By Olivia Dwyer
For skiers, mountain bikers, climbers, boaters, trail runners, and anglers worried that Donald Trump’s climate change denial spells doom, December 7 brought the worst news yet. The President-elect of the United States announced that Scott Pruitt will head the Environmental Protection Agency. As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt—who has long been a bedfellow of the fossil fuel barons—led Republican peers in a legal challenge against President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. If instated (almost certain given the incoming Congress), he could dismantle those and many more regulations, designed to reduce soot, carbon pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions produced by power plants.
Founded by Republican President Richard Nixon in 1970, the EPA keeps our air clean, our water poison-free, and public lands intact. But on the campaign trail, Trump promised to decimate the agency—and Pruitt’s on board. The nightmare scenario follows eight years of progress under the Obama administration, whose eco bona fides include designating 23 national monuments to protect 265 million acres; canceling the Keystone XL pipeline; and working with China to lead nearly 200 nations to the world’s first global climate plan. “Obama was the first President to visit the Arctic and recommend protections to Congress,” says Cindy Shogun, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, which works to preserve wild lands and waters threatened by energy development.
On Election Day, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R–AK) saw the results as an opportunity to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. Trump’s pick for Secretary of the Interior, Representative Ryan Zinke (R–MT), supports federal management of public lands but wants to increase access for extractive industries like mining and logging. Former Texas governor Rick Perry committed to eradicating the Department of Energy—so naturally Trump wants to put him in charge of the agency. And while the outgoing Secretary of State, John Kerry, spent time recently in Antarctica to publicize the effects of climate change, the incoming Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is a lifelong employee of ExxonMobil—the company that brought you the Exxon Valdez spill and a longstanding cover-up of the very climate change research they funded.
But those who care about the environment and the future of human life on this planet won’t go gently, even if they’ve taken consecutive gut punches over the last month. On November 9, it was as quiet as a funeral at the Boulder, Colorado, headquarters of Protect Our Winters (POW), a nonprofit that leads climate action in the snowsports community. “We were crushed,” says Executive Director Chris Steinkamp. Then phones started ringing and donations followed. POW wasn’t alone in seeing an uptick in concerned citizens. In the four weeks post election, the Sierra Club enlisted 18,000 new members for recurring monthly donations—more than their 2015 total. And when Patagonia announced 100 percent of the company’s Black Friday sales would fund environmental advocacy grants, they raised a record-breaking $10 million. (More on where that money goes here.) “When we argue for investing in public lands, conservation, and stewardship, it can seem arbitrary or theoretical,” says Alex Boian, VP of government affairs for the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). “But consumer spending will show that an outdoor economy is not just for fun. It’s a must-have, a powerful economic engine.”
The next time a politician tries to use job creation as an excuse for environmental degradation, tell them this: The coal industry wasn’t crippled by regulations, it was crippled by market forces (cheap natural gas) and its own toxicity. Meanwhile, OIA research tells us outdoor recreation supports 6.1 million jobs; roughly $80 billion in taxes, and $646 billion in consumer spending. Investing in public lands and water actually delivers big returns. As for fighting climate change, here’s an incentive: winter tourism contributes 211,900 jobs and $12.2 billion to the economy. Trump says he wants to invest in infrastructure—well, natural resources are the outdoor economy’s infrastructure.
Such hard numbers give elected officials political cover to push back against those who would attack the environment. But they’ll need a nudge, and that’s where we all come in. Take it from POW’s newest ambassador, professional skier Cody Townsend. “For years, I was hesitant to join POW because I didn’t want to tell anyone how to live,” he says. “But the election was a catalyst. It’s up to those who believe the science and facts of climate change to fight it—the more of us, the better.”
Get informed. Find your Senators and Representatives, and stay in touch. “Pick up the phone,” says Steinkamp. “You get a live person, and it’s their job to report back to the chief of staff. That’s how a specific topic bubbles up.”