story about individuals with a passion for football, and another with a passion for addressing climate change, and how they learn from each other.  I caught up with the author, James Atkins, to ask him about the motives for writing his book:
Climate Change for Football Fans is an attempt to talk about climate change policy, a dull subject, in a more palatable way: a chocolate digestive in a world of Lincolns.  In the last ten years working in emissions trading I have thought a lot about environmental problems and climate change and what governments and individuals can do about them. I have also written about this in articles and in my blog The Bustard.  Then a friend suggested that I compile the blog entries into a book in order to expand the readership.  Not wanting to repeat what had already been written I started reading around the topic.

I found that books and reports on climate change policy are an uphill struggle.  Few books on climate change are readable or enjoyable, despite it being an extremely important topic. So I tried to find a way of making the book more entertaining.  This was partly through putting dialogue and humour in it, and partly through introducing the loose parallel of another subject.

The book is a series of conversations between Joe, a Burnley lad who is football mad, and Professor Igor who's obsessed with climate change.
Joe thinks that worrying about climate change is a waste of time. Igor can't understand why 22 grown men would put on shorts and run around after a ball.  Igor agrees to spend a season with Joe going to every Burnley game, and in return Joe and his family listen to the Professor rattle on about climate policy.

The target audience is broad.  I started out writing for policy makers and academics.  Then I thought they wouldn’t really read it anyway.  So I expanded it for the general, sport-loving public.  But it retains an underlying seriousness and there is some attention to technical issues, which, from time to time, might need patience.

There is a serious parallel between football and climate policy, and that is, oddly, about the nature of the demand curve for carbon intensive and low-carbon products and services.  Passion for something can create unusually-shaped demand curves, which is why obsessive football fans will go to extremes to follow their team, irrespective of the economic rationale.  Football transcends economics, and we need passion for survival to do so, too.

Talking about unusual shapes, a number of people have said to me “Wrong shape!” which in the code of public school chaps with wide shoulders, means that they like rugby and not football and wouldn’t be seen dead reading a book with the word football on the front cover.  For those who do not like football, I think the metaphor works for all manner of sports.  Possibly even curling.  Come to think of it, definitely curling, threatened as it is by climate change.
James Atkins is Chairman of Vertis Environmental Finance, an emissions trading company in Hungary which he set up in 1998, is involved in various businesses related to climate change and edits the blog The Bustard.

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