There are few human recreational activities today that produce as much cognitive dissonance as NASCAR auto racing. While the world is trying to deal with the accelerating impacts of global warming, and the world's leaders are being pressured to take strong action at Copenhagen, millions of people are watching and attending events such as NASCAR racing, a completely unnecessary, and extravagantly wasteful endeavour. There is, perhaps, no better symbol of our cheerful self destruction.
This is a sport which celebrates the automobile like no other. The race cars travel at high speed and burn up massive amounts of gasoline, generating carbon emissions we can ill afford. Many of the cars are very inefficient and only get a mileage of 5 MPG. Even worse, these vehicles don't have the normal catalytic converters designed to reduce pollutants and CO2 emissions in regular cars. Additionally, until last year, toxic leaded gasoline was still used.
Events are sponsored by many large oil industry companies, such as Exxon Mobile, which are responsible for some of the highest carbon emissions in the world. Despite this, NASCAR is extremely popular. The company that runs the business claims about 75 million fans. That's more people than watch baseball. NASCAR is also a marketing powerhouse, with sales of over $3 billion in licensed products annually, an example of yet more overconsumption.
During the early seventies oil crisis, some auto racing was cancelled and NASCAR was scaled back. This was done voluntarily, but legislation was being seriously considered to place limits on auto racing, or even to ban some of it. Because of rationing, this was a popular position, and many people were supportive of a ban. The crisis today with global warming is even worse, so the idea of a ban should not be considered unreasonable.
In the grand scheme of things, as wasteful as NASCAR is, the total emissions generated are not globally significant. But it is a powerful symbol of our excess and overconsumption. Of course, NASCAR isn't the only "sport" that is wasteful and unnecessary, but it is the supreme archetypal expression of our blind wastefulness and environmental destruction.