Climate change is becoming harder and harder to ignore. Now no matter where you live the signs are quite clear: trees blooming in February, winters without snow, summer storms, record-breaking temperatures, wildfires, heck - even COVID-19!
Mountainous regions are some of those currently most impacted by climate change. For us outdoor enthusiasts, this means shortened ski seasons and unstable snow conditions: an industry under threat.
The long-term repercussions, though, are even more alarming. Well over half of the world’s freshwater is stored in glaciers which are now melting at an unprecedented rate. Rising temperatures are putting the unique ecosystems found in mountainous areas at risk, resulting in a potentially huge loss of biodiversity in the not-so-distant future. What can we do to change this bleak picture?
Protect Our Winters (POW) is a non-profit organisation working to help outdoor enthusiasts protect the environments we love from climate change. In the article that follows, members of POW Italy tell us more about the organisation, it's aims and what we can do to help slow the progress of climate change.
Alice Linari ski touring © POW IT
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First of all, what is Protect Our Winters?
As mentioned above, Protect Our Winters is an international non-profit organisation which helps outdoor enthusiasts protect the places they love from climate change.
POW was founded in 2007 by professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones after he started noticing first hand the effects of climate change on his sport. His vision was to create an international movement of like-minded people fighting to protect the outdoors by empowering them to take action at the local level.
With this in mind, Carmen Geyr and Linda Schwarz, who were both involved in the activities of POW Austria, took the initiative to found POW Italy in 2020 at Bolzano, the heart of the Dolomites. Both felt the urge to create their own chapter to address the unique needs of outdoor communities in Italy.
Their mission is twofold: 1) to take actions to reduce carbon emissions by 65% by 2050 and; 2) raise awareness of climate change and the impact that the outdoor sports industry is having on the environment.
A film screening led by Protect Our Winters Italy. POW take part in a number of outreach actions to raise awareness of the impact of climate change on winter sports. © POW IT
How is climate change impacting the winter sports industry?
If you ski or snowboard then you’ve probably seen pictures of ski resort slopes surrounded by grass, rather than snow.
As the atmosphere warms up, low-snow years are becoming increasingly common, and as a result fewer people are participating in winter sports. This has already cost 17,400 jobs compared to the average season between 2001 and 2016.
To make matters worse, the length of the winter sports season is also taking a hit, with warmer temperatures reducing the duration of snow cover and thus the total number of days people can go out skiing.
All this is endangering an industry that supports hundreds of thousands of people both directly and indirectly. In a 2017 report the Outdoor Industry Association estimated that recreational snow sports contributed 72.7 billion USD to the American economy, and created more than 695,000 jobs.
Ultimately, if nothing is done to combat climate change then the winter sport industry's future is not looking good. This will have a cascading effect on the livelihoods of millions of people across the world, from resort workers to guides and even those working in the outdoors sport gear industry.
A Protect Our Winters ski touring trip in Switzerland © Linda Schwarz
What actions are POW Italy taking to combat climate change?
POW Italy has chosen to focus our efforts in three main areas, as we believe this is where we can have the most impact. These are: green mobility, slow tourism, and regional development.
Mobility is one of the main drivers of carbon dioxide emissions among people looking to enjoy the outdoors. Just think of how often you use your car to get to a hiking/ climbing / skiing spot! Getting from place to place is notoriously difficult in mountainous regions, and, as a result, POW aims to share best practices and lobby for greater incentives to implement sustainable methods of transportation in these regions.
Green mobility is the main focus of POW’s 2022 Reframe Your Journey campaign. As part of this campaign, POW EU will host a sustainability hub for all chapters so that individuals can inform themselves better about the environmental impact of using different forms of transportation.
POW EU will also host a mobility week at the end of March 2022 where people can track their outdoor and indoor activities through the app ‘Active Giving’, and offset their emissions by planting trees using this app.
Why not reframe your trip by planning it around existing public transport networks © POW IT
Like mobility, the tourism sector is also responsible for large emissions of greenhouse gasses.
‘Slow tourism’ is a concept closely linked to sustainable tourism. It’s about slowing down, promoting longer stays, visiting less known areas, and collaborating with local guides and companies.
POW Italy is looking to plan projects with the tourism sector in order to develop a common language when it comes to sustainable travel.
Change the way you travel: stay in an area for a longer period of time, support local guides, visit less known area and try eat local © Linda Schwarz.
POW Italy wants to ensure that the social and environmental impact of development initiatives on local communities is taken into account. Development is not solely about advancements, it’s about balancing interests and having a positive impact.
One of POW’s objectives is to influence regional development in a way that aligns with our values and mitigates the current climate crisis. As part of this effort, we are organising a school program named POW FACTory which teaches kids how to deal with climate change. We’re also planning some second hand gear swap events where people can give their used gear a new lease on life.
A second hand gear sale organised by POW © POW IT.
What can we as individuals do to reduce the environmental impact of our outdoor sport trips?
There’s many ways in which one can reduce the environmental impact of a trip!
The best way to go about this is to consider each stage of a trip, and devise some methods to minimise the impact of these stages. Remember that a trip starts as soon as you walk the front door, so:
1. Think about your means of transportation.
Traveling more responsibly (with regards to environmental impact) can be done by taking less CO2 emitting means of transport. This doesn’t mean sticking exclusively to trains and public transport, but can include car sharing and electric means of transport for inter-mountainous areas.
2. Think about what actions you can take while on the trip
If you’re traveling with a company, encourage them to devote a percentage of their income to organizations whose mission is to have a positive impact both environmentally and socially. Choose companies that promote sustainable practices during their trips and actively encourage these among their travellers.
Every little helps when fundrasing! Visit your local POW chapter to find out how you can contribute. © POW IT
Individual actions or activism - where is our energy best spent?
It can be hard to know where to start when combating climate change.
Should we focus on reducing our own carbon footprint? Should we be lobbying our governments to take action? Is there a ‘right’ way to be an activist?
POW’s credo is progress over perfection. We want to encourage everyone to take a first step towards more sustainable behaviour. It’s all about leading by example and encouraging others to join this process.
By communicating with others, individuals are inspired to take action, and provide fresh ideas or support. From this starting point, activism can follow.
In a nutshell, it’s both. Reducing our own carbon footprint as well as getting active and putting pressure on those in power to implement changes.
© POW IT
Finally, how can the Mapo Tapo community best support POW?
We would love more outdoor enthusiasts to join our movement and contribute to it actively! We see ourselves as a platform lobbying for our vision - to protect the places we all love.
Another way of supporting us lies right in your hand: follow our social media accounts! Share our posts and encourage your friends to follow us too.
Finally, we’re always more than happy to receive a donation. We are a non-profit startup that has running costs which are barely covered by sponsor or public funding. Every donation is appreciated from the bottom of our hearts and will help us grow and continue our actions.
Take a first step towards protecting the places you love by joining you local POW chapter © POW IT
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A huge thank you to POW Italy for their help on this article! If you want to learn more about the awesome work they are doing, you can visit POW IT’s website where you’ll also find links to their social media accounts.
Cover photo: Alesio Lorenzi ski touring © POW IT.