Radical change

Two million gallons of fuel burned annually.

Two million gallons of fuel burned annually.

(Come friend Aunt Ruthie on Facebook and let’s hang out.)

April 22 has come and gone and is more or less forgotten. As the general state of eco-awareness increases, Earth Day has evolved from Sound-the-Alarm-the-House-Is-on-Fire Day to Every-Little-Thing-We-Do-Is-Magic Day. It’s a feel-good celebration of change: the significant changes, to a degree, but more often a celebration of the slight.

And while these small changes in individual lives are critical, it must be noted that these are the bare modicum of the environmental work that lies before us.

Which leads us, inevitably, to NASCAR.

The average NASCAR race consists of 43 cars driving in circles for up to 500 miles. There are 36 point races, plus a bunch more nonpoint races and practice races—with each car getting 5 miles to the gallon. The Center for Media and Democracy estimates that “NASCAR can burn off 2 million gallons of gasoline a year at this ridiculous mileage rate,” all exempt from the Environmental Protection Agency regulations the rest of us, by law, must adhere to.

It is at its core a celebration of the combustion engine by a culture that also celebrates the hooking of big fish from clean rivers. That celebrates the need for vast forests where the deer can Bambi about until they get shot. The contradiction is not unnoted.

And so, on April 20—as part of the NASCAR Green Clean Air program—“an initiative that seeks to neutralize the carbon produced by NASCAR” events—the mayor of Santa Rosa and representatives from Infineon Raceway in Sonoma hosted a ceremonial tree planting at the future Roseland Creek Elementary School.

Not a typo.

NASCAR’s green efforts aren’t insignificant—Infineon alone hosts an annual summit on sustainability, a solar installation, a recycling program, water-conservation efforts and the use of sheep to maintain their grasses and fire lanes.

It is a kind of change. But at its heart, NASCAR is a popular culture that builds thrills, romance and legend on a practice that must change radically in the coming decades. It will hardly be a cakewalk.