Climate Change for Football Fans

As Euro 2020 continues, it’s coming home to us that the climate emergency remains the other priority.  Here’s an extract from ‘Climate Change for Football Fans’ by James Atkins – in which the narrator and his pals educate the Professor on the rules of football while he teaches them the niceties of climate change.


Joe started with the basics. It made sense to begin with simple dimensions because the Professor was so good at numbers. The match is ninety minutes long. Two halves of forty-five. Two teams with ten outfield players and one goalkeeper. You can have seven subs. The goal is eight yards by eight feet. The pitch is between 50 and 100 yards wide and 100 and 150 yards long. The capacity of Turf Moor is 22,000. “You have to learn this stuff, Prof. It won’t help you love Burnley. But you still need it.”

Igor dutifully noted all these statistics at the back of his book. He now flicked through to the front.

“I’m afraid the world of emissions is a horrible jumble of numbers, too. Grams of this, kilograms of that, tons and megatons, parts per million, percentages and probabilities, CO2 and CH4 and SF6 and HFC23 …”

“Bloody hell, I’m not supposed to learn all that, am I?” gaped Joe. “I’m shite at maths.”

“No, no,” said Igor. “It’s very simple. The UK is responsible for just over 900 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions. There’s 600 million tons which are created within the UK and there’s another 300 million tons of emissions caused by all the stuff we import from other countries. So if there’s 60 million people and 365 days a year, it comes to 42 kg per person per day.”

“Hey wasn’t that the number in that Hitchhiker’s Guide thing? 42?” said Darren. “Bloody scary, that.”

“Now, usually people break down these emissions by saying that so many come from power stations, so many from cars, so many from agriculture and so on. But remember that every ton of emissions comes from something which people do. One way of looking at them is to break them down into three categories.” “Go on,” said Joe.

“First, things which we do every day. Which cause lots of small emissions day in day out.”

“Like … having a bath?” said Doris. “Exactly.”

“Or having a cuppa. And driving to work,” said Joe.

“Perfect. Then next group is special things we do from time to time …”

“You mean like … going out to dinner with the Mrs?”

“I’m thinking more of things which have a big impact on our emissions but we do them rarely. Things like going on holiday. Or more like buying a new fridge and getting a new car. Making these things causes a big guff of emissions. And then the catch is that once you’ve bought your car or your freezer, it just goes on causing emissions for years after that. Most unfortunate.”

“Hmm … ‘most unfortunate’,” repeated Darren. “That’s ‘double whammy’ to you, Dad.”

“Those two groups were things we can do something about. Then there are things which we can’t do much about. Things that are done for us, which we benefit from, but we have no influence over.” “What do you mean?” asked Joe.

“Emissions from fighter planes, from government buildings and the tax office, from the police, from county council offices, from maintaining the country’s infrastructure–” Just then the carriage lurched and the train came to a stop.

We were in the middle of the countryside somewhere on the Yorkshire moors. We looked out across sweeping, treeless hillsides cast with the evening light. A wind had blown up, buffeting the rooks which were making their way home to roost.

 “You can have some Smarties, Dad,” suggested Kelly.

“Perfect,” Igor said, pouncing on the coloured chocolate buttons. He poured a pile of Smarties onto the cloth on the table and began count them and sort them into colours. Then laid them out on the table like this:

“Here are 24 Smarties – 24 kg of carbon dioxide per person per day from the things which we do every day. It’s a rough average.”

He pointed to the short column on the left. “The 1 kg from running the home – lighting, vacuuming and cleaning. Next to it are another 5 kg of carbon dioxide from heating the house and other buildings. That’s emissions from the boiler burning gas. That is per person.”

The third column is about keeping clean – 3 from washing and showering – all that hot water, running the shower motor and so forth. And the fourth is from clothing. Some is running the washing machine, ironing, drying and the rest is a portion of all the emissions from making the clothes you wear.”

The Professor carried on: “The biggest column is emissions from food. 2 kg is from cooking – the oven, the kettle, the fridge and freezer, the dishwasher and so on, not to forget the weekly run to the supermarket … 5 more kg are from producing food – transport, factories which process food, tractors and combines at the farm, making packaging and so on. Everything – your pizza and pasta and butter, bread, milk, jam, Marmite, Rice Krispies and All-Bran Yoghurt Bites, balti takeaways, winter tomatoes from the hot house, strawberries flown in from South Africa … That includes emissions from agriculture – which are all part of getting food onto this table. About 2 kilos per person per day.”

“What’s that pink column, then, with them two in?” asked Darren.

“That’s 2 kg of emissions from commuting. 8 or 9 kg for the household each day.”

“And this last column is for recreation and leisure.” Igor pointed to the alternative purple and blue Smarties. “Approximately 4 kg.” “What’s in all that?” asked Darren.

“All the electricity used by your television, your computers, your hifi, radio, and play station. All the energy to make books and newspapers. A bit more than 2 for all the travelling around we do for leisure – driving to matches, to the cinema, to dancing lessons. It’s your share of all the emissions from leisure activities going on around the country – cinemas, theatres, leisure centres, sports clubs… and so on. 

“So that all makes 29 kilograms per person per day. Just for the everyday activities.”

“Is that it, then?” asked Darren. “Can we have the rest of them?”

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