Caroline Gleich, Jeremy Jones and Tommy Caldwell Take a Stand for Climate Action at Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill Climate Action
Courtesy of Leigh Vogel/Getty Images

Last week in Washington, D.C., the Capitol got a dose of a different kind of environmental activism brought to its stairs and into the courtroom. Professional athletes from various disciplines spoke on behalf of the outdoor industry, offering a unique perspective on climate change as those whose livelihood put them at the forefront of our rapidly changing environment.

A few of these athletes included professional skier Caroline Gleich, professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones and professional climber Tommy Caldwell, who testified Thursday morning before the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis.

In this hearing, each of the athletes shared anecdotes on their intimate connection to the outdoors, the strength of the collective voice of outdoor enthusiasts, the economic imperatives in communities dependent on snowfall, and ideas on how to mobilize the Americans who’ve become discouraged from using their voice to make change.

The hearing was assembled by Committee Chair Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), whose members include U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Tina Smith (D-Minn.).

Jeremy Jones Capitol Hill

Founder of Protect our Winters Jeremy Jones kicked the hearing into gear, reiterating the fact that, “In July 2017, the EPA and the University of Colorado published a study showing that across the country, virtually all locations are projected to see reductions in winter recreation season length up to 50 percent by 2050, and 80 percent by 2090.” Emphasizing the fact that within our childrens’ lifetime, winter seasons in places like Lake Tahoe will be shortened to a mere three weeks.

With Climate Week, NYC and the Global Climate Strikes following on the heels of this hearing, it’s a good time to get up to speed with what went down.

Here’s What You Need to Know:

Athletes testify at Capitol Hill

What exactly does the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis do?

The purpose of this special committee is to investigate and issue findings on the harm from inaction on the climate crisis, and how action can create opportunity for more jobs, a better economy and improve public health. In short, they look to examine the ways that climate change is affecting both the country and the planet, and seek to mobilize into action.

One of their duties involves collecting testimonials from expert witnesses, conducting outreach to frontline communities impacted by climate change. In Senator Schatz opening remarks, he states: “Recent research suggests that the U.S. snow season has shortened by 34 days by the 1980s.” following with the sobering prospect that, “The United States’ $20 billion snow sports tourism industry faces an uncertain future.”

The experiences of outdoor enthusiasts are one of increasing acknowledgment and value, offering a perspective that speaks on behalf of not only an intimate look at how climate change is affecting our natural environment, but how it threatens a massive industry.

Athletes Testify at Capitol Hill
Hannah Rennicke (POW), Jeremy Jones (snowboarder, founder of POW), Josh Jespersen (Snowboarder/Frmr Navy SEAL), Caroline Gleich (skier), Zeppelin Zeerip (snowboarder), Lindsay Bourgaine (POW), Hilaree Nelson (ski mountaineer), Eric Raymond (The North Face), Stephanie Violett (ultra-runner), Samantha Killgore (POW) Courtesy of Protect Our Winters/ Sam Killgore

The outdoor industry has a voice. A big one.

Annually, snow sports tourism alone contributes $20 billion to the U.S economy, 190,000 jobs and $7 billion in wages, with 20 million people participating in skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling.

More people are not only wanting to get involved in the outdoors, but put their money toward supporting brands that are transparent with what they stand for. “Gone are the days of greenwashing,” says Jeremy Jones. “People no longer look at a logo and not know what’s behind them.”

Collectively on Instagram, the three athletes with the addition of POW have an estimated 1,176,000 followers. That means, over one million eyes are watching their feeds – following along with their activity at Capitol Hill last week. “I think my social media feed is a good metric,” says Tommy Caldwell. “When I used to post pictures of political events no one used to engage. Now those photos get more engagement than ones of my daughter [laughs].”

“It’s been really interesting. On social media, a lot of people tell me that they follow me for the things I write about climate,” Caroline Gleich tells ASN. “It’s been really cool to see this evolution where that’s become a major draw in addition to ski photos – that people are coming to learn more about messaging on climate, and how to create this change that we want to see.”

Caroline Gleich Capitol Hill
Courtesy of Protect Our Winters/Sam Killgore

Hearings like these build momentum.

On the heels of increasing awareness, comes passion and progress. “The first step is to get educated,” Caldwell tells ASN. “When you understand what the threat is, you can’t help but want to do something about it.”

And with the Global Climate Strikes, pushing this conversation up and forward, and engaging with others to join the discussion is exactly what’s needed. The Global Climate Strikes, occurring on Sept. 20 and again on Sept. 27, are taking place at over 4,000 locations across the world, involving millions of people to partake in a worldwide protest. These strikes, inspired by 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg, will span 156 countries covering all continents (including Antarctica) protesting against the use of fossil fuels, and demanding transformative action to be taken to address the climate crisis.

“I think that it’s really important to normalize conversations around climate to create the political will to take broad sweeping action on these things that we’re asking for,” Gleich tells ASN.

Ways You Can Get Involved

Find a climate strike near you.

Join and/or volunteer with Protect our Winters.

Keep up to date with POW initiatives.

Athletes testify at Capitol Hill
Courtesy of Protect Our Winters/Sam Killgore

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