While Indigenous people have been leading the way since time immemorial, the modern mainstream environmental movement didn’t gain traction until the inaugural Earth Day brought the message to the masses back in 1970. Since that historic first installment, April 22 signifies a day across the world when people come together to celebrate environmental protection and the well-being of Mother Earth. This year the celebration marks 50 years and is accentuated by the unprecedented global pandemic currently in place. As difficult and destructive as this pandemic is, it has also shown humanity that out of this chaos global policy can adapt and shift radically as the Earth is speaking to us as to what can happen if movements get back to the roots of what it means to be local, and industrial activity continues to shift away from its climate intensive, resource destructive behaviors. There are many individuals and grassroots organizations to celebrate who are working towards reformism and revolution centered on multi-species justice through climate action. One group that has influenced and organized the outdoor community profoundly is Protect Our Winters (POW).
As a member of the POW Alliance I have had the fortune of learning from and working alongside leaders in the outdoor community and climate world, organizing for get out the vote campaigns to help support Earth-minded politicians on their journey towards positions of power, advocating for the permanent protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and lobbying legislators on Capital Hill in Washington, D.C. POW is a climate movement leader who continues to galvanize outdoor loving humans to contribute to and be a part of the greater climate movement.
Working with students at Sierra Nevada University through my position as Chair of the Sustainability Department this semester, our Climate Change course went deep anchored by the writing of Naomi Klein, stayed current with offerings from independent media, and created working groups to pool interest and knowledge together to help solve climate problems through art, education, and activism. We also learned from the resources made available by POW, which are offered here as a micro contribution to the massive offerings being made in solidarity with Earth Day today.
In the end, it’s about the power of community, and individuals coming together to foster change. That said, embracing the “imperfect advocacy” at POW, the Carbon Footprint calculator linked above acknowledges that we live in a carbon-intensive society fueled by a petro-economy. That will and must change. Until then, living in this world means consuming fossil fuels and producing carbon as a result. This tool allows you to look at your carbon footprint, from recent travels or in your normal day-to-day existence, and offset the impacts by donating money to a verified Rec provider. It may not seem like much, but even doing your best to travel “green” is a step, and so if offsetting your carbon footprint.
In class this semester, our crew each did a calculation from a recent trip, adventure, or an audit of a regular routine day as a university student. As a collective, we not only found the tool easy to use, we found great value in learning more about the Rec providers as well as in learning how affordable the offsets cost. Here’s my personal receipt from Dec 2019 into January 2020 when I traveled East, linking up a loop around the world, starting with a visit to family during the holidays in VT and NY, on to Europe for ski guiding and consulting work in two countries, continuing to the Altai Mountains in China for a ski film project, and finally back home to Lake Tahoe. A pretty affordable bill considering the amount of miles traveled and pounds of carbon burned.
2. Social Media
Love it or hate it, social media is a part of our current world and presents a constantly growing platform for sharing education, knowledge, and crucial messaging related to climate, action, and advocacy. In March, POW put together a push around the hashtag #crushit4climate as a way to fuse climate advocacy with people’s personal outdoor goals. Over 400,000 people ended up joining the campaign, and together with POW Founder Jeremy Jones, photographer Ming Poon, and cinematographer Greg Weaver, the four of us set out for a day on our favorite local mountain in Tahoe to support the cause. Here are posts from Jeremy and Ming about our day. One of the things I took away from this session was talking with Jeremy about social media as a platform to share climate messaging, and ultimately that conversation led to our SNU climate class establishing an SNU Climate handle on instagram. As our semester comes to end, the feed is showcasing the exceptional work of our class highlighting final projects from students that range from climate focussed art displays to a petition to keep Chevron from leasing land to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Like the Carbon Calculator, it’s not an end-all action, but when combined with others, it’s a viable tool in the climate activist toolbox.
3.Grassroots Community Groups
Individual acts matter, but in the big picture much of our conversations, work, and attention in class went towards looking to the bigger picture of systems change. Perpetual bandaids on a broken system are just that, and until a more earthcentric economy that does not disenfranchise people becomes the world’s reality climate injustices will persist. Supporting a Green New Deal in this country, recognizing climate justice movements as the compass to follow and support across the world will help illuminate the path towards a truly regenerative future. As collective work moves towards that approach, there continues to be strength in the work of groups like POW (Outdoor State of Mind), Sunrise, and the Sierra Club while more grassroots community groups emerge on localized levels. From our corner, born from our time in class and during an online class session during the global pandemic with POW Founder Jeremy Jones as he took time out of his packed schedule to join us, our class has formed a student alliance that will organize and act around climate issues locally, regionally, and globally. We need climate deniers out of office and representatives that care for people and the planet in leadership positions. We also need small groups of inspired people to come together around our country and the world to organize and activate communities around the issue, and look beyond the current confines of the political-economic realities of today.
It can happen, it will happen, and it can start with as little as an offset of a carbon intensive activity, engagement on social media, or getting together with people in your community to talk about climate. We all must take care of ourselves and loved ones, and when the energy and activation is there, start building outward and beyond to put into practice the reality we wish to see in this world. Incremental acts lead to cumulative change, and we know from Howard Zinn that we can’t be neutral on a moving train, so remember whatever you can offer is more than nothing. Happy Earth Day, Today, and Everyday!