On a cold and hazy winter day in Salt Lake City, Utah, members from all different walks of the outdoor industry left their posts inside of the busy Outdoor Retailer Winter Market to gather together to talk about one thing: climate change. Led by three hard-charging leaders in the climate change fight, the Outdoor Industry Association’s “You Can’t Do Business on a Dead Planet” panel wasn’t filled with shocking new information about the Earth. It’s burning up. But anyone with senses knows that.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2016 was the hottest year on record, coming in at nearly two degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average. And there’s no indication that the record-breaking temperatures being recorded across the planet each year are on course to reverse anytime soon. So instead of lamenting about what we already know, the panel, consisting of Chris Steinkamp, executive director of Protect Our Winters; Luke Cartin, environmental sustainability manager for Park City, Utah; and Anne Kelly, the senior program director for public policy and director of the Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP) program at Ceres, focused on action.
“There isn’t really time to discuss this anymore,” Steinkamp said as he addressed the engaged crowd of flannel-clad attendees. “We know the problem, and we know the solution. We can’t dance around this anymore.”
Steinkamp’s place on the panel represented the voice of the outdoor industry, a powerful force in the U.S. economy responsible for $646 billion in annual consumer spending and 6.1 million direct jobs. As a community, the outdoor industry has always been vocal about protecting the planet—the place where they do business. But it’s not just the CEOs of major companies in the industry, like Black Diamond and Patagonia that have recently taken a more vocal stance on climate change action (the show announced last month that it is leaving the state due its intractable stance on public lands). Only five months into his new role as the city’s Environmental Sustainability Manager, Luke Cartin announced Park City’s climate goals to reduce the ski town’s carbon footprint to zero and transition the city’s energy grid to 100-percent renewable energy by 2032 for everything within city limits.
Located in a state where the official rock is coal, Cartin has set ambitious goals to create a sustainable future. And his enthusiasm and drive have been infectious. Following Park City’s climate announcement, officials in Salt Lake City announced that they, too, would work to achieve a goal of 100-percent clean energy by 2032—which for the largest city in a state predominantly powered by coal—is an encouraging sign.
The past four years have also brought encouraging signs from Washington D.C., which give key players in the fight against climate change hope for the future. During the Obama’s presidency, the Environmental Protection Agency introduced the Clean Power Plan, aiming to strengthen and support the trend towards clean American energy by reducing carbon pollution from power plants. Just prior to leaving office, Obama officially entered the United States into the Paris Agreement—within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to double down on halting the effects of climate change on a global level. President Obama also sent an encouraging message to the outdoor industry when he signed the Outdoor REC Act into law. The bill ensures that the outdoor industry’s economic impact is recognized by the U.S. government and accounted for as part of the gross domestic product (GDP), putting the industry on the same footing as extractive industries when it comes to government accounting. But perhaps the most important thing the Obama administration did to battle climate change was acknowledge it.
On January 20, 2017, Donald J. Trump was sworn into office as America’s 45th president. Before announcing his historic bid for the highest seat in the country, Trump shared his diagnosis of climate change with a 2012 tweet: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” His stance on the topic didn’t waver much as his controversial campaign charged across the country. As the election unfolded, tension rose throughout outdoor community as a potential Trump presidency became reality.
Trump has wasted no time making good on the pro-fossil fuels stance he built a good portion of his campaign on. The new president nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head up the EPA—an agency Pruitt has sued 13 times and condemned for overestimating air pollution from natural gas drilling. Pruitt was approved by the Senate in February. In the first three hours of his presidential term, Trump erased President Obama’s Climate Action Plan from the White House website, replacing it with An America First Energy Plan “committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan” and taking advantage of “untapped shale, oil and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands.”
Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, numbers don’t lie. Things aren’t looking good for the future of the planet. Winter seasons are getting shorter and wetter. Forty-six states in the U.S. reported above-average temperatures during the 2015/2016 winter season. The last decade has seen a rise in wildfires, with the Forest Service estimating an average of more than 73,000 wildfires burning roughly seven million acres of federal, tribal, state and private land. Soars in annual average temps will incite droughts, which will not only affect water resources for millions of Americans, but jobs and income as well.
So are we doomed? With so much political turmoil and uncertainty surrounding the climate change issue, and the impact of climate change becoming more visible around the world, is there still hope for the planet? The outdoor industry’s collective response is a resounding yes. Immediately following the election, organizations like the Sierra Club and the Outdoor Industry Association issued powerful statements to that they would fight harder than ever for the welfare of the planet, firing up and mobilizing supporters across the country.
“Right after the election, people came out of the woodwork, looking for ways to get involved,” said Steinkamp. “There has been an outpouring of enthusiasm and energy for climate action, which was the silver lining of this election.” Steinkamp and his team of volunteer ambassadors and climate activists at Protect Our Winters are changing their strategy for moving the needle in Washington D.C. on climate change. “The idea of signing letters and sending petitions to Washington is kind of old school,” he said. “We’ve got to dial up our activism beyond what we’ve ever done.” For Steinkamp and crew, this means an ambitious game plan for 2017 that focuses on engaging the people behind the big money in the outdoor industry to join forces with POW and demand climate action in Washington.
For Luke Cartin and Park City, a positive change in climate action on a city and state level is brewing, spawning more energy behind the movement than ever before. “Because we set these ambitious goals, there’s that sense of urgency, and that sense of urgency has actually led to a sense of excitement,” said Cartin. “We’re making great headway, and we’re doing it in a state that isn’t putting all of these sustainability incentives out there. So the response is, if we’re doing it in Utah, then we hope to be a road map to other cities in the country. Now is the time to take action.”
Tyra Sutak is a freelance writer based out of her van and the digital editor of Elevation Outdoors.