Last week, as the new Executive Director for Protect Our Winters (POW), I had the privilege of joining our athletes at the yearly Riders Alliance summit. This group of humble and dedicated people are at the top of their game in their respective sports—Olympic medalists, Everest summiteers, and cutting-edge explorers. All push the boundaries of excellence in their sports, and represent the best this country has to offer. As impressive as their professional accomplishments are, it is their deep understanding of the urgency of meaningful climate action that impressed me the most. Also impressive is their willingness to apply the same resolve required for top performance to advocate for a clean-energy, carbon neutral future that we must quickly manifest in order to preserve the landscapes that nurture our sense of self and collective spirit of adventure. POW athletes are also sensitively aware of the carbon footprint of these endeavors. A tension of values that is far too common in conversations about climate advocacy. A false dichotomy that too often has us pointing fingers in the wrong direction.
Before joining POW, I was responsible for a strategic portfolio at a global climate non-profit that spanned four continents and my work required a significant amount of international travel. Even though the organization paid for carbon offsets, the irony seemed self-evident to many critics. I can relate to the apparent dilemma our athletes and many of our brand partners wrestle with. Like moving slow to climb fast however, the tension between climate advocacy and a life of outdoor adventure that relies on transportation, ski lifts, and retail chains disappears if we set our eyes on the larger goal. Today, the objective before us is clear as a summit on a bluebird day: a global civilization that is powered by accessible, clean, renewable energy.
Twenty years ago, traditional environmental thinking argued that we must drive less in order to reduce emissions. Then Tesla came along and proved that it is possible to have zero emissions cars that perform better than their fossil fueled counterparts, and the industry is now following suit. Volvo has announced it will cease production of internal combustion engines by 2019, and GM, Ford, Toyota and Mazda are not far behind. Major EU economies plan to ban the sale of gas and diesel cars by 2040. India hopes to achieve the same by 2030, and China is working on a plan to ban both production and sale of gas-only vehicles. Most of us will soon have an affordable alternative choice when we drive to the crag, put-in, or favorite ski mountain.
Ten years ago, people argued that transitioning off coal would cripple the economy and American competitiveness. Then Photovoltaic (PV) technology experienced an exponential decrease in cost (dropping by 90% in the last decade alone) and an exponential increase in generating capacity. Last year 39% of all new electricity generating capacity added in the U.S. came from solar power—at equal or lower cost than electricity from coal. Similar advances in battery technology will soon make it possible to store solar and wind energy to solve the intermittency problem (where to get electricity when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow). Most utilities today offer green-energy choices that were not available a decade ago.
Ski resorts across the country are committing to sourcing 100% their electricity from renewable energy and driving innovations in efficiency. Plant-based oils promise to transform the manufacturing industry. And while solar or battery powered commercial flights might seem unrealistic right now, the precipitous advances in technology we have seen recently make questioning their feasibility a short-sighted bet. It’s not the availability of solutions that is slowing us down, it’s the short-sightedness of our policies that are getting in the way.
We need incentives for residential and utility scale solar farms, not threats of new taxes on solar panels that will kill tens of thousands of jobs. We need EV charging stations that span from coast to coast, not empty promises of bringing back a coal industry that can’t compete in the new economy. We need to put a price on carbon pollution, not roll back plans to cap emissions from coal-fired power plants. These are the backward policies that we can point to as threatening progress on climate action, not the members of our community. The goal is not a civilization where none of us can drive to the places we enjoy or travel to the natural and cultural wonders we share with the rest of humanity. The goal is a civilization where all of that is possible AND we achieve net-zero emissions.
Individual choice and behavior change are important, and we should always strive to live by the values we proclaim as best we can. That is our moral imperative. But make no mistake, at POW we celebrate the values that lead to seemingly impossible summits, unimaginable descents, and visionary adventures. Our vision goes beyond reducing emissions from their current sources. Our vision is nothing less than the full-scale transformation of the entire energy economy, from source and distribution to consumption. A transformation so profound as to affect every sector of society and reshape us into a carbon neutral civilization. One in which we are not caught between our values and the activities that define our spirit. Standing between us and that vision are not our fellow adventurers, but politicians who are unwilling to move in the direction that we, the people, are pointing them in.
So take that flight to your next adventure and offset if you can. Drive your car to our National Parks and when you can, switch to an electric vehicle. Put solar panels on your roof or buy wind energy, if it’s available and affordable. Be more efficient in your consumption. Live as best you can, and don’t judge others or feel guilty. You may not have a different choice available…yet. We, the POW community, will not call you out for it. But when we call on you and ask you to pick up the phone and call your elected official to speak truth to power, or show up at your local public utilities commission hearing, or write your congressperson, or most importantly SHOW UP TO VOTE; well… then we expect you to truly live your values, because that’s when you do have a choice.
Protect Our Winters