It’s easy for those privileged enough to enjoy nature sports to want to protect the planet, but what about the rest who have little to no relationship with natural spaces? OUTO co-founder Phil Young explains that if we really want to save the planet, we need to get serious about getting everybody onboard.
Over my many years of participation in the outdoor world, be it as an event organizer, a member of the media, representing some of the world’s elite athletes or even as a mediocre but enthusiastic rider, I’ve been conscious that I often stand out as one of only a few people of color visible in the space. It’s true, have a look around the office and tell me it’s not.
Surprisingly for most of my life I’ve never really thought too much about it. After an epic powder run, summiting a big climb on my bike or crossing the finish line on a trail race I’ve been so lost in the moment that although I’m aware that there is no else that looks like me, I hadn’t taken the time to consider the why – why others from the community in which I belong aren’t with me fist bumping or doubled over with joyous pain – and this is a problem.
If it’s taken me, a man of color who lives in the most cosmopolitan city in the world, decades to notice the absence of black and brown faces in rural landscapes, how can I expect my white European colleagues who were brought up in small mountain villages to question it? But here’s the rub, it’s even more vital for them to do so than it is for me.
I live in London. It’s loud, often dirty, busy, and crazy to the power of 10. But at least it’s consistent. We have seasons and they pretty much stick to what they do, with climatic variations going pretty much unnoticed. We don’t have the worries of retreating glaciers, mud slides from deforestation, erratic flooding or plastic pollution in the oceans. We should of course be caring about all these things, but why would we when we aren’t invited to play in these wild and beautiful spaces? Why would we when the people we see in the glossy ads and films are all the usual suspects? Why would we when the environmental issues that face us on a daily basis (poor air quality, underfunding of recreational land, removal of inner city green spaces) are overlooked in favor of places few of us will ever be lucky enough to visit?
Environmental issues and sustainability are all well and good if you have an understanding of the landscapes and lifestyles you are trying to preserve, but they’re hard to prioritize if they hold no relevance for you and you feel excluded from them.
If we are serious about saving the planet, we need the planet to be on board with the mission and the only way we can do this is to make everyone care. We need those who have been ripped away or fled from their homelands to settle in urban centers, who are ignored by the outdoor industry and who have lost an emotional connection to the natural world with which to reconnect. Only then can we expect the big behavioral shifts needed to give the planet the fighting chance it needs.
But the onus is on us to do the work, the leaders, the decision makers, those that can see past the shifting of units in seasonal colorways to understand where inaction is leading us. We need to be bold and reach out a with relevance and compassion to those that may see the world through a different lens. We should welcome and celebrate the changes and opportunities that doing so creates.
The failure to do otherwise is devastating.
Lead Photo: Sapan Patel on Unsplash