With an unprecedented pandemic still ravaging the United States and nationwide protests against racial inequality and police brutality taking center stage, the conversation surrounding the threat of climate change has been pushed further from public consciousness. However, the current crises facing the nation are inextricably linked to climate change and present an important opportunity to advocate for environmental protection.
In the United States, people most impacted by environmental harm, who are disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of environmental hazards, are often minority, low-income, tribal, and indigenous populations. They often live in environmental justice communities, a phrase used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to describe neighborhoods surrounded by freeways and industrial facilities, small towns without clean drinking water or sidewalks, and areas excluded from public investments. The EPA also uses the phrase “overburdened communities.”
The same systems that contribute to climate change contribute to the oppression of minorities and the civil inequality prevalent in America. This message was conveyed by Protect Our Winters (POW) Action Fund consistently last week when representatives, athletes, and climate scientists embarked on the non-profit’s fourth annual Climate Lobby. Each year, they meet with elected officials and engage in a conversation about climate change and environmental policy.
Normally, POW employees, athlete-members, and other partners head to Washington D.C. for these meetings, but the COVID-19 pandemic relegated the Climate Lobby to a virtual experience.
This digital framework provided POW an opportunity to invite members of the Outdoor State to take part, with nearly 1,000 sign-ups for the group’s “Lobby Camp,” which provided training opportunities and tools for members to contact congress, resulting in 400 calls to elected officials.
Thirty-three athletes, 18 brand representatives, and five climate scientists were among the POW representatives who petitioned members of congress to invest in clean energy, clean transportation, and the protection of public lands.
The COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the economy and rebuilding it successfully will hinge upon the ability to pivot to new systems and legislation. The quasi-blank slate provided by the pandemic presents an opportunity to reshape the economy around new investments in clean energy, clean transportation, and public lands protections, as POW representatives outlined in and looked for bipartisan support of with the Climate Lobby.
“The pandemic has shown us the ability of systemic change to create movement toward a greater good,” says pro skier Drew Petersen, a first-time Climate Lobby participant. “Whether that [change comes from] all of us staying home or in economic stimulus payments from the federal government, seeing the willingness and availability to contribute. If we can take that same mindset into the climate crisis we can ensure a better future.”
The push for this legislation is especially important as the Trump administration has recently pushed for new government regulations that undermine the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act.
The POW Climate Lobby advocated for a temporary direct pay program for clean energy developers and suppliers to provide immediate cash relief to prop up the clean energy sector that lost 600,000 jobs as a result of the pandemic. It also asked for a delay in the expiration of existing clean energy tax incentives to help achieve the policy effect intended when these incentives were first passed by Congress.
The Climate Lobby also called for an investment in the development of electric vehicles that would create jobs and increase consumer demand for clean transportation through rebate programs, an expanded charging network, and vehicle trade-in programs. Public lands were also at the forefront of the push, with the protection of the Arctic Refuge from drilling and the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy Act both being big talking points.
The Great American Outdoors Act has also been a focus, as the legislation will permanently fund infrastructure for outdoor recreation on public lands to the tune of $900 million per year, which was previously required by the 1965 Land and Water Conservation Act.
In its coverage of the Climate Lobby, POW also highlighted pro skier and activist Caroline Gleich’s interview with Representative Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) on the Caroline Gleich Show, about the American Public Lands and Water Conservation Act. The legislation calls to reduce carbon emissions on public lands to net-zero by 2040. The Act also has provisions that dedicate funds collected from increased fees for fossil fuel extraction to environmental justice communities.
“The bill is important because it’s achievable and makes a strong connection between public lands and climate,” says Gleich. “[The bill] is well thought out and has special funding and provisions for environmental justice communities; [Representative Grijalva] has always been a champion of underrepresented voices and what we’re seeing now with COVID and Black Lives Matter is how climate change is disproportionally affecting African Americans and people of color; he has special provisions for those communities and also communities that have been dependent on coal or fossil fuel extraction.”
While engaging in these conversations with decision-makers amidst the current global turmoil, it became abundantly clear that climate reform is integral to achieving the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement, says Gleich and other participants.
Keith Musselman, a climate scientist and researcher at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado Boulder, says there is a direct connection between climate change and the racial inequality that’s on the main stage right now.
“Climate resilience, and the ability of our society to adapt to changes in snowpack, water availability, droughts and floods, those impacts disproportionally impact the underserved minorities,” he says. “The first people to be impacted by climate change issues and they’re also the people without the voice, without the resources to ask for government intervention or help.”
Petersen says he was hesitant at first to bring attention to the issue of climate change via his social media channels because the push for racial justice is such an important issue at present, but connecting who will be most affected by climate change helped his messaging.
“When the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-racism became the marquee story in every news cycle, it started to feel tone-deaf to me to talk about anything else,” says Petersen. “But the reality is we’re fighting for climate justice for all; that’s important because the effects of climate change disproportionally affect people of color. We can’t fight racism without fighting climate change, and realistically, we can’t fight climate change without fighting racism. All of this is in line with promoting a better future.”
POW, started by legendary pro snowboarder Jeremy Jones, initially mobilized the snow sports community against the effects of climate change on a dwindling snowpack, warmer winters, and shrinking glaciers, which, selfishly, stood in the way of participating in the sports of skiing and snowboarding. But, it’s become increasingly clear that climate change is about much more than future powder days, but a fight for justice for those who will be unable to recover from its effects.
“In the ski world we, of course, live in this thought bubble where we all think the same, and majority of skiers support action on climate change,” said Petersen. “But the real value of these POW Lobby Days is that it’s a direct way to impact systemic change.”
Gleich says she has been dissatisfied with the approach taken by the snow sports and outdoor industry to combat climate change and believes the focus on the greater good of humanity is a much stronger strategy than just the health of the insular ski world.
“It’s Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities; these BIPOC people are going to be most impacted by the effects of climate change,” says Gleich. “There’s an awaking happening within snow sports to make our message come less from a self-centered place and be more inclusive.”
With the pandemic sequestering much of the population within their homes and historic protests headlining the daily news, Americans are tuned in more than ever to what’s going on with the systems that govern them. People are more willing to speak out for change than ever, and that’s going to play a big factor in the success of driving systemic change, including the fight for climate change.
Musselman says the current fight against racial inequality in our country shows our capacity for addressing a grave need for change. “We understand the pressing consequences and need to address climate change, but it may not feel as explosive in the moment. It’s this slow burn,” he says. “I think that as we educate ourselves on the need, this slow burn is actually a fire; an inferno that’s going to affect our daily lives.”
This article originally appeared on Powder.com and was republished with permission.
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