The original hoser, I’m told by an unimpeachable source from way up in Canada, was the guy who went out to his front yard in the middle of the winter and hosed down the lawn in order to make some flat ice, so he and his friends could play hockey. A better way to get ice is to find a cove or embayment along a small lake that is protected from the wind; clear off the snow and you’ve got a nice flat surface. If that is not available, clear the snow off the rugged and rough ice that forms on many lakes, build a dam of hard packed snow around it … and hose that down. Even better, build a partly enclosed structure, with low walls all around and a rough and ready roof overhead, and put a naturally freezing hockey rink in there. Make sure to add a warming shack nearby because it can get mighty cold.

All these things were done to make places to skate, and in particular, to skate with sticks in the game of hockey. Later, and more expensively and more rarely, were built buildings with central heating and an ice rink in the middle, which is a bit of a technological challenge requiring expensive machinery. But this approach can be done anywhere in the world. Hockey is a Winter Olympic game you can play anywhere, no matter what the geography or the weather, because of this technology

But to produce a plethora of players who someday might be pro hockey, you have to hose down the yard or have a local community outdoor rink, affordable, accessible, to serve as the starting point for so many so that so few can be so good. This is why Hockey is more of a northern sport; it is played widely all across Canada and the northern tier of US states, because that is where the natural ice, on small ponds and lakes, and the nearly natural ice of the outdoor rink, is to be found reliably.

Until now.

Sustainability is one of those hippie words, like recycling and om. But sustainability is also a real thing that even those who distain the culture of thoughtful treatment of the earth must pay attention to, if they want to be, well, sustained, in their pursuit of important things like hockey. The National Hockey League understands this, and recently issued their “2014 NHL Sustainability Report” in which they note that hockey is in trouble because of global warming. Simply put, those ponds and lakes and hosed-down yards have become increasingly unreliable as many winters are just too warm to allow their development and maintenance. In many areas, it was once the case that all a young person needed to play hockey was a good pair of skates, a big stick, and a love of pain (apparently). Nature provided the ice. But now nature, messed with by humans, has become an unreliable partner. The report faces off with a letter from Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner, who states:

But before many of our players ever took their first stride on NHL ice, they honed their skills on the frozen lakes and ponds of North America and Europe. Our sport can trace its roots to frozen freshwater ponds, to cold climates. Major environmental challenges, such as climate change and freshwater scarcity, affect opportunities for hockey players of all ages to learn and play the game outdoors…

As a business, we rely on freshwater to make our ice, on energy to fuel our operations and on healthy communities for our athletes, employees and fans to live, work and play. Moreover, to continue to stage world class outdoor hockey events like the NHL Winter Classic, NHL Heritage Classic or NHL Stadium Series, we need winter weather….

This is all part of NHL Green, an effort to document the leagues environmental impact, and possibly, to do something about it. Currently, it seems that the league is mainly focused on documenting that they have a tiny impact on the environment compared to the entire world put together, but the are also working to offset impacts and raise awareness of related issues.

Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, also has a cover letter for the report:

You are about to read the single most important document about the environment ever produced by a professional sports organization.

The 2014 NHL SUSTAINABILITY REPORT is the first ever such report produced by a professional sports league…

… No league has ever produced a sustainability report that is so thoughtfully crafted, honest about its limits and emphatic about the urgent need to protect our planet. And no league has ever been so frank about the risks to its very existence posed by climate change.

This document is an important reminder to all sports fans, leagues, teams and businesses that while natural hockey ice might be the “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to the effects of climate change on sports, the effects of climate disruption are a challenge to all leagues and businesses, and we must take meaningful action to reverse course.

… this report underscores the fact that there is no action too small to undertake when it comes to addressing our ecological problems. After all, there is no single law or single business undertaking that by itself can remedy the problems posed by climate disruption, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, ocean acidification and so many other ecological pressures. We have no choice but to implement many small steps that will collectively add up to meaningful ecological progress.

This, in my view, is part of the shift in the cultural landscape we need to see in order to more effectively address climate change. The acceptance of climate science and the will do to something about global warming tends to distribute along a left-right political axis, with the left being more understanding and demanding, understanding of the importance of climate change and demanding that we do something about it. But this axis also sorts out other features of society, and team sports (especially some team sports), farming, and the military, to name just three examples, tend to more or less be distributed right of center. Lately we’ve seen a dramatic increase in concern over climate change by farmers; the military has been addressing climate change vigorously, despite efforts in the Tea Party Congress to thwart that, and now, hockey, the rightest and whitest, if you will, of the team sports, is chiming in. Because ice melts when it gets warm. Global warming. Its a thing.

Comments

  1. #1 Composer99
    July 24, 2014

    Global warming: cruelly and mercilessly stamping on the dreams of thousands of Canadian parents to put their children through years and years of gruelling hockey training, practice, and games, for a miniscule chance at an NHL career!

    (Also sticking it to people who just want to enjoy a game at the lake or at the park. But who cares about them?)

  2. #2 Craig Thomas
    July 27, 2014

    Maybe they can take up chess instead.

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