In ‘Warming Up,’ the sports world’s newest opponent is climate change

The book shows how we can preserve endangered games

Skiers gliding down an artificial snow slope

On an unusually warm day in January 2023, skiers in Austria glide down an artificial snow slope. Climate change threatens skiing and other sports.


Warming Up
Madeleine Orr
Bloomsbury Sigma, $28

It’s easy to think of sports as an escape from reality, removed from the glaring problems of our world. Researcher Madeleine Orr shatters that illusion in Warming Up: How Climate Change Is Changing Sport. In her debut book, Orr shepherds readers through an at-times overwhelming deluge of all the ways climate change is disrupting sports around the world, providing a compelling case for action from athletes, sports leagues and fans alike.

Orr, a sport ecologist at the University of Toronto, draws on her academic expertise to outline how climate change is upending sports, be it wildfires almost destroying a high school football program or rising seas subsuming coastal golf courses. While Orr bolsters her argument with data and interviews with experts, it’s the personal stories that are most powerful. There’s the heartbreaking story of University of Maryland college football player Jordan McNair, who died of heat stroke suffered at practice. Orr, an avid skier, shares her beef with global warming literally melting away winter sports around the world — and the local economies they sustain.

In the introduction, Orr says that the order of the chapters is irrelevant. But the chapters do follow a loose organization, and grouping them into sections would have made the overall trajectory of the book easier to follow. The first 11 of the book’s 17 chapters mainly focus on how warming temperatures, rising seas, increasing wildfires and other consequences of climate change are already impacting the industry and will worsen in the future (SN: 12/6/23; SN: 11/9/22; SN: 9/15/21). For instance, outdoor pond hockey, a crucial part of Canada’s culture and the launchpad of many of ice hockey’s greats, is at risk of disappearing altogether as winters become warmer and ice becomes rarer.

It’s refreshing to see Orr explicitly talk about how climate change is disproportionately impacting nations that are least responsible for global greenhouse gas emissions, a point that can get lost in Western reporting on the topic. High temperatures are threatening Kenyan runners. Rising seas are eroding a famous rugby beach in Fiji. A 2022 flood devastated Pakistan’s sports leagues — along with much of the country.

But against the backdrop of climate change’s harrowing reality, Orr keeps hope alive in the last six chapters. The sports world can adapt to climate change to reduce its own culpability and to ensure that imperiled sports survive. She spotlights the past and present activism of athletes who are fighting for sustainability.

One heartening example is Innes FitzGerald, a teenage cross-country runner who refused to fly from Britain to Australia for the 2023 World Athletics Championships out of concern for air travel’s carbon emissions (SN: 5/14/20). Before FitzGerald, “no athlete had actually passed up championship opportunities because of a moral quandary with flying,” Orr notes. Like climate activism in so many other sectors of society, it seems changes in sports will be spearheaded by the youth.

Orr’s writing is authoritative and conversational, and while she sometimes slips into academic jargon, her language is largely accessible even to readers with no scientific background. The book is jam-packed with information and has something for sports fanatics and casual fans alike. In the fight against climate change, Warming Up shows us that it’s time for the sports world to play ball.

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