The Last Game – Italy (Part 1)

A Documentary to Save Hockey and the Planet

(Approximately 5-minute read)

Pitching the intersection between sport and climate can be a tough sell. Sport is either of religious importance to people or an example of luxury and excess.

Last year, while presenting the EcoAthletes Climate Manifesto at COP26 in Scotland, I met director Jon Alpert and skated in the Last Game – Scotland, which I wrote about here. Since then, Jon and I have stayed in touch and he asked me to coordinate a Last Game – Italy. The project is a documentary highlighting the impacts of climate change through the lens of the global hockey community.

Left: Presenting the Climate Manifesto at COP26, Right: My teammates at the Last Game – Scotland

Tough Sell

On my first attempt to pull Georg Kaser into this project, my contact at Extinction Rebellion told me Georg had resolutely no interest in being part of a documentary based around such a carbon intensive activity. If I’m being honest, the accusation hit like a stinging rejection – but as the disappointment registered in my mind I also knew he was absolutely right. Ice rinks are notoriously energy intensive buildings and arena events of all types have giant environmental footprints. Refrigeration and travel – a two headed monster of global warming doom.

Karthäuserkloster Allerengelberg, Certosa, Italy

Though Jon’s persistence, Georg surprisingly agreed to meet us anyway. We climbed a winding narrow mountain road and arrived at the sleepy stone village of Certosa. The town and Georg’s home are nestled inside of a repurposed 14th century monastery. As we waved hello and pulled down the street to park, I could practically hear Georg sigh through the car window.

Georg Kaser is arguably the most prominent climate scientist in this region of Italy. Here in South Tirol we are separated from, and connected to, Austria by the Dolomitic Alps, and Georg has studied the demise of our local glaciers. Twice, he was the lead author of the IPCC report and through that work he won a shared Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. He has been ringing the international alarm bells about the climate catastrophe for decades.

The rocky start got even rockier as Jon, accustomed war-exposes, starting rolling the cameras before stepping out of the car. Georg was not amused and expressed that he felt ambushed. I sympathized with him. I knew his impulse was already to not speak with us and this felt like strike-two.

Jon apologized and made his case for the project. Next went Franz – a local specialty food exporter and our well-connected guide for the week. Nothing seemed to be reaching Georg. When it seemed like my turn, I felt an immense pressure to rise to the occasion of convincing him our project was worthwhile. His approval felt like important validation that we were doing the right thing. From my perspective, our project was an important chance to meet people where they are. I took a deep breath of cold mountain air and began…

The Plea

“I’m the professional ice hockey player who brought this project here and I’m also an engineer with two masters degrees in sustainable engineering…” I explained the tug I felt between these two parts of my life, these two worlds, and about my desire to reach people outside of academic echo-chambers.

“My experience in academia has been vastly different than in hockey. We studied how far reaching this emergency is and how it will undoubtedly accelerate into more disasters and suffering. And yet, through sport I know many people for whom climate catastrophe isn’t even remotely on their radar. I have teammates from back home who have a right-leaning political bend – they think climate change is a Democratic exaggeration. I have teammates from Canada who are left-leaning but think there is still a moderate and slow moving approach available to us. How do we get people like that to care? They aren’t joining us at sustainability conferences and they probably even think the protests are a nuisance.”

I continued, “What if we could speak to a group that isn’t a part of this conversation yet? We need everyone to understand or we will never get the political action we need.” The documentary project is trying to bring people in based on the things they already care about – ponds melting, water shortages, warmer days meaning more expensive ice times. Things that may be trivial compared to the projected suffering but hit much closer to home.

In retrospect, it’s apparent I wasn’t only making a plea to Georg; I was also trying to convince myself but miraculously, something clicked. Georg agreed to participate and we talked for nearly two hours. As the temperature dropped, the sun set beautifully behind snow-capped mountains. Somehow it was hard to narrow down what to talk about – his expertise is so wide reaching that our conversation veered in many directions, from transit systems to rainfall patterns and agriculture. A main take away for me was that the glaciers in this part of the alps are beyond saving. Even though this is a home I’ve only recently adopted, I felt a great grief in hearing they would disappear in my lifetime.

Georg, me, and Franz in Certosa, Italy

Perfection is the Enemy of Progress

Later in the conversation, Jon baited Georg, “So, should we all hang up our skates?” I joined the line of reasoning, “I don’t drive, I try to buy and waste as little as possible but I do fly home to see my family and to travel – and I love the sport of hockey.” Remarkably, Georg kindly tried to assuage my guilt about our personal choices, pointing to the critical systemic changes that are necessary to forge a successful path forward.

I think this is a key point. In our society, we are so accustom to pointing-fingers. We demand perfect or nothing at all. Comments on climate action posts criticizing how the protestors lives aren’t “pure” of fossil fuels are ironically making the opposite point they are intending. The fact that fossil fuels are so deeply embedded in our society is exactly what needs to change.

While I still (and probably always will) feel a lot of guilt about not “doing enough,” I lean on some of the top thinkers in the environmentalist movement to avoid despair. Leah Stokes has written, “The goal is not self-purification but structural change.” And Bill McKibben has said, “Changing the system, not perfecting our own lives, is the point. ‘Hypocrisy’ is the price of admission in this battle.”

I don’t know if our conversation with Georg will make it in the film, but I’m grateful for having had it.

The Last Game

The next day was game-day. We played a small scrimmage at a rink in the shadows of the scenic Dolomiti mountains. The snowcaps overshadowing us are not likely to remain for very long and the skiers surrounding us are not likely to find a natural place for their sport in the coming years. Many of my teammates and their siblings joined. We have one 13 year old phenom on our team, Giorgia. She stole the show on the ice – and also afterwards in my thoughts. She will turn 20 as we cross the decade threshold of 2030. The year the IPCC has deemed a critical tipping point for halving emissions. What will the world look like with the nearly 2 degrees of global warming we’re likely to hit at that time? Will we have done enough or will we look back and wonder what we were thinking?

The Last Game – Italy from the ice and above

In the ensuing days, the project team and I completed a marathon of interviews – taking on every thinkable aspect of local climate impacts. From wine, to skiing, to landslides, and maybe most importantly, political action.

Part 2, coming soon.

Hey there!

I’m Jacquie and I’m an American hockey player living in Bolzano, Italy. I write about hockey, sustainability, and food.

More About Me

One thought on “The Last Game – Italy (Part 1)

  1. Great story Jacquie!!! I’m glad Georg was open to talking with you guys. On the guilt part, I think we have to use that as fuel to try to do more and not let it paralyze us. Can’t wait for Part II!


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