If All The Ice Melts, What Happens To Hockey?

A report from the National Hockey League says climate change could threaten the sport's future. NPR's Scott Simon talks to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman about the league's sustainability plan.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Some say that hockey is at risk - not another lockout but warming climate. Lots of children from Stillwater to Saskatchewan to Stockholm first learned to play the game on a frozen pond. But what if the temperatures didn't drop low enough and those freshwater ponds didn't freeze? Those are some of the concerns in a sustainability report that was recently put out by the National Hockey League. The report looks at how climate change and other environmental factors could affect the sport and what the league might do to help. We're joined now by the commissioner of the National Hockey League, Gary Bettman, joining us from his offices in Manhattan. Thanks very much for being with us.

GARY BETTMAN: Oh, it's good to be with you, Scott. This is an important topic, not just for hockey fans, but for everybody.

SIMON: Now, we're not just talking about solar powered Zambonis here, are we?

BETTMAN: No, we're not. What we're really talking about, from our standpoint, is two things - is one, what from a business standpoint are our practices that we can do better and in a way that's more sustainable for the environment? And it can be recycling. It can also be taking food that has been untouched and unused and not sending it to a dump but instead, using it for food for people that might need it as well. It could be travel practices. It can be solar panels. But the second aspect of all of this is - I think sports is a great platform to raise consciousness on important issues.

SIMON: I mean, it's a pretty - and maybe every major sport is - but you've got to freeze the arena. You've got to unfreeze it if they're playing basketball the next night. You've got to fly between various locations. I mean, this is a lot of energy, isn't it?

BETTMAN: It is a lot of energy. And it's a lot of energy of lots of people traveling to come to our events. What sets us apart a little bit - and maybe it gets romanticized - is the notion of frozen ponds. And so for us, it's even more important that we have predictable, sensible, reliable climate, and that the ponds continue to freeze, and we have winter where we're supposed to have winter so that people can enjoy our sport - not only when it's played at the NHL level in an arena - but children learning to play on frozen ponds - learning to skate on frozen ponds.

SIMON: Have you done some stuff already? I know that there was this green initiative in 2010 that you undertook with the National Resources Defense Council.

BETTMAN: We are the first sports league to do a sustainability report to see if we can come up with best practices for our clubs and our legal office to use and our arenas to use but, at the same time, make people aware of the importance of these efforts.

SIMON: The commissioner of the National Hockey League, Gary Bettman. Thanks very much, sir.

BETTMAN: Great to be with you. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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