“We are living in a remarkable time in all of human history. What is or is not done in the next few years is going to radically determine the future or the fate of all young people in the world today.” (David Suzuki – The Little Things Movie)
It’s that time of year again where I am spending my days checking snow reports, winter forecasts and webcams, counting down the days until I can return to the mountains. The excitement and anticipation has never wained, and stories of early season snowfall and early resort openings just stoke my fire even further. This will be the 20th consecutive winter I have visited the French Alps and even though I only usually manage one or two weeks a season, I count myself extremely lucky and privileged to have the opportunity at all. It’s certainly not something I take for granted.
I love nature, be it the snowy winter mountains or the greenery of the summer. Being outdoors provides a freedom to explore and is a tonic for the soul, an antithesis to the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It is a place for us all to enjoy. But with that freedom and enjoyment comes the responsibility to take care of nature and to make sure it is there for future generations to enjoy as we do.
Climate change is happening, it is undeniable, and it is beginning to effect everything around us. The past decade has been the warmest on record. 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded globally and 2017 is on course to surpass that. Sea ice is melting and sea levels are rising, CO2 in the atmosphere is at record levels and it is estimated that the Northern Hemisphere has lost a million square miles of spring snowpack since 1970; an area more than ten times the size of the UK.*
The rate at which we are changing the planet is not sustainable and we all need to do our bit to try and reverse these devastating effects before it is too late.
“We can all do an effort and we can all be a part of the solution, because we’re all part of the problem.” (Marie-France Roy from The Little Things Movie)
Protect Our Winters was set up by Jeremy Jones in 2007. He had noticed that the snowpack in the Northern Hemisphere was changing. Snow-sure resorts which he had previously counted on were closing due to a lack of snow. He realised something was wrong and decided to act. The snow-sports and outdoor communities were ideally positioned to see these changes first-hand and by mobilising these groups POW has been able to grow, raise awareness and lobby the American Government in an attempt to open people’s eyes to what is happening, and what can be done to try and reverse these negative effects on our climate.
Since its formation in 2007 Protect Our Winters has branched out across Europe with a presence in France, Austria, Norway and Sweden, so I was delighted to hear at the start of 2017 that POW had arrived in the UK.
The UK has a thriving outdoor sports community, so it made perfect sense that POW should be represented here. If you are lucky enough to be able to spend time in the outdoors then it should be second nature to protect the environment in whichever way you can, big or small.
After hearing about the inception of POW UK and being keen to find out more, I was understandably stoked that Sandy Trust (Head Honcho) was able to take some time to talk to me and give me an insight into how POW UK came to be, what they have been up to so far this year and what they have planned for the future.
Hi Sandy. For those who might not know you, could you tell me a bit about your history which has lead to you becoming involved with Protect Our Winters?
“I was lucky enough to go skiing with my parents aged eight and was completely bitten by that experience. At the end of the week in Avoriaz I broke my arm jumping, trying to go bigger than my siblings, and that seemed to be the pattern set! After Uni I did four winter seasons and two summers on the glacier at Les Deux Alpes – progressing from mostly partying in Meribel to mostly skiing in Chamonix around the turn of the century. At that time the British Freeski movement was just kicking off and I was lucky enough to get involved on the fringes of that and live with a few of the top UK snowboarders as well. They were unbelievably good times but from a POW perspective means I have good links in the UK snow-sports community which have been invaluable.”
How did the opportunity to launch POW UK arise?
“I’m a member of the actuarial profession who do a lot on the risk management of climate change. I ended up doing a lot of speaking about climate change and realising we needed to change the message – doom and gloom doesn’t work. We’ve also left it very, very late – the risk of not dealing with climate change is insane. I came across POW after reading a Jeremy Jones article after the Trump win, about him doubling down on climate change action. Engaging people on climate change to protect something they love – and doing it in a way that is fun and cool seemed like a brilliant idea. So I got on the phone to POW US around Christmas 2016, got the nod, contacted a few friends who I thought might be interested and went for it.”
For those of us who love the outdoors to have POW represented in the UK is invaluable. We have thriving winter and outdoor sports communities, so how are you spreading the message amongst these communities and how can people get involved?
“Stoked to hear that it is landing well. I agree – the strength of the community in the UK is incredible and we really want to link into that and be an important part of that community. As a volunteer run young charity, with a small amount of funding and no permanent staff we want to do more all the time but are learning to be slightly patient with ourselves! Ideally we’re looking to replicate the success of ‘Surfers Against Sewage’ in the snow sports world – building up POW volunteers at dry slopes, snow domes, ski clubs, in resort, climbing clubs and the like. We realise that won’t happen overnight but have been delighted with the reception so far and have some amazing corporate partners who will help us to spread the word. It’s hard to thank everyone but we’re particularly grateful for support from major organisations like Surfdome, Ski Club of Great Britain, Patagonia, The Telegraph and Crystal – collectively these guys have serious reach – so part of our strategy is also to work with them.”
I know you’ve been really busy this year since setting things in motion, including appearing at industry events across the UK. Where have you been, what have you been up to and what has the feedback been like?
“I’m not going to lie to you – it’s been fully mental at times. Everyone’s a volunteer with a day job and a family so fitting POW UK in has taken some serious commitment at times. I cannot thank the team enough – their commitment and enthusiasm is very humbling. Planks Clothing invited us on their Grassroots tour which was epic. At the start of the year, we set out to be at the London Ski and Snowboard show and massive thanks to Suze and Linds at Telegraph Events for having us there. It is the THE winter sports event in the UK so that was massive for us in terms or brand recognition and showing the industry that we exist. We’ve also been present at a number of film premiers with Holmlands around the country and are stoked that Steve Scott up at Kendal is showing one of our shorts. We’ve also been getting involved in the corporate world with presentations at major financial institutions on climate change and finance. Overall we’ll have spoken to over 1,000 people at over ten events in October and November which we think is pretty impressive.”
You have well known industry faces on board including Ed Leigh and Warren Smith, working as ambassadors for POW UK. Has this helped to get people’s attention and listen to what you are trying to say. I imagine they give additional weight to your argument?
“Ed and Warren were two of the first ambassadors to jump on board. They are both well known in the industry and have helped enormously. We presented with them both for all four days at the ski show in London. They are both credible and very authentic when they talk about the changes they have seen. It’s also been enormously helpful in terms of recruiting other ambassadors to get the message out. I actually ran summer camps with Warren back in the early years of the millennium (!!) so the retreat of the glaciers has particular poignancy, as some of the runs down from the parks we used to ski together just don’t exist anymore in the summer.”
There are only a small percentage of the UK (and world) population who actively participate in winter sports and outdoor activities, so how do you get your message across? If you are disconnected from the outdoors how can you care about the environment? Do people see climate change as someone else’s problem?
“It’s the classic climate change challenge! For many people it is perceived as distant in time and location, somewhat complex, with a perceived lack of certainty around the science and allied with the perception that it is a big, global problem you can see why it is easy for people not to take action, or stick their heads in the sand.
We encourage people to think about their home and what they would do if they learnt someone was coming into their home to threaten some of the things they love. The point is they wouldn’t do nothing – they would take action. We then make the point the planet is their home and climate change is coming into it – and we’re there to help and support them to be the climate change heros their future deserves.
You make a really good point around winter sports. Relatively few people are lucky enough to be able to enjoy winter sports on a regular basis. But you’ve got to start somewhere and we see winter sports as the logical place to start as it is uniquely threatened by climate change.”
Can you tell me about the POW UK strategy which you have been rolling out this year?
“We call it the four E’s – Engage, Educate, Empower and Encourage. Right now we are busy letting people know we exist, working with our ambassadors and supporting corporate partners to get the message out. Then we move on to Educate. We’re not trying to preach climate science at people, we’re trying to educate them that there is a lot they can do and a lot of reasons to feel optimistic. Empower is about laying out a structured list of actions people can take, and Encourage speaks for itself. We’ve got some pretty exciting plans for the season and are talking to some very exciting elite athletes – all I can say now is watch this space. We also really hope the POW resort will work for people.”
Is there a global strategy and framework drawn up by Protect Our Winters which you work within or do you set your own agenda?
“Climate change is actually pretty simple to solve – simply cut down the carbon emissions and regenerate the carbon sinks. So in a way our strategy is to support anything that accelerates climate change solutions. However, there are clearly nuances between different countries and different challenges. In the US they are pretty focused on the political situation as Trump continues to eviscerate the EPA and any sort of climate science. In the UK the government is doing some good stuff but as with most major governments, not moving quickly enough. Scotland is really leading in a number of ways and I think beginning to understand at a policy level that moving beyond oil and gas is an economic opportunity, not a threat.”
With you mentioning the US and the political situation there, is there a plan to follow POW’s lead and lobby parliament and (big) businesses in the UK?
“Not immediately but as we grow, of course. There are a lot of influential decision makers who ski and snowboard, so we’ll have to see how it pans out. We may get involved in direct lobbying, in partnership with other NGOs, or we may more look to influence decision makers that we can connect with.”
What would you say to those climate change deniers who seem to find any excuse to dismiss what is actually happening now?
“Nothing has ever become better by ignoring reality. I would ask them what they will say to their children in 30 or 40 years time if they don’t take action on climate change?
Science is clearly quite important for the ongoing functioning of our society; vaccines, agriculture, power, satellites, communications and so on. Nonetheless, there is still a flat earth society and people who don’t vaccinate their kids. It seems unusual to want to have all the benefits of science but to deny a specific part of it because you find it inconvenient or it threatens your profit stream. But we see it all the time – cigarette companies expended significant effort in muddying the waters around the link to cancer, some drinks companies are pushing back strongly at deposit return schemes aimed at reducing plastic pollution, and some food companies don’t like the concept of a sugar tax. Sadly it’s the way of the world with the catch that climate change could be the end of the world too!”
The winter season is upon us and snow is already falling across the Alps and the US. We’re all hoping for a bumper season, but this doesn’t take away from the undeniable fact that change is happening. If we get a good season in terms of snowfall does that make it harder to get people to listen to the climate change argument?
“Weather and climate are two different but related things, but inevitably people equate them – we’re humans and our human brains like shortcuts. But climate drives weather whereas weather has no impact on climate! Last season was bumper in the US in terms of snowfall. Nonetheless, Whistler still had to cancel the iconic Camp of Champions due to glacial retreat. I was talking to a UK ex-pro snowboarder this week and he said when he read that it really hit him as that place was an institution. We could see lots of snow, and I really hope we do in Europe because another bad winter could be really tough for some of the businesses, but I’m sure we’ll get a lot of questions around it if we do!”
What is next for POW UK and for the winter season to come?
“We’re super excited about the ski season. We’ve got some great networks of supporters in Morzine, Tignes, Val D’Isere, Verbier and Chamonix in particular. We’re also lining up a really epic super sustainable late season trip to Norway with some ambassadors and of course there is the Olympics.”
And (hopefully) if people reading this feel like they want to help POW UK and contribute, how can they do it? Can people donate or buy merchandise?
“Yes! We’re a young charity so any donations are greatly appreciated. You can donate at My Donate and you can buy our t-shirts, hoodies or watches at Freeze Pro Shop.”
Massive thank you to Sandy for taking the time to talk to me. Please visit the links below to find out more about POW UK and get involved.
We all need Winter and Winter needs us.
Find out more about POW UK here: POW UK
If you want to see what the POW UK ambassadors have to say click here: POW UK Vimeo
Find out more about POW US here: Protect Our Winters
Find out more about Winter Alliance here: Winter Alliance
All photos courtesy of POW UK.