Angel Collinson, an athlete and steward of the environment. Photo courtesy of Angel Collinson.
It may come as a surprise to you that because of your daily check-ins on this website, where you come to keep the stoke high until your next surf, bike, snowboard, or climbing session, you are the best possible person around to stand up for our lands and our environment.
In a world where it may seem the political discourse is wildly hostile to addressing climate change or caring for the public lands this country was raised on, it is in fact you – the person who lives and breathes the best moments of your week out in the woods – who has the greatest potential to affect the future of our shared environment.
Fortunately, a growing number of revered professional athletes have been taking up this charge and showing just how much outdoor athletes can get done in today’s America. A number of them will be joining up at the annual SHIFT Festival in Jackson Hole this October 13th-15th, talking about how best to use their passion for the outdoors to make meaningful differences in the climate change debate and in the fight to protect public lands, and diversify the outdoor community so a mix of folks who actually represent 21st-century America – instead of just, as Sierra Club’s Director of Outdoors Stacy Bare puts it, “big, white straight males with beards and plaid wardrobes” – know the value of our country’s singular public lands inheritance, and want to fight for it.
With a host of nighttime talks and film premieres focused on folks around the country who are using sport to connect new people to our public lands and push the best ideas for conserving them, SHIFT will show you how to use that powder day stoke to change the world for good. Check out their full lineup here, with tickets starting at $15.
I asked three very active athlete conservationists – Jeremy Jones, founder of Protect Our Winters, along with two athletes from POW’s Rider Alliance, Angel Collinson and Brody Leven – along with the Sierra Club’s Stacy Bare, who is emceeing Friday night’s adventure Inspired program, what they thought was needed to get more outdoors folk (read: YOU!) to be active participants in environmental protection, and also how we should go about diversifying and opening up the outdoor experience to more people than just that same group of white bearded males.
How do you get outdoor folks to be stewards of the land?
Angel: “I believe no one is going to do something properly or passionately if they are forced into doing it; I think being a conscious steward has to come from a want within. The huge first step is getting outside often to appreciate the outdoors, to stoke the passion to be motivated to get involved in bigger ways.
Once there is passion, I think it is like a snowball effect; the more people make the leap towards being a conscious steward, the more people are inspired and motivated to do the same. Start small -- pick one cause or one area you love, and start with one thing you can do to get more involved with it. You don't have to all of a sudden quit driving your car, start lobbying in DC, or never use a plastic bag again.
I think most people get overwhelmed not knowing where to start. Pick something manageable, something that hits close to home for you, and find people or an organization doing something that resonates with you. Start there.”
Stacy Bare: “The strongest stewards and defenders of the land are typically those who have spent time out in the land. You only protect what you love and you only love what you know... so if you go out into a place and take the time to learn about that place, you'll naturally fall in love.
The challenge, however, with some adventure is that if we're not mindful of it, we'll only see the place as a playground -- the thrilling aspect of a place -- and we won't take time to study the life that lives there, the plants, the animals, the ancient histories the land hosts. It’s really important that we take time, no matter how fast we normally go, to slow down and appreciate the place for its inherent value, not just its value just as a place to huck on our bikes and skis.”
Jeremy Jones: “In general, the people who interact frequently with nature are in involved in some manner of protecting it. But the biggest fear keeping people on the sidelines is that if you stand up for something, that there will be haters that will light up your inbox, message boards, etc. The root of this hate is because to really protect the wilderness requires the help of elected officials to lead the charge. Understandably, many people do not want to take on the emotional BS that comes with standing up for something that not everyone agrees with.“
How do we go about broadening and diversifying the outdoor experience, and thus, the stewards of it?
Jeremy: “This is a critical part of protecting the environment. It’s what I call “Eco 101.” You have to first get people to connect with nature in order for them to want to protect it --especially at a young age. If you have connected with nature at a young age, then you have an 80% chance of having it be a part of your adult life. If you miss that window, then there is a very low chance of that happening.
More and more groups are starting to get kids outside, but what is crazy is that, even in towns like Jackson or Truckee, there is still a huge percentage of kids who have never slept outside, never seen the Milky Way or a shooting star. There is a lot of work needed on this front, and it’s something I am starting to spend more time on. It is an achievable goal; a simple, local wilderness experiences does not cost a lot money. “
Brody: “Simply for the sake of the environment, I don't logically believe the stewards necessarily need to be more diverse or broad; I just think they need to be impassioned, vigorous, and thorough in their efforts.
But for the sake of culture and the growth of an outdoor-friendly society, I do believe that diversity of outdoor experiences, and thus the stewards of our lands, is important. This is beyond my scope of expertise… but I know that there are people and organizations who have made this their mission in life. And I believe that lowering barriers to entry and approaching people from a position of compassion – i.e., why would a poor person want to exert her or himself to climb an arbitrary rock when energy might need to be saved to find food that night? -- will behoove both the facilitators and participants in creating and taking advantage of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.
Stacy: “First, we have to acknowledge that both the adventure and stewardship communities have a complex history with regards to race, equity, and justice, and that while those of us who are here now may not have directly contributed to it, we have inherited it and need to work to change that reality.
Those of us who represent the current norm of the outdoor adventure — here's looking at me: big, straight white male with a beard and plaid wardrobe — have to do a better job of addressing the issues of equity, access, and being inclusive without always relying on the folks who don't look like us to tell us what to do. They have been telling us, we just haven't always been listening or paying attention.
We need to invite people out, need to be a partner for folks, and, importantly, NOT try to be a savior. We need to be open to new ways of experiencing the land, we need to demand that the brands we love start showing different people in the outdoors, and we need to work to change the cultures in our companies so different people will want to work with us.
If we do that, we'll broaden the opportunities for everyone. We win more, have more fun, and do better if we're more diverse. This isn't about anything losing anything; it’s about all of us gaining.
And one last thing, we need to actively and aggressively work towards eliminating the toxic masculinity that shows up in the bro culture often prevalent in our world. “
If you’ve had the urge to make yourself a bigger part of the good fight to defend the intrinsic value of the public lands we all enjoy as outdoors folk and adventurers, and have yet to find the avenue to do so, you’d be doing yourself and the land a favor by attending the SHIFT Festival in Jackson Hole this October 13-15th. Details at SHIFTjh.org.
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