What level of threat do we need to experience before we act?

The evidence that climate change is bearing down on us is absolutely compelling. And it is clear in regards to what is coming: the mountains and wild country that we love, which feeds our spirit and helps define who we are, is facing a grave, and potentially existential, threat. Without serious and concerted action to radically reduce greenhouse pollution now, we will experience shorter, more erratic winters, and longer and more frequent fire seasons. It will mean more frequent drought, hotter temperatures, and species pushed up the mountains until they run out of habitat.

Yet for the most part we continue with business as usual. The clock keeps ticking and we keep looking out the window, possibly hoping someone else will do something. The silence of the people who love the mountains – skiers, riders, hikers, climbers – and the industries who survive by supplying these communities – ski resorts, outdoor gear and tour companies – is generally deafening.

That’s why we have to be grateful wherever there is a rumbling of change, where companies and constituencies stir, get organised and speak out. One recent example comes for the USA, where the outdoor industry has become galvanised in opposing plans to undo protections for many (currently protected) wild places.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump puts on a miners hard hat during a rally in Charleston, W.Va., Thursday, May 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The pro-coal and pro-fossil fuel politics of US President Donald Trump are well known (who can forget those images of him looking like a goof in an undersized miners hat as supporters paraded ‘Trump digs coal’ placards?). His close connection to the oil and gas industries has seen him attempt to wind back protection of many Nationally protected areas. While this move is being strongly resisted by many conservation and activist groups, an unprecedented alliance of companies from all parts of the outdoor industry have joined forces to fight back against this land grab by the fossil fuel industry.

350 companies have written to President Trump, urging him to abandon his attempt to reduce protection to iconic and much loved landscapes across the USA. The letter reads in part:

“Our nation’s land and water are part of our shared heritage and are hallmarks of who we are as Americans. As you contemplate your administration’s policies related to these places, the hundreds of executives and business leaders below call upon you to protect and defend the vast landscapes that comprise our public lands network. America’s outdoors bring us together, strengthen bonds with family and friends, and are the foundation of a massive economic engine across the nation. Shielding our national monuments and other public lands and waters from diminished protection will result in stronger rural and urban communities, thriving local economies, and a healthier nation.

For the millions of Americans and the millions more who visit our country from around the world every year, exploring our public lands and waters provide an opportunity for a uniquely American experience. It has been said that the establishment and protection of America’s land and water is among our nation’s best ideas. We agree. These places were entrusted to us and it is our shared responsibility to remain responsible stewards of them.

As leaders of more than 350 American companies, we ask you to embrace the conservation ethic of your predecessors and keep current protections in place for our public lands and waters, ensuring these places live on for the benefit of every American today and for generations to come”.

It’s an impressive list, which includes:

  • Outdoor gear companies such as Columbia, Asolo, Arc’teryx, Adidas Outdoors, Rab, Patagonia, Osprey, Outdoor Research, Black Diamond and REI
  • Ski and riding brands including Faction skis, Backcountry Access, Scott Sports, Flylow and Burton
  • And many outdoor guiding companies, retailers and even a few breweries who rely largely on outdoor adventurers.

A letter on its own will not make a difference. But this co-operation and mobilisation is to be welcomed, especially as it deepens and more and more companies take on active roles in the campaign. Already a growing number are joining lobby visits to politicians, taking out ads, advertising the campaign through their stores, social media and elists. They join the many ski resorts in the US who are also vocal on the broader issue of climate change and its impact on mountain environments.

And, as noted by Alexander Boian, Treasurer for the Outdoor Industry Association, “anytime an entire industry writes a letter to the president, it’s going to get noticed”.

He says “the president’s actions have coalesced, galvanized our industry. Protecting public lands, preserving our American heritage should never have been something we needed to fight for, but fight we must, and fight we will”.

Let’s hope this new spirit of activism is catching, and more and more companies catch the bug. It might even be time for the Australian outdoor industry to step up to the plate and play its part?