In early February, the new Outdoor Business Climate Partnership faced its first test.
The president of the International Ski Federation (FIS) had made remarks to a Swiss newspaper that seemed dismissive of the threat of climate change. “To everyone who approached me shivering, I said ‘Welcome to global warming!’ ” said Gian-Franco Kasper, the head of the FIS since 1998, referring to the cold at the PyeongChang Olympics last year. “There are always some winters that are cold and others warm.”
Many denounced Kasper’s comments, but the trio of outdoor recreation industry heavyweights who had announced the week prior a partnership to seek climate change solutions was publicly mum.
“We didn’t feel that we needed to come out and have a social media attack on him,” said Chris Steinkamp, who represents the Park City-based Snowsports Industries America, or SIA. “That’s not our role.”
Instead, said Steinkamp, SIA had “high-level discussions” with key people in what he called a “more thoughtful and measured approach.”
“We are not just attracted by shiny objects,” said Geraldine Link, director of public policy for the National Ski Areas Association. “The foundation for our partnership is working with respect when we’re trying to affect climate change, and some of the messaging we saw — using profanities and calling the leader of the FIS a dinosaur and a denier, calling people names and using labels — that’s not what we’re all about.”
At least in its early phase, this partnership is all about working with lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and their staffs, making the case for climate change as a business opportunity, as well as a threat. The emphasis is on finding bipartisan common ground. Putting a price on carbon emissions to accelerate innovation is one among several goals.
Members of the three business trade groups — NSAA, SIA and the Outdoor Industry Association — that comprise the Outdoor Business Climate Partnership are in Washington for a lobbying blitz this week. Orchestrating the effort is the Ceres Policy Network, a Boston-based nonprofit that has more than 50 members, including companies such as Microsoft, Ben & Jerry’s and Kaiser Permanente.
In its 2019 Policy Outlook, Ceres identified carbon pricing as among its top five priorities: “In 2018, we saw a carbon pricing bill introduced by a bipartisan group of House lawmakers, and another introduced by House Republicans — the first Republican carbon pricing legislation since 2010,” the report says. “We will work to advance the conversation with lawmakers in both parties, and in both chambers, providing business support for meaningful progress.”
Ceres also wants to see incentives for electric vehicle infrastructure restored, appropriations for climate and clean energy research continued, and climate change mitigation integrated into new and existing infrastructure policy.
In going to Washington, the new climate partnership can claim to represent a hunk of the $837 billion outdoor recreation industry. Largest among the three trade organizations is the Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association. Members include more than 1,200 manufacturers, retailers, distributors and suppliers.
Andrew Pappas, manager of state and local policy for OIA, said his message for Washington is that climate change is a business issue, not just an environmental one.
“Our businesses do rely upon the certainty of environmental quality, and there needs to be a bipartisan solution to climate change,” said Pappas.
One blueprint for achieving bipartisan climate change action in Washington, said Pappas, is the recent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund as part of a public lands package. Money for the fund remains missing, although a bill with bipartisan support proposes to make funding permanent.
The reauthorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund for multiple years “definitely did not happen overnight,” said Pappas. “I think it’s the same thing with climate. It won’t be overnight. We need to bridge gaps and find common ground, and hopefully this partnership can find those common grounds and bring business voices to [achieve] solutions.”
Given that President Trump has called global warming a Chinese hoax and has stalled efforts to decarbonize the economy, can this new coalition hope to make headway in Washington?
SIA’s Steinkamp said that the reality of human-caused climate change is accepted by people on both sides of the political aisle. What remains absent is consensus about the immediate need for a broad response at the federal level.
In Washington, Steinkamp is emphasizing that taking major action now will avert the worst damage in the future.
“You have a lot of people, conservatives, who are not coming out against climate change,” said Steinkamp, who headed Protect Our Winters for 10 years. “I do think they believe that climate change is real, but they need to be given compelling arguments to address it. And I think the compelling argument is the economic case. ... The ski industry in Colorado, if we don’t take action now, we’ll lose 80% of our ski season by 2090.”
Climate experts say that in the long run, low-elevation ski areas clearly will be in trouble. Rocky Mountain resorts, being higher and more inland, will likely have snow well through the 21st century. But the warming climate has arguably already shortened ski seasons.
As well, climate havoc in world economics may erode the affluence that allows people to take ski vacations.
But lobbyists for the outdoor recreation industry are also focusing on the opportunity for economic growth in ways that reduce climatic and hence economic peril. One goal of the Outdoor Business Climate Partnership is to decarbonize the economy by 2050, said Steinkamp.
The climate partnership began coming together in discussions last autumn. Part of the impetus, said NSAA’s Link, was the Trump administration’s rollback of safety and energy requirements, including the weakening of fuel efficiency standards for vehicles.
A new category of economic data from the U.S. government that measures the contributions of the recreation industry adds muscle to the partnership’s arguments, Link said, adding, “It gives us a lot of power on the national stage.”
In Link’s view, the new partnership can deliver synergies in reducing carbon footprints of the individual members. For example, aggregated power-purchase agreements could provide renewable electricity supplies, much as what Vail Resorts was able to do with its purchase of power generation from a wind farm in eastern Nebraska.
In making efforts to reduce their own carbon footprints, said Link, the members will be able to add credibility to lobbying efforts.
The last significant climate change legislation in Congress was in 2009. It would have instituted a cap-and-trade system, forcing innovation by effectively limiting carbon emissions.
Congressional members from farm and coal states sank the legislation. Wyoming remains the nation’s largest producer of coal. As of 2017, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, it was responsible for 41% of production, followed by West Virginia at 12%.
Steinkamp said his group would “absolutely” seek out Wyoming’s congressional delegation this week. “There are a lot of conversations going on about climate change behind closed doors. ... Sen. John Barrasso is a rational human being who has to understand that climate change is real,” he said.
Along with decarbonization, the Outdoor Business Climate Partnership wants government to foster alternatives, such as cleaner cars. “That’s where the Trump administration regulatory rollbacks make no sense,” said Link.
But the most important thing is the joining of singular voices into one.
“Getting the trade groups behind climate change is something we have been talking about for a long time,” said Steinkamp, “and it’s finally happening.”
Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News, an Arvada, Colorado-based e-magazine that provides analysis of economic, environmental and social trends in resort-based mountain valleys of the West. The views expressed here are solely his own.