Salomon and Protect Our Winters athlete Brody Leven went to the Paris Climate Conference this December, and what he saw there gave him great hope for the future of snow. Brody Leven photo.
The guy sitting next to me “accidentally” nudged my elbow off the armrest, the weight of my head in my cupped hand waking me from a sound sleep. I’d probably been drooling on his shoulder. Peeling back my facemask, I quickly made awkward, guilty eye contact with him before glancing over the wing to my left.
Green. Northern Lights. Over the wing tip. Turn on TV screen. BRIGHT. Dim, Dim, Dim. 3 a.m... Explore>Flight Status>Zoom. We’re over GREENLAND?!?
The lights danced beyond the wing to the north, aurora borealis reminding the few awake passengers of the beauty of untouchable nature.
The world and its inhabitants were counting on the United Nations during the COP21 (Conference of Parties) climate change conference in Paris earlier this month. But over the course of the two-week event, over 40,000 individuals not working with the United Nations decided to do more than hope. They decided to act. Convening in Paris for what is the most significant international climate gathering of my generation, these world citizens spoke up, acted out, and refuse to let government officials ignore what humanity is doing to our planet.
Concerts, conferences, lectures, presentations, discussions, and panels—most completely unattached to the actual U.N. negotiations—presented activists with educational, media, and outreach opportunities.
I remember helping to build a recycling program in elementary school, placing orange bins on the ground of each classroom, just beside the crank pencil sharpener. Over a decade later, I went on to work extensively on environmental initiatives as student body president at Westminster College. Now, in my role as a skier, I see environmental degradation through a different lens.
Brody ran into Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, who was at the conference speaking about the dangers of fracking. Brody Leven photo.
My experience in Paris was a series of unexpected but interwoven experiences. The mayor of a city working to lead the environmental charge in the USA, Salt Lake City’s Ralph Becker, happened to walk by me between speaking engagements about the process of greening cities. A Wyoming rancher, refusing to remove his cowboy hat though he spoke next to Bill McKibben of 350.org and his ever-present baseball hat, he eloquently explained the terribly adverse effects of fracking.
A consistent theme, which I found impressively invigorating and hopeful, was YOUTH. Young people were out in full force in Paris: hosting panels on the integration of millennials in climate negotiations, protesting outside government buildings, and integrating themselves into the climate conversation in a respectful and respected way.
"I witnessed the power of impassioned youth. Walking around the conference, the average age was awesomely young." Brody Leven photo.
I witnessed the power of impassioned youth. Walking around the conference, the average age was awesomely young. Skin of every color was beneath everything from three-piece suits to native tribal dresses and face paint. A solar and bicycle-powered DJ booth pumped electronic mashups while, through a thin wall, presentations with top political officials complement those about gender/minority/age equality in relation to climate. Many of the young people work with an NGO, while a variety of others were there because they care–just like you or me–paying out of their own pockets for the chance to witness and implore for changes for a healthy future.
Climate change and sustainability were discussed, debated, and animated in every creative manner imaginable. Brody Leven photo.
Notably, alongside us, very old people—who are the first to admit that they won’t see life-changing adverse affects from climate change before they die—dotted the audience with their very firm grasp on reality and the future. I found the most heartfelt and ardent activists to be under 35 or over 65 years old. The former have so much to lose, while the latter is more familiar with public demonstrations and the environmental movement of the 1970’s.
We didn’t sit in on the negotiations because I’m not part of the United Nations. But that doesn’t mean that we sat idly on the sidelines. The streets were alive and the energy of the climate movement was palpable—created not just by people looking to recreate on snow, but by people living in indigenous tribes in the Arctic, on the equator, or at sea level; by city-dwellers whose children aren’t allowed to have recess due to atrocious air quality; by non-profits from around the world working to tackle different legs of the same climate monster.
One night, standing on a bridge to watch the Eiffel Tower get lit from the human-powered energy created by people near its base, I noticed a dance party nearby. Walking there, I saw a pile of hundreds of bicycles. The people were all wearing helmets and reflective bike vests. Raindrops slid from my jacket. While they waved flags with phrases like CLIMATE JUSTICE and chanted continuously, I asked one of the 20-somethings what was happening.
A group of bicyclists had pedaled all the way from London in order to make some noise in Paris. Brody Leven photo.
“We just rode here from London!” he said over the excitement.
“How long did that take?”
“Five days! It was awesome! Hundreds of us! We were shutting down roads and we had a blast.”
Looking at their bikes, I noticed they were all loaded with panniers, fenders, and touring gear.
“Are you guys all here for the conference?”
“Not really,” he said with confidence. “It wasn’t even a sanctioned event. I mean, we obviously know it’s going on, but we don’t have plans of attending or anything. Just here to make a scene and spread the word to the masses.”
Then I lost him to a train of people pulling bikes from the pile for an impromptu group ride across the bridge, police-escorted.
See? Activism can be fun.
Without humans, Earth would be just fine. But we’re here, and we’re changing it. I’m sure the scene inside the negotiating room was brutal: long nights and endless discussions eventually led to a signed agreement and commitment to reevaluate every five years. This is the type of action that will truly impact the future of snowsports. But what happened outside the negotiations, among real people like you and me, is what I found most impressive.
While Brody might be too bashful to admit it, he'd really like it if you joined Protect Our Winters today and joined him in the fight for the future of snow. Thanks!
From The Column: TGR Trip Report Picks
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