When I started Protect Our Winters in 2007 the last thing I thought I would be dealing with was politics. I was just a snowboarder who had seen the effects of global warming first hand and who did not like the thought of a future without snow. I was also a father who wanted my kids and future generations to enjoy a lifetime full of amazing pow days. It was really that simple. I started POW as a platform to do whatever I could to help keep it snowing.
Jeremy shreds with his son Cass at Mammoth Mountain. Photo - Andrew Miller
But as our organization surrounded ourselves with climate change experts we quickly realized the stakes were too high to just sit back and sign a check to support renewable energy as I had once hoped. The earth is warming too fast and if we really want to stop the glaciers from disappearing before our eyes there was no choice. To make a real impact on climate change we had to step into the ring and join the fight in Washington D.C..
Politics are the front lines of the fight because technological innovation alone does not have the power to win this battle. To make the greenhouse gas reductions necessary to slow climate change, we need elected officials to embrace solutions that accelerate clean energy innovation. I learned this from POW board member Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard professor who studies huge, fast moving societal shifts, benchmarks of modern history like the invention of electricity and the car. Both of these inventions spread like wildfire across the planet because they had the support of the world’s citizens and governments. We need MAJOR changes to energy policies around the world and it’s only going to happen if public and private sector start working together NOW.
NASA video detailing the annual Arctic Sea ice minimum 1979-2018.
The United States mid-term election on November 6th is the most important election of my lifetime. Why? Because we are truly in the eleventh hour on climate change. If we don’t act now it will be too late.
In October 2018 a United Nations appointed panel of scientists released an alarming report on the impacts of global warming. The report details the likely catastrophic effects of a 1.5ºC (2.7ºF) rise in global temperatures above pre-industrial averages. Not only will the planet lose massive amounts of snow cover with a 1.5ºC rise, but we can expect more heat waves, more rain, rising sea levels, damage to agriculture and the displacement of millions of people. Based on current carbon consumption we are on track to greatly exceed a 1.5ºC rise by 2050. The report concluded that keeping the world from rising above 1.5ºC would take unprecedented, but theoretically possible changes including the 40-50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, a carbon-neutral world by 2050 and the invention of new technologies that remove carbon from the atmosphere. It’s a huge goal, but it’s not impossible if the whole planet works together. That is what the Paris agreement stands for - uniting every nation in the world (except Trump’s USA) in the fight against climate change.
I keep going back to how I felt the day after the last US election. I knew it was basically a nuclear bomb on all the progress we had made on the environment. Sure I was angry, but my resolve did not crack. The defeat only emboldened me to fight harder and give everything I had to use my voice to fight climate change. At POW we moved from what we called "peace time" to "war time". We took the gloves off and made the necessary changes to hit harder with our message by increasing our staff from 2-11 people and creating a new affiliate organization called the POW Action Fund. Counting a couple contractors, we now have 14 people in the POW office who wake up everyday and fight climate change. The POW Action Fund also allows us to specifically endorse political candidates we believe in.
The POW Action Fund spearheaded the installation of five crowd-funded billboards in the California 4th District leading up to election day that call out incumbent congressmen Tom McClintock’s reckless, out-of-step views on climate. These billboards are expected to receive more than 1,000,000 views.
Our goal at POW leading up to this mid-term election has been to focus on elections in "purple" states where we have a strong voice. Purple states are those with congressional districts up for re-election that could swing either way, red or blue, Republican or Democrat. Congress is 51% climate deniers to 49% climate champions. We don’t spend energy trying to turn a denier into a champion. We are focused on making up that 2% by voting more Democrats into Congress and turning those purple states into blue states. We also don’t spend energy trying to persuade long time Republican voters to believe in climate change and vote Democrat. If the catastrophic weather events we are already seeing and the evidence from respected scientists can’t convince them, we don’t have the words to convince them either.
Skeptics of manmade climate change offer various natural causes to explain why the Earth has warmed approximately .7ºC (1.4ºF) since 1888. This video explains how much different factors, both natural and industrial, contribute to global warming, based on findings from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
At POW we focus on the young non-voter. Crazy to believe, but the biggest political party in the USA is the "non-voting" political party. Over 100 million people did not vote in the last mid-term election. That’s almost the size of the Republican and Democratic parties combined. A majority of these non-voters are under 35 years old. The younger generations in the USA got out voted 10 to 1 by people over 75.
I get it. I did not vote in a mid-term election when I was 22 either. But the stakes are way higher now. We know the path of these older voters and the older elected officials that they vote into office. It’s a dead end street. This older generation will be long gone when the effects of climate change hit. The kids coming up today are the people who will feel the burden. It’s time for the younger generation to say enough’s a enough, this is the clean energy future we see for our country and for our children. The only way we can overcome the self-focused perspective of the older generation is to out vote them. That is why we are using every opportunity and resource we have to convince young, traditionally non-voters to show up and vote for the environment next tuesday.
Jeremy and his family march with POW at the 2018 People’s Climate March in Sacramento. Calif.
Three of the states where we see the most promise in picking up Democratic seats are California, Montana, Colorado and Nevada. There are congressional districts in each of these states where literally a couple thousand votes could be the difference between having a climate denier or a climate champion in office. California’s 4th district, my home district, is currently represented by the greatest climate denier in all of Congress, Tom McClintock. In previous elections McClintock has won the district by double digits because of a dialed in older conservative voting block. In the last preliminary poll, the margin between McClintock and Jessica Morse, the Democratic candidate we support, has been cut to only 4 percentage points. That’s a closer margin than it’s ever been before and it’s our goal to close that gap this week.
Montana has a very close race for a Senate seat. Trump himself has been campaigning in Montana for a Republican candidate in hopes of unseating incumbent Democratic Senator John Tester who is a climate champion. The Republicans want to control Montana so that they can mine more coal and send it to Asia. The coal companies benefit a very small amount of people at the expense of more greenhouse gas emissions. They have also flooded the election with millions of dollars in coal money. This is what we are up against. Congress is soaked in fossil fuel money. The fossil fuel lobby contributed over 900 million dollars to Republican candidates in the last election. The result: hundreds of Republican politicians return the favor by trying to keep us hooked on fossil fuels.
In Nevada there are close gubernatorial and 3rd district congressional races. We support Democratic candidates Steve Sisolak for governor and Susie Lee for congress. Both of these candidates believe in the amazing potential of the renewable energy industry in Nevada. Nevada is a state that can produce solar energy 300 days a year and solar is now the cheapest form of energy to bring online in the world. The bottom dropped out of the Nevada solar industry in 2015 when a utility commission changed net metering laws in response to a complaint by the corporate owned company, NV Energy. Literally thousands of people lost their jobs right before Christmas. It was yet another example of a political strategy to protect the coal industry and our dependence on fossil fuel at the expense of thousands of people in the renewable energy industry.
I wish this was not the red vs. blue battle that it is today. It hasn’t always been that way. Republican US President George H.W. Bush’s administration was concerned about climate change in the late 80’s and when Republican Senator John McCain ran against Barack Obama in the 2008 US Presidential election both candidates were outspoken that we needed to address climate change. Fossil fuel money has corrupted the Republican party in the last ten years and left us hanging at this precipice of unchecked global warming.
No one has ever lost an election because of their stance on climate change. If we can do that in this election cycle it will send huge ripple effects for the next presidential election cycle. To do this we need the younger generation to speak up and use the power of their vote. This is really our only chance at removing the old congressional guard that keeps the USA soaked in oil and contributing to climate change.
But moving forward after the election, win or lose, it won’t change my resolve or POW’S. Our political tactics and message have grown stronger, but our mission has not changed from day one. I will continue to raise my voice and fight for climate change because I need to know I did everything I could to keep it snowing for generations to come.