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Joan Benoit Samuelson/Andrew Ference: We should run to clean energy

By Joan Benoit Samuelson/Andrew Ference
The Providence Journal
Today’s the annual spring moment when athletics take New England’s center stage — the Boston Marathon and traditional Red Sox matinee game, with yet another Bruins playoff run under way. As athletes privileged to compete at the highest levels in two of these events, we know a lot about competition and challenges. Our careers are anchored in a belief that it’s always possible to do better. We also want a better world for our children. That’s why we have taken a big interest in just the kind of challenge athletes love to take on — a drive for less polluting energy sources that will keep the air we breathe clean.
Joan Benoit Samuelson/Andrew Ference: We should run to clean energy

Joan Benoit Samuelson is an Olympic gold medalist runner running her first Boston Marathon since 1993. Andrew Ference is a Boston Bruins defenseman.

Today’s the annual spring moment when athletics take New England’s center stage — the Boston Marathon and traditional Red Sox matinee game, with yet another Bruins playoff run under way.

As athletes privileged to compete at the highest levels in two of these events, we know a lot about competition and challenges. Our careers are anchored in a belief that it’s always possible to do better. We also want a better world for our children. That’s why we have taken a big interest in just the kind of challenge athletes love to take on — a drive for less polluting energy sources that will keep the air we breathe clean.

We’re just citizens; neither of us believes that being an athlete gives us any special right to be heard on public issues. However, we do believe that being parents does. We each have two kids who appreciate the benefits of a healthy environment. Being New Englanders who care about where we live does, too.

This is far from an abstract issue for us. One of us has run — this is no typo — close to 140,000 miles in the past 35 or more years, mostly at home in Maine, and in doing so has directly experienced worrisome trends like rising ozone levels that are tough on runners, plus environmental changes arising from a changing climate. When the outdoors is your playground and workplace you notice those things more. That’s led one of us (Joan) to work with the Maine Lung Association, Friends of Casco Bay and other environmental groups.

The second of us (Andrew) who lives in Boston, worries that society’s increasingly frantic search for new oil sources is fouling the once-pristine forests and air of his native Canada, where a particularly dirty process of unlocking oil from tar sands is causing environmental havoc across Alberta, where he grew up. New England could help cut demand for this dirty oil. He has also pioneered a program where 500 National Hockley League players offset the carbon pollution from their extensive jet travel.

Both of us know our society can do better. That’s why we get excited when we hear President Obama and others advocating new policies to promote clean energy, protect our health, cut our dependence on fossil fuels and save consumers money.

We know — because businesspeople, scientists and tech experts tell us — that we can get far better mileage from vehicles and use electric power more cleanly and efficiently. That smarter Environmental Protection Agency rules can help make America a leader in the global clean-energy economy. And that New England is on the right track in moving toward lower-carbon fuels to cut air pollution here and lessen the demand for Alberta’s dirty oil.

These are common-sense solutions that should appeal to people regardless of political belief. Right, left or center, we can all agree that we want clean air, water and land for us and our children. Like athletes always trying to improve their results, our society can boost its performance with cutting-edge “best practices” that also boost our economy and competitiveness. We can cut millions of barrels of imported oil, millions of tons of coal, billions of tons of air pollution and save billions of dollars a year simultaneously. What’s not to like?

As competitors we’re also concerned about China and other countries getting a jump on the U.S. in the clean-energy race. Because the race to create those jobs — and win those markets for decades — is well under way.

So we’re interested when such major business and investor groups as Boston-based Ceres and Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP) — a group with a name any athlete could love — gather business leaders who say it’s smart to join, and lead, this race.

We can’t stall in tackling the pollution changing our climate. In just the past year, we’ve seen huge disasters involving all three of our major fuel sources — a giant oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that one of us witnessed first-hand, coal-mine tragedies in West Virginia and elsewhere, and a Japanese nuclear-power catastrophe whose full damage remains unknown. Finding and using these polluting fuels is getting more risky than most of us realize every day — we’re really pushing the envelope.

Wouldn’t it be better instead to push the envelope on clean energy, a challenge where we can lead the world in ways that leave our kids better off? Why wouldn’t we want to tackle that challenge the way a marathoner attacks Heartbreak Hill, or a puck carrier crashes a foe’s net?

Athletes know it’s hard to get healthy in an unhealthy environment, and you can’t win without working hard to improve your game. So it’s up to all of us to take charge of our environmental and economic fitness as so many of us take charge of our physical fitness. Science tells us there’s just a small window of time to tackle some of our biggest environmental challenges before they cause huge problems.

We’re in a race — this one more sprint than marathon — but one we can win.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, an Olympic gold medalist runner, will be running in the Boston Marathon today, her first since 1993. Andrew Ference is a Boston Bruins defenseman.

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