A Voice for Responsible Climate Policy
Words By Leonie Sherman — Photos by Ming Poon
On a balmy February day a few years ago, my best friend and I biked from the valley floor to Glacier Point Road in Yosemite National Park. Badger Pass, California’s first ski resort, was deserted. We sat in t-shirts and gawked at the post-apocalyptic scene: chairlifts creaking in the wind while ravens picked at the grassy slopes. Elite athlete, snowboarding phenom and film star Jeremy Jones noticed the disappearance of winter over a decade earlier and did more than just sit and gawk. He founded the organization Protect Our Winters to unite the outdoor community to come together and fight climate change. “POW activates and educates about what we need to do to win. We are so strong when we work together,” Jones explains.
“My life is shaped around winter, and snow and the environment. I just have a deep love for it,” he says. “I started POW in 2007 because I was seeing changes to the mountains. We are a community tied to snow and the outdoors, and we know our sport is on a dead end path. I’m in a position where I can bring people together and say ‘Hey, we need to do something about this.'”
At that point he wanted to give money to a group focusing on climate. But he couldn’t find one that resonated with the outdoor community. “Friends kept telling me I should start one. For two years I fought starting it myself. I was not thinking ‘I need more meaning in my life, I’m going to start a non-profit!’” Jones says with a laugh. “But it became really clear that we had an issue and needed to do something about it. The fact is, I’m super fortunate. I’m in this position because people support me and come to my films and have given me this platform. The very least I can do is use it wisely.”
He’s displayed wisdom and humility in the creation of POW, which now employs 12 full-time staff. “Our early ads never had me in them. I tried to do everything I could so it wasn’t a Jeremy Jones thing.” He approached companies that weren’t already sponsoring him and leveraged his extensive network. “I’m not an expert in the field of climate but I learned really early on how to ask people to lend their expertise and surround myself with really good people.”
One of those good people is current Executive Director Mario Molina. Originally from Guatemala, Molina served as the Deputy Director for Alliance for Climate Education and later worked with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project. A masters degree in Geoscience Analysis familiarized him with current climate science and five years running sustainable travel projects in the mountains of Ecuador made him painfully aware of how rapidly changes were happening. “No model that we have shows climate change happening in a week,” he says with a laugh, “but it’s definitely not going to be the hundreds of years a lot of people told us it would be.”
Molina joined POW because of the people it brings together. “The outdoor recreation industry and profession brings forth some of the best of the best in terms of performance athletes and also the character and values of people involved,” explains Molina. “It’s really encouraging and motivating and humbling to have these amazing people involved.”
POW started their fight against climate change by advocating for awareness and simple personal actions people can take. “Reusable water bottles, changing light bulbs, carpooling, those kinds of things,” Jones explains. “But then we realized, through experts, that we need policy change to see meaningful results.”
POW was influential in lobbying Congress to oppose a rider to a tax bill which allowed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which passed by only three votes. “Before 2016 we actually had some success at the federal level, but after the presidential election we knew we had to shift our focus to the state level,” explains Jones. “We focus on purple states, places that are right on the brink of embracing a clean energy future or doubling down on the fossil fuel industry. We are currently working hard in Nevada, Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Maine, Ohio, and Florida. We aim to get them to embrace clean energy and stop incentivizing fossil fuel extraction.” Both Nevada and Colorado have committed to 100% renewable energy by 2050.
POW employs carefully crafted messaging, data-driven research, basic economics and people’s own self-interest to bring about important policy changes. Almost a quarter of our nation’s carbon footprint comes from fossil fuel extraction on public lands. “That’s mostly exported, employs only a few people and benefits even fewer,” explains Jones. “Arby’s restaurant employs more people, but the fossil fuel industry receives about $700 billion in government subsidies every year. The renewable energy sector was employing more people than the fossil fuel industry eight years ago and those numbers have only gone up.”
“30,000 people are coming to Mammoth this weekend. All that money adds up.” says Jones. “The outdoor industry employs more people and creates more revenue than fossil fuel extraction. We wield very little power for how big of an industry and how big of a jobs creator we are. “
“There are 36 million people who climb, mountain bike, ski, snowboard or trail run in the US,” explains Molina. “That’s one third of the total voting population of the 2016 election. Together, these people have the potential to pressure politicians to make significant policy change.”
“We don’t need every one of those 36 million people to show up, we just need thousands to show up at the right places at the right times,” explains Molina. “We need them to show up during local, state and federal elections and whenever there are bills passing through Congress that need constituent support. We need people to engage elected officials at scale when we have votes like the one on ANWR.
“Big pharma and extraction industry have so much power with our elected officials,” laments Jones. “We are letting the fossil fuel industry buy our elections and ignore science. I can’t deal with that. It’s time for us to come together and say ‘Hey, we demand action! And if we don’t get it, we are going to come together and replace you with a climate champion.’”
Despite their hard work and carefully crafted advocacy, results have been thin. “In all honesty, there have not been a lot of victories fighting climate change,” bemoans Jones. “Largely, as a society, we have failed.”
Molina is not surprised by societal failures, like the results of the recent climate conference in Madrid. “Implementation of these commitments is really hard stuff,” he explains. “And when you have a major player like the US completely missing from a leadership position things get a lot more difficult.”
But both Jones and Molina maintain their optimism and commitment to doing the hard work. “We already have the solutions,” says Jones. “And the solutions are huge job creators. Those are domestic jobs.”
Molina is heartened by an undeniable cultural shift. “What gives me hope is that there’s been an awakening within the community and mainstream society at large about the urgency of this issue. If we can catalyze that energy we can see the outdoor community have a huge impact on how this country addresses climate change in the next five years.”
And POW doesn’t need to tackle climate change alone. “I mean the fact that millions of kids are marching in the streets is both really sad and really inspiring,” says Jones. “I’m so grateful. I call it the X factor. This is what we need, we need a revolution and the kids are making it happen.”
To learn how you can get involved and support POW, go to protectourwinters.org.