Can we watch Formula 1 and also be climate-aware?

Max Verstappen running in the 2019 Hungarian Grand PrixMichal Obrochta / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The 2022 Formula One season has arrived with promises of tough racing and a tight midfield. It is a season of change: new technical regulations to fundamentally change cars, a budget limit to level the field, and a number of driver changes. The 2021 season was exciting, though the real fight was still ahead, between seven-time world champion Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton and eventual champion Max Verstappen, driving for Red Bull. This year, however, a reorganization of the order finally seemed realistic. The results of the pre-season tests suggested so much, with Mercedes seemingly struggling unexpectedly and Ferrari finally looked as strong as in the past. I was tuning in to the first race of the 2022 season full of anticipation for next season. The first thing that caught my eye, however, was not the new cars, the new drivers, or the upcoming races; were the signs of CRYPTO.COM sponsors bigger than life around the track.

I consider myself quite aware of the weather. Not like meat or palm oil, both of which contribute greatly to deforestation and climate change. When I visit my family in the Netherlands, I almost always take the train instead of flying. I am also very familiar with how terrible cryptocurrencies are for the environment. An insane amount of energy is required for cryptocurrency mining, the process by which people obtain currency; over the course of 12 months, Bitcoin alone consumes more energy than 185 countries, and about as much energy as Norway annually. Cryptocurrencies slurps so much energy, which miners resurrected previously closed coal mines to meet demand, which led to an increase in CO2 emissions. Although cryptocurrencies solve the problems of traditional currencies as they claim they will (which is questionable), the severity of the environmental impact of mining nullifies any positive impact that cryptocurrencies may have.

“Even more blatant is the juxtaposition between these sponsors and F1’s attempts to create an inclusive and progressive image.”

I was aware of F1 and its impacts before I discovered that they are associated with F1 and its teams rely on oil money, not to mention the fuel consumption of cars, and the immense amount of air travel needed to take drivers and engineers from one race to another. But for some reason, seeing the words CRYPTO, something that came to my mind in a unique way wrong, so proudly announced by a sport I like, has brought home the kind of industries that F1 will support in the name of cash. Even more glaring is the juxtaposition between these sponsors and F1’s attempts to create an inclusive and progressive image for itself. Its new slogan, we run like one, was adopted by F1 in response to black police killings in the United States, and is part of a program to increase equal opportunities in motor racing. What are expected to be genuine concerns for cultural improvement are increasingly emerging as attempts at good publicity when F1 is so willing to promote and facilitate cryptocurrencies, the oil industry, and racing in areas with atrocious human rights records. Whatever the positive effects of the F1 campaigns, they will be easily undone thanks to their support for companies and industries that are actively contributing to the worsening of climate change.

“I felt like I was watching something that I should be ashamed to see.”

Although I was still watching the race, I found that I didn’t pay as much attention to the new cars, the new drivers, and the upcoming races that I was excited to see. Instead, I felt like I was watching something that I should be ashamed to see. It was the same feeling I had when I accidentally bought something with palm oil or animal products, or when I took a flight home instead of the train at Christmas. Seeing F1, with its Aramco and Crypto sponsorships, fuel-consuming cars, and zero mention of the effects of these things, I felt a guilt: guilt for committing to something I knew was wrong.

Climate guilt is a relatively new concept. Describe a sense of guilt for its impact on the environment. Climate change is an urgent issue. Every day, there is more to read about floods, forest fires, and drafts. There is an increasing emphasis on the effect of our behavior on the weather: for example, when you search for flights, Google now shows CO2 emissions along with the results. Given the severity of climate-related problems and the countless ways in which human behavior aggravates these problems, a sense of guilt for our impact makes some sense. But is this feeling productive? I argue that is not the case. The guilt I felt at watching F1 didn’t motivate me to keep reducing my impact where I could. It made me sad and frustrated with my friends who saw F1 and didn’t seem to mind any of that. This feeling can lead to the opposite of action: the feeling that nothing we do will have any kind of positive effect.

All in all, I don’t know if I will continue to watch Formula 1. Is there any value in stopping consuming media that we find reprehensible and sharing our thoughts with other people to maintain a productive conversation. It is important that we take steps to reduce our impact on the environment. Still, these actions must be balanced with other equally important parts of life, such as friends, family, and interests that satisfy us, even if it’s a Sunday afternoon watching F1.

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