2017: The Year In Climate Change

There’s no use in sugar coating it, or even slapping three feet of champagne powder on it; 2017 was a doozy for working toward a cooler planet. A new president who deems climate change a ‘hoax’ moved into the White House. That much you already knew. While Trump’s removal of our nation’s climate protections is worthy of discussion, the presidency’s limelight has also obscured otherwise newsworthy and positive progress from getting exposure.

With that, we’d like to recognize the good and the bad of this year. Here is a list of the ten events that highlight 2017 as seen from POW’s perspective, including the incredible organizing we’ve seen throughout the year, supplying hope for 2018.

1) Much of the US got clobbered by gobs of powder snow.

2017 will be that winter for many regions. In Lake Tahoe, multiple resorts averaged one foot per day through the first three weeks of January, and ended up in the 700” plus range. In California— the state under the magnifying glass for drought concerns—the well-publicized snow measurement taken April 1, showed the overall snowpack for the Sierra Nevada range to be 164% of average. With all the nooks and crannies filled in, even low elevation south-facing slopes, skiers got to experience drought-stricken slopes as fields of deep powder glory.

Amie Engerbretson skis in the white room.

Good to feel a little of this again, eh California? Photo: Adam Clark

But, “JanuBURIED and DEEPcember are not denials of climate change, they are reflections of it,” wrote Heather Hansman in a February article in Powder Magazine. Increased variability in weather sums up 2017, and what we can expect going forward. The same January that brought joy to California also saw 3.5 degrees above average temperatures nationwide, a tornado outbreak in the southeast, and the driest January on record in parts of Hawaii. We aren’t saying don’t enjoy that deep fluffy stuff, but these anomalies are part of larger and disconcerting patterns.

2) The US withdraws from the Paris Climate Accord.

In June, Trump made good on a campaign promise to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement claiming it a “Draconian” international deal. Under the 2015 accord, the United States had pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. “What is so special about this deal is that it puts the onus on every country to play its part,” said then UK prime minister David Cameron.

Every other country in the world is currently signed on to the agreement (and yes, that even includes Syria) but as a silver lining, Trump’s decision is not so simple as walking out the door. Technically the US is still part of the deal. When the Obama administration signed on in 2016, the agreement stated that the US cannot formally withdraw until November 5, 2020… which happens to be the day after the next presidential election. But it’s still a monumental decision and a blow to global consensus on climate action.

 3) Nevertheless, the world (and cities and states) remains committed to Paris.

Regardless of Trump’s decision, the globe remains committed to climate action. Global leaders have only reinstated the Agreement’s importance:

The European Union and China released a ‘Joint Leaders’ Statement’ noting “the EU and China consider climate action and the clean energy transition an imperative more important than ever. They confirm their commitments under the historic 2015 Paris Agreement and step up their cooperation to enhance its implementation.”

“India stands committed to its commitments made at Paris irrespective of what happens in the rest of the world. Clean energy is not something that we are working on because somebody else wants us to do it… Nothing on Earth is going to stop us from doing that” said India’s Power, Coal, and Renewable Energy Minister Piyush Goyal.

“Canada is unwavering in our commitment to fight climate change and support clean economic growth,” added Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Additionally, in a display exemplifying the remaining support on this issue, 20 states and 50 cities have sworn to abide by the Paris agreement under the name America’s Pledge. Led by California Governor Jerry Brown and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the pledge has given rise to the term “sub-national” or “non-state” actors, referring to the powers outside of the federal level. “It is important for the world to know, the American government may have pulled out of the Paris Agreement, but the American people are committed to its goals, and there is nothing Washington can do to stop us,” said Bloomberg.

Even more, fifteen state governors are actively working together to meet the Paris goals as the US Climate Alliance, even sending a delegation to the United Nations’ climate meetings this year in Bonn, Germany.

Businesses are still in, too. Over 1300 businesses and investors (with $1.7 trillion in revenue and 3.1 million American employees) joined together to say “The Trump administration’s announcement undermines a key pillar in the fight against climate change and damages the world’s ability to avoid the most dangerous and costly effects of climate change. Importantly, it is also out of step with what is happening in the United States.” Onward.

4) Trump goes on a year-long campaign to undo climate progress.

Hang on for this one as it’s only a partial list. Yes, it’s rough, but thankfully, POW has worked diligently to provide its community ample opportunity to weigh in.

January 21:
All references to climate change are removed from the White House website.

January 24: An executive order is signed to expedite the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

February 17: Scott Pruitt is confirmed as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. While the Attorney General of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the EPA 13 times and still believes there is room for debate on the extent of man-made climate change despite the overwhelming scientific consensus.

March 28: A multi-part executive order is signed that orders review of the Clean Power Plan, lifts moratorium for coal mining leases on public lands, and removes greenhouse gas emissions from the calculations made by the National Environmental Policy Act. (Fortunately, POW covered this one in depth for you right here.)

June 1: Trump announces he will bail on the Paris Climate Agreement. (POW’s got you covered on ‘now what?‘)

October 9: EPA issues a formal proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, considered the signature climate change policy of the Obama administration. (You can STILL submit public comment on this through January 16, and of course, we made it easy for you.)

 5) Global weirding defines 2017 weather patterns.

Thanks to ‘weird’ weather patterns in 2017, it’s no longer difficult to talk about climate change. In fact, when POW traveled to Washington DC in September to meet with members of Congress, it was easy to point out very recent events, all intensified by climate change. From Hurricane Harvey, to Irma, to Maria, to the intense wildfires that ravaged California, Oregon, and Montana, and to the fact that it was raining ash in Portland and Seattle, a Republican Senator opened her meeting by stating, “Before you say anything, I get it.”

POW Riders Alliance pro Hilary Hutcheson guides on the Flathead River in Montana amid the wildfire smoke in August. Photo: Courtesy Hutcheson

While it is difficult for climate scientists to study the degree of human influence on natural disasters, but Scientific American reports, when it comes to wildfires, “scientists are increasingly suggesting that climate change has already had a hand in shaping fire seasons.” And, the Union of Concerned Scientists reports “recent research suggests that there has been an increase in intense hurricane activity in the North Atlantic since the 1970s. In the future, there may not necessarily be more hurricanes, but there will likely be more intense hurricanes that carry higher wind speeds and more precipitation as a result of global warming.”

6) Clean energy is here to stay.

The cost of solar energy has dropped 90% in the last decade thanks to a decrease in Photovoltaic (PV) cell costs. A mid 2017 study by Bloomberg New Energy Finance announced that solar will soon become cheaper than natural gas, and that renewables—mainly solar and wind—will make up the lion’s share of the multi-trillion dollar global energy market by 2040.

The outlook for renewable energy investment.

Plus, greenhouse gas-emitting coal-fired power plants around the country are closing as they simply can’t compete with plummeting renewable and natural gas prices. The fossil fuel industry says it is because subsidies are helping renewables, but fortunately, POW has already debunked that idea by taking a closer look. Even though Trump has promised to bring coal back, he can’t.

In July, Volvo announced that all new models will have electric engines starting in 2019, with the goal to sell one million electric cars by 2025. They aren’t alone as most major automakers announced significant steps toward electric and hybrid production.

Also, as of writing, 50 cities and towns have pledged to transition to 100% renewable energy, many of which signed on in 2017. (Thanks to POW Riders Alliance pros for showing up to public hearings in Breckenridge and Truckee to get to the finish line!) The same sentiment applies to ski resorts, with Aspen leading the charge, and many more joining on, including the March announcement that all New York state-owned ski resorts will go to 100% renewables by 2030. In fact, this month New York’s Gore Mountain announced the completion of a 5.3 MW solar array, claiming the country’s largest solar project dedicated to a ski resort.

POW’s Board Chair Auden Schendler cleans snow off solar panels at Aspen Highlands. Photo: Tom Zuccareno

 7) Those who care about climate change organize and fight back.

In April, we saw a grassroots movement swell in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline crossing water resources and ancient burial grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Sioux elder LaDonna Brave Bull Allard established a camp for spiritual resistance, and over the summer, the camp grew to thousands of people. Among those protesting the rights of indigenous people and clean water were climate activists, concerned about the impact of transporting 470,000 barrels of crude Bakken oil from North Dakota every day. Though it’s true, the Trump administration expedited the permit and the pipeline delivered oil starting in May, the resistance did not go unnoticed. The indigenous and environmental communities proved their ability to convene over a multitude of complex issues to work together to resist. The protests drew significant media attention in the US and abroad, and have been said to “reshape the national conversation for any environmental project that would cross Native American land.”

During the same month, the People’s Climate Movement set its sights on a march in Washington DC to protest the climate policies of the Trump administration on the end of his first 100 days as president. Over 200,000 protesters descended on Capitol Hill, and nearly 300 marches carried on at locations across the country and across the globe with over 300,000 participants. Perhaps most striking was the diversity of protesters, from indigenous groups to labor unions, and from youth groups to traditional environmentalists, all together fighting for a future with a stable climate, clean energy, and economic justice.

POW’s Riders Alliance and community participated in marches around the country, including in DC. Ultrarunner Dakota Jones reflected on the day, which actually broke a heat record in the beltway, saying “there is nothing more American in spirit than fighting a desperate, near-hopeless battle to the end.” We will keep fighting.

More recently, our nation’s public lands have been threatened, and even rescinded. President Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to ‘review’ our country’s practice of designating lands as National Monuments under the Antiquities Act, and after a whirl around the country listening to limited perspectives, Zinke recommended shrinking many of our nation’s iconic protected places. In early December, Trump, in Salt Lake City, announced he will shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.

The outdoor community was far from silent and flexed its political and economic muscle first by moving its trade show, Outdoor Retailer, out of Utah upon reflection of the state’s public lands policies. Retailers Patagonia and others have led a strong resistance, encouraging members to make public comments and to fight for the land we all own, as Americans. On July 10, the public comment period ended, and the Interior Department received more than 1.4 million comments. That quantity is unprecedented. The Center for Western Priorities was able to review more than 685,000 comments in an analysis, deeming 99% supportive of our nation’s public lands. Now, Patagonia and partner organizations have filed a lawsuit— perhaps the first of its kind– to challenge the administration on its power under the Antiquities Act.

As the US government backs away from protecting our climate, the outdoor industry is prepared to use its newfound power to fight back. And the fight is long from over.  

8) 2017 to set a historical high for carbon emissions.

Released in November, the 12th annual Global Carbon Budget report found that after three years of flat carbon emissions, 2017 is estimated be the dirtiest carbon year in history. A projected 2% increase in global emissions this year will result in about about 37 billion tons of carbon released. Ugh. A main reason for this, according to coverage in the Guardian, is an expected 3.5% increase in emissions in China during 2017. However, China is cutting emissions faster than expected. Just this month, China launched its national carbon market, a carbon cap-and-trade system aimed to drastically cut the country’s carbon pollution. In addition, as CNN Tech reports, “China is crushing” on renewable energy development.

While a global emissions increase is unfortunate news, those familiar with the report also remind the public that there is variation in the data. Fluctuations in emissions are to be expected, and some experts believe this news is not as dreadful as it sounds.

9) White House Report declares humans cause climate change.

Huh? This news came as a shocker, especially considering the White House’s Chinese-Hoax theory. But in early November, the comprehensive National Climate Assessment released by government researchers on climate change declared it “extremely likely” that human activities are the “dominant cause” of global warming. Authored by experts from leading scientific agencies and academic scientists, the 660-page congressionally mandated report doesn’t contain a lot of good news, but its unequivocal findings from a broad spectrum of sources will help nudge skeptics and deniers toward trusting scientists and the facts.

This year, the report was leaked before publication as scientists feared the White House could potentially censor the findings. Fortunately, it was released in its entirety with the strong finding that humans do indeed cause climate change.

10) POW keeps growing into an even bigger force.

Protect Our Winters had its work cut out before Trump took office, and he only intensified a tough fight. But, the silver lining is that the POW community has stepped up to fight for the future of winter like never before.

Climbing with new POW Riders at the 2017 Rider's Summit.

Members of POW Riders Alliance climb together at POW’s annual training in November. Photo: Andrew Miller

In a busy year, POW travelled to Capitol Hill multiple times: founder Jeremy Jones testified in front of a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in April, and in September, a cadre of POW members met with 22 members of Congress from both sides of the aisle—including the Bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus—to talk climate.

When it feels like progress in Washington DC is slow moving, POW has doubled-down on its work in state capitals, including supporting innovative carbon pricing legislation in Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington and fighting solar rate hikes in Utah and Maine.

And, the POW community is fired up. This year, nearly 10,000 POW advocates took action through their new platform (that’s our nifty platform that makes it so easy for you to take action!), submitting 9,000 comments to legislators and agencies, and making 1,000 calls to elected officials.

Protecting our winters depends on educating the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts on the impacts of climate change, and spreading the word about how climate change impacts the outdoor activities we know and love. Fortunately, POW’s Hot Planet / Cool Athletes program reached nearly 13,500 students in 2017, thanks to generous sponsors The North Face and Clif Bar. And, POW signed its 100th member to the Riders Alliance, growing the number of athletes willing to use their platforms to speak out on climate change, from snowboarders to fly fisherman to ultrarunners. In addition, POW, in partnership with the Outdoor Industry Association, launched the CEO Alliance and has signed on over 20 companies—meaning these CEOs have committed to climate action, from publishing op-eds to training their employees.

And perhaps more importantly, we have not lost hope. POW’s new executive director, Mario Molina, leaves us with this advice: “The outdoor community is more united than ever. Skiers, climbers, hunters and anglers; we are speaking with a unified voice and directing our collective strength in resistance to the assault on our environment and climate. We have just gotten started showing what our collective power can accomplish. Stay tuned for 2018.”

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