Emerging through the trees onto an exposed ridge above Vail this past weekend, we looked around a surreal smoky landscape and I pointed out into the hazy, gray nothingness and said to my two sons, “on a normal day, you’d see giant mountains all around us.” Then, the next morning, as we took our first steps into the warmer-than-normal Eagle River, I had to explain to my kids why we could only fish until noon.
Having my kids experience the outdoors through this lens was a sad visual reminder that we are living on a changed and changing planet and that this was quite possibly their new normal. And then waking up on Monday to the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate report was a scientific confirmation of that.
For those of you who didn’t see it, the IPCC issued a report that described how humans have undoubtedly altered the environment at an “unprecedented” pace and it illustrated how truly catastrophic impacts lie ahead unless the world rapidly and dramatically cuts greenhouse gas reductions. The head of the U.N. called it a “code red for humanity.”
To put the change into some context, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen to levels not seen in 2 million years, and each of the past four decades has been successively warmer than any that have preceded it, dating back to 1850. Global temperatures have risen faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period over at least the last 2,000 years and the earth’s global surface temperature has increased by around 1.1 °C, a level that hasn’t been witnessed in at least 125,000 years, before the most recent ice age.
Aside from that, what makes this report so devastating is that after thirty years of scientists ringing the alarm of a warming planet, we’re now truly on the precipice of a future with very extreme consequences. Our collective effort to date has been largely insufficient to meet the challenge, and after wasted decades of indecision, time is unfortunately now not on our side.
The report was very certain and provided a great deal of clarity on the impacts of climate change and the link between humanity’s surging emissions – the devastating and deadly droughts and storms we’re seeing now are without a doubt due to human-induced climate change: storms are stronger, droughts are drier, summers are hotter, wildfires are more intense, annual snow cover is shrinking.
The only uncertainty in this report by far, is what we will do now. With warming of 1.5C guaranteed, things will certainly change, but how rapidly our efforts unfold to keep the warming within reach will determine what exactly this future looks like. This report truly is our last wake-up call. There is no more time for debate or half-measures – if we are going to leave our kids with a better future, we have to commit to being all-in. We can still bend this troubling trajectory if we act right now.
The winter outdoor industry has a unique role in this – our businesses are entirely dependent on a stable ecosystem and that responsibility to protect the future of our industry compels us to act. But also, our unique and intimate connection to the natural world makes us who we are, and it’s why we do what we do, and with that emotional connection in such peril, it’s our responsibility to step in to save it. For both the strongest business and moral reasons, we cannot afford to sit idly by anymore and continue to let our rivers warm, our forests burn and our winters shorten. This is a moment in human history that demands decisive transformation, and as an industry, we must commit.
What should we do? Every single business in the winter outdoor industry needs to unite around this issue and align on a set of solutions that will drive systemic change – by not just doing less harm, but also, by doing more good.
This means that, while understanding our business’s carbon footprint and reducing our direct emissions is important, just singularly focusing on our own contributions to the climate crisis misses the larger point. Instead, we need to use the full extent of our resources to drive systemic, economy-wide change. We have to do more good.
To accomplish this, we need every winter outdoor CEO to be a bold climate leader, making climate change a top management priority and part of your business strategy and integrating climate action into every facet of your business. We need first and foremost, to be consistently advocating for bold climate policy at the state and federal level that will drive systemic emissions reductions in the U.S. and globally. This begins right now, where all of us will have an opportunity to weigh in on the reconciliation infrastructure package which contains the climate and clean energy plan that we have been waiting for decades to see. But also, by leveraging your marketing to mobilize your employees and customers (who are asking for it, by the way), supporting the nonprofits that live this issue every day, ensuring that your banking and investment strategy is consistent with a zero-carbon future, and more.
And with this broad, yet focused approach, businesses can tap into a set of effective solutions that already exist in your corporate toolbox. Using these available tools is especially helpful for the small and mid-sized companies that might find it challenging as they try to develop an achievable and cost-effective climate strategy that fits their business.
And finally, this is the time where our industry has to unite. Every single business, large and small has a role. The systemic hurdles are enormous but the most powerful tool that we all have right now is our ability to work together, to collaborate on solutions that will help accelerate our collective progress. Many companies in our industry have already tackled some of the most complicated climate challenges, so the data and a blueprint exist. Now, we need to gather the will and work together – advocating, collaborating, lending insights and best practices, mentoring peers, and tackling this as an aligned industry on a single mission.
We are on the verge of a transformational change, and we’re still in control of the outcome if we act now. The IPCC report couldn’t have been more crystal clear about this. We can do it, but we have to do it right now. Our success depends on how we, as the winter outdoor industry, elevate our game to the level of action that the climate crisis demands that we do. We’ve got to do it together, aligned on a set of solutions that will get all of us, businesses large and small, to our common goal. And as an industry that depends on a stable environment, there is no single entity better positioned to step up than we are.
SIA’s ClimateUnited initiative unites and empowers the winter outdoor industry to lead on climate.
First, we’re asking every winter outdoor industry business to join the ClimateUnited Pact, which unites and aligns our industry on a set of achievable actions while sending a signal to the global community and our consumers that we’re serious and addressing climate change at the scale and speed it demands. Join the Pact here.
And for those businesses that want help with their climate action planning and execution, our 1.5C Business Playbook and ClimateUnited Lab provide an achievable roadmap, the tools, resources, and guidance for any business to lead on climate. It’s free to every SIA member. Learn more and join here.
Chris Steinkamp, Head of Advocacy, SIA