Many people say they care about the environment. However, there's a critical difference between caring and doing, and it can be hard to get them to recognize how climate change will have a real impact on their everyday lives. But environmental advocacy and education group, Protect Our Winters, has found the way to mobilize a huge demographic that depends on the future of our environment: the outdoor sports industry.
POW uses the snow-sports and broader outdoor industries as a way to motivate people to fight climate change. It provides a number of advocacy and educational efforts to connect people with the cause, from using professional athletes as spokespeople to broadcast POW’s message, to its new Phone It In campaign, which provides people with the tools to make calling their representatives about environmental issues extremely simple and convenient.
Protect Our Winters was founded in 2007 by professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones. His work took him around the globe, and while traveling he noticed the effects of global warming in various corners of the world. When he returned home, he wanted to make a financial contribution to an organization that fought global warming on behalf of the outdoor industry, but quickly found out no such organization existed. So, he started his own.
“We feel pretty saddened about how politicized climate change has become. And we feel like our environment shouldn’t be a partisan issue," POW’s Manager of Advocacy and Campaigns Lindsay Bourgoine tells Bustle. "You go into a political arena... and if you start talking about climate change it can be pretty challenging. But if you start talking to somebody on the chairlift, if they disagree with you it’s a pretty easy question to ask somebody, 'Doesn’t winter look different than when you learned to ski?' Skiing looks different, winter looks different. So, it’s a pretty easy conversation to have."
POW is currently focused on three major environmental issues. It supports enacting a carbon tax, which it believes is the quickest way to move to a low-carbon economy. It wants the government to promote solar energy by increasing access and subsidy programs, and allowing for “net metering,” or selling the energy you make back to utility companies, something that is strongly lobbied against by energy companies. And thirdly, it is aiming to make electric vehicles a more viable transportation option.
But how do they take these wonky, big-picture environmental issues and get skiers and riders involved in fighting for these causes?
"That’s definitely something that we focus on, trying to make advocacy more accessible," Bourgoine says.
POW’s new Phone It In campaign is an ideal program for making it easy for people to advocate for a cause. POW provides a script for people to call their representatives about specific issues, like the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, and the proposed removal of the Methane Rule, which requires companies to report their methane output. POW also has a service where people can call a number, input some information, and be connected directly to their representatives.
At big snow-sports events around the country, like the alpine skiing World Cup events and Burton U.S Open in California and Colorado, this program translated into an actual phone booth. POW set up a phone booth, and inside, where the pay phone would go, instead was the script and numbers to call representatives. People walking by could hop in and make their contribution in mere seconds. For example, according to Bourgoine, on Aspen last weekend, almost 200 people used the phone booth to call Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who was considered a swing vote in the repeal of the Methane Rule.
"Let’s meet people where they are," says Bourgoine. "let’s not make it really difficult, let’s literally build a phone booth and have a script ready to educate people on the issues."
Bourgoine says calling representatives serves as a critical way for constituents to connect with their representatives. “I think it’s really easy to feel disenfranchised and like your voice doesn’t matter. But it’s actually pretty incredible how impactful making calls are."
“It’s definitely very frustrating, and to be quite blunt were not going to see any proactive progress come out of the Trump administration on climate, so that’s pretty concerning to us."
It’s no secret that the Trump administration does not place environmental issues high on its list of priorities. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt said that CO2 emissions do not contribute to climate change. The president has indicated that he wants to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. He also wants to open up more public lands to coal leasing.
"It’s easy to be apathetic in a friendly administration, but I think people are listening and people are ready."
“It’s definitely very frustrating, and to be quite blunt, we're not going to see any proactive progress come out of the Trump administration on climate, so that’s pretty concerning to us," Bourgoine says.
But while the future of their advocacy efforts on the federal level may be disheartening to POW, the upside Bourgoine says, is that it has strengthened the response at the state level. The group has focused on petitioning governors and state legislators. "I will say, regardless of what’s happening at the federal level, we’re really infused by some of the work that’s happening in states,” she says.
Bourgoine says that there's been a "huge swell' of support for POW since the election, which she characterized as a "wake up call" for many.
"A lot of people will say elections don’t matter and I’m not going to vote, and obviously there are severe consequences," Bourgoine says. "I think an administration that has harsh policies or is very strong in a way that we haven't seen before, it makes people listen. And I think people are really fired up to do something. It’s easy to be apathetic in a friendly administration, but I think people are listening and people are ready."