Call to Action

We need to ground chess

15 Sep 2020

In order to prevent a global climate catastrophe mankind has to change its play. The international chess community can contribute – by reducing its emissions and taking a leading role, writes Günther Beikert.

Artwork by his daughter is displayed at Günther Beikert’s board when he competes in Bundesliga this week
Artwork by his daughter is displayed at Günther Beikert’s board when he competes in Bundesliga this week (Johanna Beikert)

As you expected, you seem to have completely outplayed your opponent. You just have to take care of a last trap. This threat should be easy to parry. Wait, it’s not quite that easy. It’s getting tricky. Really tricky. Suddenly, every normal move leads to disaster … Think deeply! Yes, there still is a solution. You need to give back your material advantage and you will obtain a sustainable and playable position. What a pity – but there is no other way out.

What would you do? Will you pretend that nothing has happened, continue your plan, grab another pawn, and lose in style? Or will you follow the only path that allows you to stay in the game, even if that means that you have to admit to yourself, and to your buddies, that you misjudged the position and that your former play was not as clever as you had believed?

Like in this fictitious story, mankind is at crossroads in the climate crisis. On the one hand, there is a strong belief in the strength of our economical and social systems, in progress, and in a better future with smart homes, self-driving cars and robotic lawnmowers. On the other hand, scientists from all over the world have been pointing out alarming trends for climate change since the 1970s and are now unequivocally declaring that our one and only planet is facing an emergency.

We are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. People are suffering and dying, and those who have contributed the least are hit the hardest. Irreversible chain reactions beyond human control will crush us down if if we continue business as usual for another eight years instead of reducing our carbon emissions. Massive wildfires in Australia, Siberia and California are only the very beginning of climate breakdown.

So we have to admit that we have not been as clever as we think, don’t we? We have to pull the emergency break in order to maintain a “playable position” for mankind. We have to give away some of our beliefs, some of our convictions, some of our convenience, some of our habits in order to keep mankind going.

“Not my business”, I hear your saying, “I am just a chess player” (arbiter, organizer, official …). But who should care if it is not us? True, everyone in the world is liable and accountable in the same way as we are. But we are too. We need a cooperative effort through all mankind to overcome the climate crisis. In its 2018 special report on how to keep global warming within a limit of 1,5°C, the IPCC stated that rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society are necessary. All aspects of society includes nations, cities, companies, NGOs, families. It also includes chess.

Chess might even be more influential than other social systems. Chess players are present in all communities around the world. Chess players can help spread the word about the climate crisis, if grandmasters, officials and communicators take the lead. Since the core problem of the climate crisis is that we do not treat it as a crisis, talking and writing about it is essential. Chess is truly universal – it can be found in all countries, religions and social classes. Imagine what we chess players could do for the climate if we really wanted to. The FIDE motto “Gens una sumus” alludes to our connectedness. All human beings around the world share the same nature and the same fate.

From the outside, chess players are perceived to be intelligent: Strategic, anticipatory and proactive. If we really are, have we got any other choice than to engage ourselves for climate action? If there are strong and perceivable actions for the climate by the chess community, this will be visible and influential. Chess can lead other social systems.

Our club decided to compensate our emissions by co-funding the rewetting of bogs in Northern Germany.

But what can we do? First of all, our chess organizations should make a commitment to keep global warming within 1,5°C and to make a fair contribution to reach this goal. Doing this, we state that we are part of the real world and that we are ready to take responsibility. Next, we should assess our carbon footprint, how many greenhouse gases are caused by our chess activities and organizations, including online chess. Then, we should set up a plan how to reduce this carbon footprint to zero, because emissions must be reduced to zero in time everywhere in the world. And last but not least, we should talk about our commitment and about our efforts and spread the word about it.

Günther Beikert has a PhD in Physics and was a big data analyst before starting a second career as a high school science and mathematics teacher. He is an International Master and plays in Bundesliga for the club of his birthplace Viernheim.
Günther Beikert has a PhD in Physics and was a big data analyst before starting a second career as a high school science and mathematics teacher. He is an International Master and plays in Bundesliga for the club of his birthplace Viernheim. (photo: private)

For instance, Schachclub Viernheim, which competes in the German Bundesliga, has assessed its carbon footprint to be around 40 tons of CO2-equivalent. 90% of this are due to flights by our players from their homes to the playing venues. In spring 2019, the club assembly has adopted the self-commitment to the 1,5°C goal and voted with overwhelming majority to limit our carbon budget to 35 tons.

Later in the same year, we decided to compensate the emissions by co-funding the rewetting of bogs in Northern Germany, which cost about €40 per ton. Wetlands like bogs can constitute a carbon sink if their original wet state is reestablished. They are, however, a carbon source if they stay dry. We considered it more appropriate to save the emissions in the club’s own country rather than to fund a project in the global south, because other countries have their own carbon reduction goals to meet. Therefore, we were willing to pay a bit more for each ton of carbon.

By taking a pace setter role, we chess players can confirm our image of being strategic and thinking ahead.

Compensation of carbon emissions is better than nothing and the least everyone should do. But it does not work sustainably on a global scale, where instead the entire burning of fossil fuel must come to an end. Therefore we also have to reduce the carbon footprint of chess, and the biggest possible contribution will be to reduce air travelling. One way ahead is through hybrid chess tournaments. Instead of flying long distances, players compete under supervision near where they live, assisted by arbiters and the internet.

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown us out of our business-as-usual mindset. Many people around the world have understood that humanity is what really matters. This is an opportunity for a real shift of paradigms, which is essential for successfully dealing with the climate crisis. By taking a pace setter role in the striving for a sustainable future, we chess players can confirm our image of being strategic and thinking ahead.