Nonprofit talks need for activism at AREDAY
How many people here ski?”
Nearly every person in the audience raised a hand.
“How many people snowboard?”
More hands reached toward the ceiling of the Viceroy Snowmass resort meeting room.
“That’s great, so at least three-fourths of us all have a shared experience,” said Mario Molina, executive director of the Colorado-based Protect Our Winters nonprofit. “Now how can we turn that shared experience, that shared love we have into shared climate action?”
Molina posed this question to the dozens of people gathered Thursday night for the second evening of American Renewable Energy, or AREDAY, summit presentations.
Then, Molina worked to answer this question by talking about Protect Our Winters, or POW’s goal to “add a voice that’s usually not part of the (climate change) conversation” — the voice of outdoor athletes and recreationists.
Since 2007, Protect Our Winters has worked to turn the passion outdoor recreationists have for what they do into effective climate activism, ultimately influencing systemic political solutions to climate change.
In 2018 and into 2019, the nonprofit took its mission to a more urgent level, hiring more full-time staff, launching educational programs on college campuses, striving to engage a greater spectrum of outdoor athletes, professional and amateur, and initiating clean energy policy changes in states like Colorado.
“I don’t know a group of people more passionate about what they put their hearts and minds to,” Molina said of outdoor recreationists Thursday before his AREDAY presentation. “We’re not technocrats, we’re not politicians, climate change is not a theoretical thing for us. It’s a thing that’s happening right now in the places we hold dear. It’s very real.”
For Molina, transitioning from an international climate change educator, nonprofit director and solutions advocate to a similar role with POW on the national level was important.
An avid alpinist, snowboarder and mountain biker himself, Molina said POW’s mission aligns with his and millions of other outdoor enthusiasts’ values, which he sees as huge potential for creating political and cultural change related to climate change solutions — locally, statewide and nationwide.
In Colorado, Molina gave the AREDAY attendees the stats: 229,000 jobs, $9.7 billion in wages and salary and $2 billion in state and local tax revenue can all be attributed to the outdoor recreation industry.
“If we can mobilize the 34 million Americans who ski, snowboard, climb or bike, we can create a powerful political force,” Molina said. And that’s just a small fraction of the outdoor recreationists that exist, he implied.
But what does the political and cultural changes Molina and the POW nonprofit seek look like? And what can local Aspen/Snowmass recreationists do to help make them happen?
Molina pointed to three pillars needed to avert the current climate crisis: first, clean energy technology and financial mechanisms to support it, which Molina said already exist; second, the political will to deploy this technology at a large scale, which Molina said is needed; and third, a cultural shift supporting clean energy solutions, which Molina feels will make the political will resilient.
“It’s a big ask, but it can happen fast,” Molina said, citing the relatively recent policy changes and social attitudes nationwide toward drunk driving and tobacco use.
“Those of us who have been involved in the environmental movement for the past 20 to 30 years have done a fantastic job building a base, but that base has not been enough,” Molina said during his presentation. “We have not had a strong enough voice to make these policies not only be constant in the legislature but actually be culturally resilient.”
To make the outdoor enthusiast voice more prominent and to see a resulting cultural shift, Molina said people need to inform themselves on the local and state level about clean energy and de-carbonization initiatives and get out to vote — which POW aims to help with.
“If you’re a runner, skier, climber, biker, you’re one of us. Help us shift this,” Molina said. “We need to get the country going in a different direction.”
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