Suston shares the bildungsroman of Protect Our Winters, from its beginnings as a much-criticized grassroots movement to its current role in becoming an international climate powerhouse.
The American snowboard star Jeremy Jones started the organization Protect Our Winters in 2007. Other professional boarders and skiers were tempted to sign on. They began talking climate at winter festivals where climate organizations had previously been absent. The name itself hinted at an element of playfulness not normally not associated with environmental organizations. In order to spread the message further, caps and t-shirts with the POW logo were distributed early on.
But in ski and snowboard magazines and social media there were skeptics. Freeriders and snowboard professionals were seen to fly back and forth around the world to chase powder, while supporting POW. For their part, POW argued that the initiative was anything but superficial. The organization began work early on to influence politicians and be diligent in communicating the climate reports from the IPCC. The movement soon spread to Canada and Europe.
Barely ten years after Jeremy Jones founded POW, he was ready to step aside. He thought that the organization had grown both in size and professionalism. But in 2016, Donald Trump won the presidential election in the U.S.
“I realized I had to spit in fists and drive for another four years,” Jeremy Jones said to the magazine 365 in January 2019.
Under the slogan “Stand for your playground,” POW urged Americans to vote.
While it was never Donald Trump’s intention, many believe that he helped to provide movements such as POW with new energy and attention.
Professional skiers and riders with a mission
Today, POW has 130,000 followers around the world. The organization is still largest in the US, but there are now sections in countries like Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Europe in particular stands out, with no less than nine national departments that run campaigns jointly. Each country can also customize its own campaigns.
POW Europe’s volunteer president Brita Staal from Norway says that she is a climate adviser by day and climate activist by night. She has a master’s degree in climate and sustainability. As Head of International Affairs at the the Norwegian consulting company Salt, she regularly helps global brands to manage risks, responsibilities and take climate action in global supply chains. Already in 2013, she co-founded POW Norway, making it the first national department outside the United States.
“At that time, there was a lot of pointing finger-rhetoric against us. ‘What, a climate organization with skiers and snowboarders, people with the largest climate footprint themselves?’ Now we’re flooded with requests from people who want to collaborate,” says Brita Staal.
“The fact that POW has chosen to work with well-known skiers and snowboarders as ambassadors is no coincidence; it’s based on environmental psychology and well-established theories that say that climate communication has the greatest effect if the information comes from a close friend or person like us who we trust,” says Brita Staal, who continues:
“Famous skiers have large networks and a much wider platform than most. People who follow Greenpeace are already converts, but what POW does is create engagement in new arenas. That’s how we want to reach the masses.”
European climate action network
From the outside, POW appears to have become more professional in recent years. It has also managed to gain significant political influence. Brita Staal emphasizes, however, that the organization has been working politically from the very beginning. Over the years, they have participated in appeals and wrote letters to politicians, for example.
In addition to using well-known winter athletes, all POW organizations also have climate scientists as advisers in political issues.
In many ways, POW reflects the culture already found in each country. In France, there’s a close relationship with the labor movement and individualism. The strike culture is so strong that it’s easy to organize different types of climate strikes. Switzerland is known for efficiency and the skier who leads the organization is skilled within marketing – something the other organizations have been able to learn from.
Lauren MacCallum chairs the POW section in the United Kingdom. Recently, they launched a program to help outdoor companies reduce their carbon emissions by 2040. After only one and a half months, sixty companies had already signed up.
“Sustainability can be difficult and it is easy to get lost if you don’t keep up, so we have developed a simple framework. 2021 will be an important year for us, with the COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow. The plan is to campaign together with these companies when all world leaders are in place,” says Lauren MacCallum.
Firebrands reset agenda
Overall, there is a different awareness in the ski world today than when POW started; flying back and forth to chase perfect powder is no longer automatic. The organization encourages to take the train and/or ski locally.
Tom-Oliver Hedvall, one of Sweden’s sharpest freeriders, is among POW’s many ambassadors. He had dreamed of Japan ever since he saw it in a ski movie sporting the deepest powder he had ever seen. The only problem was that he had decided to stop flying. Two winters ago, he decided to travel by train and boat via the Trans-Siberian Railway. He also brought his girlfriend with him as well as a bunch of other profiled skiers. Along the way, they also skied in Siberia and in the Alps on the way home.
“Personally, my career as a skier just got better since I started caring the environment. There are more people who follow me on social media and the films we make are getting more attention than before. I want to show that this is not necessarily a sacrifice, but on the contrary. In the future, I hope that it will become possible to fly sustainably. But for me, this old-fashioned way of traveling has enabled me to experience fantastic things along the way,” says Tom- Oliver Hedvall.
The world outside is more important
It may seem a bit banal to focus on snow and ice when climate change also causes drought, famine, increased risk of fires and destruction of coral reefs. At the same time, the IPCC reports and other research find that ice, glaciers and permafrost fulfill very important functions for the climate.
“At POW, we have used snow as a symbol to create engagement, because we humans have difficulty understanding things that happen far away from where we live. But if we do not reach the 1.5-degree goal, or in the worst case, the 2-degree target, the disappearance of winter will be the least of our concerns. POW has also communicated this from day one,” says Brita Staal.
A well-organized environmental organization, a growing popular movement on snow or a way to try saving the world while having fun? Perhaps Protect Our Winters is all at once.
Why join the movement? Meet 3 Nordic POW representatives here and find out!
Number of members: approximately 130,000 people
Founder: Jeremy Jones.
National Chapters (at time of writing): USA, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and the United Kingdom.
Photos: Harri Tarvainen