Millions mourned England’s exit, but the real tragedy is the environmental toll of the tournament, says John Bowes

Whatever the outcome of tomorrow's World Cup final, our memories of the 2010 tournament will be clouded by the shameful exit of the England team. It wasn't just that they lost, but the way they lost: devoid of energy, imagination, drive and spirit.

And it wasn't just our team - the Italians were awful, the French were having their own private war, and even the Portuguese and Brazilians produced an excruciatingly dull goalless draw.

Many supporters spent a small fortune following the England team's ill-fated campaign. But the cost of the World Cup can't just be measured in terms of the price of flights, tickets and hotels.

The authorities had promised to make 2010 the greenest World Cup ever, but an independent study has calculated that staging the tournament will have generated about 2.75 million tonnes of carbon emissions; six times the footprint of the 2006 event in Germany.

This number takes into account international travel, intercity transport, stadium construction and so on, but doesn't appear to allow for the carbon cost of 90 million people worldwide watching on TV.

From a retail perspective the World Cup offered an enormous sales opportunity. If our national team had gone all the way it might have rivalled Christmas in terms of its marketing potential. The major retailers have flooded our screens with offers on beer, burgers and pizzas; all likely to damage our livers, clog up our arteries and stimulate obesity at great cost to an overburdened National Health Service.

It is probably the cheap booze that has generated the most contention. Just £9 for a 24-pack of Stella might be a great deal for the consumer but hardly encourages sobriety. Apart from the direct health costs that might be associated with this, there is the obvious impact on home and work from excess alcohol consumption; not to mention safety risks.

And all of this adds to the carbon account: while beer is relatively light on the carbon scale, burgers are more demanding as cows emit methane, which is 20 times more potent than CO2. And, while television is a relatively efficient way of watching the game, a 42-inch plasma screen which some retailers have been heavily promoting in the run-up to the tournament uses about six times as much carbon as viewing on a 15-inch LCD flat screen. 

Presumably, assorted flags, cushions, shirts and bikinis will now be consigned to landfill and contribute to future methane emissions.

I know all of this sounds a little killjoy, and know we should not underestimate what the World Cup has meant to South Africa. Football is an international language with the potential to bring communities closer together and foster better understanding between the different peoples of the world. But there is no getting away from the downsides of this exercise, and it is difficult to grasp the true consequences when the impact is dispersed across billions of people worldwide.

Mike Berners-Lee, in his brilliant book How Bad Are Bananas?, has attempted to measure the relationship between carbon emissions and climate change-related death; he arrives at a figure of 150 tonnes of CO2 per death.

Do the maths: when we think of the World Cup in terms of dead bodies, rather than fumbling goalkeepers and off-target strikers, it gives a whole new perspective.

John Bowes is an ethical campaigner.