A little while back, I was in Northern Canada; it was February I think. I went hiking at a closed-down resort with a handful of young locals, probably in their thirties. As we hiked up the mountain, these locals had so much pride about their resorts, showing me around, pointing out lines they’ve ridden and places I had to go. And we were the only ones out there — the resort was closed.
I asked, “Why isn’t it open anymore?”
They simply responded, “There is no snow.”
They couldn’t open it. They were lucky if they could even hike up. But it wasn’t always this way… and these people weren’t 70 years old, with a half-century or so of seasons under their belt. Basically, for these thirty year olds, in a mere twenty years they watched their own resort, their own mountain, effectively vanish from a lack of snow.
I’ve been fortunate to spend most of my life in the mountains, and in doing so I have always seen change happening. It’s been happening around the world. In Europe, they’ve been living among glaciers for so long that they have done a great of job documenting these glaciers. And these glaciers have been receding over the last forty years at such a rapid rate that you can stand there and see where the glacier was in 1900, 1950, 1970, 1990, last year, today — it is receding right in front of our eyes! It is doing stuff in a twenty year period that should take 200 to 400 years…
In this change, in this climate change, I saw that something needed to be done. Even though I didn’t graduate from a fancy college or know what exactly to do, I had a voice in the winter sports community, and I felt that together we needed to do something to fight the effects of this climate change. In fact:
1. The last decade has been the hottest on record. Each of the last three decades has been much warmer than the decade before it, with each one setting a new and significant record for the highest global temperature.
2. In the Lake Tahoe area, spring arrives two weeks earlier now than it did in 1961.
3. In the Northeast, by 2039, the average ski season will be less than 100 days and the probability of being open for Christmas will decline below 75%.
4. Snow-based recreation in the United States was estimated to contribute $67 billion annually to the US economy and support over 600,000 jobs. So when we look at the cost of inaction, it’s serious business.
5. Even though the winter of 2011 was above average in the US in terms of snowfall, it was a below average winter temperature-wise throughout the northern hemisphere, the eighth below average winter in a row. The climate trend is one of warming.
From the get go, I knew for Protect Our Winters to work, I would need to have all these people rally around it, from scientists and climate specialists to industry folk and professional athletes. But when I started it, we had no idea what was the best way to fight climate change would be. Over time, we realized that significant change had to happen at a high level in the government. We don’t necessarily put all our energy towards this specific strategy — we definitely put energy towards kids, and recently produced a film about basically trying to stop coal exports — but we do put a lot of our energy into trying to get our elected officials to take climate change seriously.
And it’s working.
In June, the White House reached out to POW and National Geographic and told us they would be taking their biggest stance ever on climate change: they wanted to uphold the EPA’s right to monitor and regulate power plants emissions. They were going to launch it in a week and wanted our community, the winter sports community, to pump up the importance of it. They wanted us to reach out to our community and ask them to share what they wanted to protect, using the hashtag “#actonclimate” on Twitter and Instagram.
So we reached out to our community and nearly 100 million or so people engaged. We’re not sure what percentage was from our efforts, but we’re confident that it was high. Later that night, the White House called us again and expressed their gratitude: “We can’t believe this, we reached out to a lot of groups and you guys totally hit it out of the park and moved the needle.”
This is a great example of our need to operate in the larger space, and how we’re already doing it effectively.
One of the major issues we’re facing over the next six to twelve months is coal exports to China. Coal from Montana and Wyoming will be shipped on a train to the Pacific Northwest where they want to build ports specifically to fill barges with this coal. These will then be shipped by barge to China, ultimately burned in China. This needs to stop. This cannot happen. We have already dug that hole way too deep — we need to stop digging that hole. This project is an example of what we cannot allow to happen if we want to make a real difference on climate change. And this isn’t only Protect Our Winters fighting this battle; we’re working with a ton local nonprofits and folks in the government. We think this is a winnable battle and will set the tone for when the next big oil or coal comes in and wants to do that — hopefully, they’ll have to think twice.
At the moment, less than one percent of the winter sports community and companies are part of Protect Our Winters. And with that under-one-percent involvement, we’ve been able to do some rather significant things. But fast forward 10 years — if we have ten or twenty percent of the winter sports community and companies behind us, we’ll really be a force.
So get involved. Reduce your personal carbon footprint, understand what your impact on the environment is, and if you are making a purchase, support companies that are doing it right (which is easy to do in this day and age with the current levels of transparency). Be up on the issues, especially during election time. And most importantly, be a part of Protect Our Winters.
It’s hard for one single person to have a big voice; but collectively, you pull all these voices together and we can and will be heard.
For more information on the organization and its initiatives, check out ProtectOurWinters.org.