Nascar and EPA Add a Green Tinge to Burning Rubber
by Bill Chameides | May 25th, 2012
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)
How a green dean squares attending a Nascar race.
I’ve got a confession to make. Last Friday I made my foray into the world of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, better known as Nascar.
Auto races tend to be fairly gasoline-intensive. And so I’m sure you won’t be surprised that Nascar races are not the greenest events around. By one estimate, a typical Nascar race weekend emits about 120,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) while the average American only emits about 45,000 pounds of CO2 in a year. Yikes. (Those numbers might be out of date because the calculation uses the carbon content in gasoline and Nascar now uses an ethanol-gasoline blend. Still, yikes.)
An Invitation I Couldn’t Refuse
So I was conflicted when Paulie Harraka, a recent Duke grad and a rookie on the Nascar circuit, invited me to the Charlotte Motor Speedway to view last weekend’s Camping World Truck Series race from the vantage point of his pit right down by the racetrack.
It would not be a green event, that much was clear, but, hey, doesn’t a dean get to break the rules every so often, especially when it means an opportunity to root for a Dukie? Besides, if I expect America to cross over to the green side, shouldn’t I spend some time breaking bread with the people who race and root at the most popular (by some estimates) spectator sport in all of America (sixth most popular, according to another)? In the end, the answer to both came up yes, and so there I was last Friday night at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
A Day at the Races
So how was it?
Bottom line: It was a gas (sorry, couldn’t resist). Very loud, but that’s what the headphones are for. The racing people were all friendly and inviting, making it easy to understand the idea of the Nascar “family.” And the race itself, I got into it.
It was exciting watching those trucks speed by at 180 miles per hour, rooting for Truck #5 driven by what I assume must be Duke’s only Nascar driving alum. (Does anyone know otherwise?) Or I should say it was exciting until Paulie hit the wall about halfway through the race and the pit crew packed it up and headed back to the garage. (Watch race video.)
To both fit in with the crowd and make my own statement about who I am and where my allegiances lie, I made sure to advertise sartorially — I sported my Duke Environment T-shirt. And when people asked me — and many a spectator did — what a dean from the School of the Environment was doing at a Nascar race, I had at least a bit of ammunition at the ready even if the bullets came courtesy of Nascar itself.
My Defense: Nascar’s Been Boasting ‘Bout Its Green Creds
Nascar says it’s going green and has a whole section of its website devoted to its Nascar Green Program. A white paper [pdf] the car-racing group released on Earth Day titled “The Sports Leader in Sustainability” describes “the various programs that have made Nascar a leader in green initiatives across all sports.”
Included in the white paper and elsewhere are such items as:
- Its discontinuance of leaded gasoline in 2008 (good move, albeit somewhat belated as leaded gasoline was completely phased out of commercial gasoline in 1996).
- Its boast of having the “world’s largest recycling program, the world’s largest solar-powered sports facility, and the largest tree-planting program in sports” in 2010.
- Switching to E15 (a gasoline-ethanol blend of 85 percent gas, 15 percent ethanol) for its three largest series. (By some estimates ethanol blends lower emissions of CO2 and other pollutants, but such reductions depend upon what type of crop is used to produce the ethanol and what impact growing that crop might have on land use and soil carbon storage.)
- The naming of Creative Recycling Systems Inc., a leader in electronics recycling, as an Official Green Partner.
- Its reported tree plantings to the tune of 2,000 trees per year “to offset pollution.”
My spirited defense left most folks at the racetrack nonplussed. Sure, they loved getting out and taking in their favorite sport, but their skeptical expressions implied that my being there was just plain odd.
I have to admit I was a little dubious too. It’s great that Nascar has taken up the green mantle, and I congratulate them for that, but they’ve got a long way to go. For example, let’s take the example of planting 2,000 trees per year:
In the first 10 years of a tree’s life, it will absorb, depending on the tree, roughly one to 20 pounds of CO2 per year [pdf]. (The lower number applies to a tree in its first few years, and the larger number to a fast growing tree approaching 10 years). So 2,000 trees would absorb about 2,000–40,000 pounds of CO2 per year. By simple extrapolation, we might estimate that ten years of planting 2,000 trees would result in as much as 400,000 pounds of CO2 per year (actually it’s a lot less than that because most of the trees would be less than 10 years old, but let’s not sweat the details). That would be enough to offset about four race weekends, and Nascar runs many more race weekends than four.
So I was feeling pretty guilty about my Friday night flight to Charlotte. But in the end none other than the Environmental Protection Agency bailed me out.
Nascar Revs up the Green with EPA
On Monday morning, following my Friday of profligate gasoline consumption by proxy, I woke to the news that EPA and Nascar had formed a new partnership to embrace going green voluntarily. The agreement [pdf] will initially focus on three areas: greening Nascar-related supply chains, greening its concessions, and using Nascar’s name to promote green products. The largely educational campaign is designed to get the larger Nascar family to start thinking green, although it’s a fair bet that some in that Nascar family will be a wee bit resistant, as evidenced here.
Say what you will about Nascar, this is another step in the right direction for the industry. For one, greening the Nascar supply chain will have an impact even if the cars continue to guzzle gas. If TV ratings are any indication, a green Nascar campaign will reach a lot of people.
Moreover, it’s yet another sign that despite the intransigence of our reps in DC, the world — including Americans in general and soon Americans at the racetrack — is moving on sustainability.
Finally, I think it gives a belated green light to my Nascar foray last Friday — if EPA can partner with Nascar, can’t a dean hang with a driver and his pit crew for a few hours. I think it might even give me a pass to attend another Nascar race down the road, you know, just to see if Nascar and EPA make for a winning team? Now if I could just get Paulie Harraka to wear a Duke Environment tee…filed under: faculty, pollution
and: biofuels, cars, Duke alumni, Duke University, Environmental Protection Agency, ethanol, Nascar