This op-ed represents the opinions of Jeremy Jones.
People have been living amongst the glaciers in Chamonix, France, for hundreds of years, with record-keeping stretching back just as long. When I was working in France, I spent a lot of time in Chamonix and saw the glacial retreat firsthand. The documentation of these glaciers shows that the retreat has intensified drastically since the 1970s, with a recent study predicting that France’s two largest glaciers will be gone by the end of the century. It’s this acceleration that coincides with what scientists have been saying pretty loudly since the 1980s: Burning fossil fuels is causing the planet to warm and it’s going to continue to warm unless we act.
As a professional snowboarder, climate change poses a direct threat to my lifestyle and livelihood. But I have hope. I started Protect Our Winters (POW)–a nonprofit for outdoor lovers to protect where they play from the negative impacts of climate change–in 2007 in response to the climate impacts I was already seeing in mountain ecosystems across the globe. Since then, POW has grown into a massive community, bringing together industry leaders, athletes and outdoor enthusiasts in a shared passion for the outdoors. Because of this community and the momentum it carries, I believe we have what it takes to solve the climate crisis and ensure our kids and all future generations have the same opportunities for outdoor adventure that I have.
Here are the three cultural shifts that give me hope for a powder-filled future. You can hear more of my story and involvement with POW on the Wild Ideas Worth Living podcast.
States are kicking butt on climate policy
While federal climate policy has halted (and in many cases moved backward) since 2016, states have been picking up the slack. In 2019, Nevada passed Senate Bill 358 which increased Nevada’s renewable portfolio standard (the amount of energy that comes from renewable energy sources) to 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. Not long after that, Colorado passed House Bill 1261–which creates a ladder of goals ultimately reducing carbon pollution in the state 90 percent by 2050 compared to 2005 levels. Around the same time, Maine also passed an RPS bill, which doubled the state’s renewable electricity to 80 percent by 2030, putting Maine on a path to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Plus, they passed another bill to establish a state climate council to represent all Mainers in creating climate action plans. POW worked with athletes, industry leaders and local outdoor enthusiasts to get these policies across the finish line. And those are just a few examples among the multitudes of state-level climate work that launched last year.
Opinions on climate are shifting at the federal level
Part of my work with POW is attending our annual lobby days in Washington, D.C., where we train professional athletes, outdoor influencers and forward-thinking business leaders from the outdoor and snowsports industries to speak with federal lawmakers and demand climate action from Congress. In 2019, I noticed a massive shift. In years prior, mentioning climate change was met with active denial that it might be happening but likely wasn’t caused by humans. This year, POW had 19 House meetings, 17 Senate meetings and a hearing with the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis where Tommy Caldwell, Caroline Gleich and I delivered testimonials, which Sen. Brian Schatz called “absolutely inspirational.” Everyone we met with not only acknowledged that climate change was indeed happening but also asked us, “What can we do to help?” On our last day in D.C., the House passed the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act (HR 1146), which aligns with the 70 percent of Americans who oppose drilling in the Arctic Refuge and gets us a step closer to protecting the Refuge from drilling. Just a few months later, the House also passed the CORE Act, which protects 400,000 acres of Colorado public lands from oil and gas extraction. Our voices in the outdoor community are being heard and our leaders are taking action.
Youth are creating a cultural shift
I started POW before my own kids were born, but we’ve been talking with kids and engaging youth since POW’s inception. It’s now essential to bring young people into the climate movement, as policy is made at the hands of elected officials, and elected officials are made by the people who turn out to vote. Even though millenials and baby boomers have the same percentage of voting power (about 31 percent each), fewer than half of millenials voted in the last presidential election. Because it only took 77,000 votes in key districts to win the 2016 presidential election, we know that driving civic action at the margins is what we need to tip the scales for climate victory. The reality is that it’s not me that I’m fighting for, it’s these future generations. I want to be able to look these kids in the eye and say, “You know what? I was given a platform and I did everything I could with that platform.” And that’s exactly what we’re doing at POW.