A Look at U.S. Midterm Election Results Through Green and Green-Sports Lenses

To borrow from Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones, results from last week’s U.S. midterm elections from environmental and climate change points of view, were a bit of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want, But If You Try Sometime, You Get What You Need.”

What was needed is what happened: The Democrats won control of the House of Representatives. This will end one party rule in Washington come January, providing a seat at the table for pro-climate action forces where they had none before.

But the best the House can do, given control of the Senate and White House by climate change deniers and skeptics, will be to serve as a crucial check on the anti-environmental instincts of the Trump Administration. Those hoping for positive climate action from Washington will likely have to wait awhile.

Green-Sports largely fared well on Election Day. The efforts of Protect Our Winters (POW), a group of elite active and retired winter sports athletes who lobby elected officials at the federal and state level for pro-climate legislation, and its Action Fund, were more successful than not, especially in key winter sports states. 

Today’s GreenSportsBlog post looks at the election wins and losses, through both Green and Green-Sports lenses. 

 

THE WINS

Climate of Hope In The Newly Democratic House

That the Democrats won control of the House of Representatives is a good thing for the environment and the climate change fight. 

“The elections were definitely good news,” declared Allen Hershkowitz, co-founder of Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI). “Many people who support and respect sound climate science were elected. And many who stymied increased governmental action on climate were thrown out.”

At a minimum, the new Democratic majority will use House congressional committees to investigate and slow President Trump’s environmental deregulatory agenda. “Scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency have been ignored,” noted Hershkowitz. “That will certainly be explored.”

When the new Congress convenes in January, climate change skeptic Andy Biggs (R-AZ), who currently chairs the House Subcommittee on the Environment, will hand the gavel over to Democrat Suzanne Bonamici. She represents Oregon’s first district, which covers the suburbs west of Portland. Bonamici has a lifetime score of 98 (100 is perfect) from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), which rates Members of Congress based on their votes on environmental issues. That’s a big improvement vs. Biggs, whose LCV score is a paltry 6.

 

Suzanne Bonamici

Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1), likely to be the new chair of the House Subcommittee on the Environment (Photo credit: Michael Lloyd, The Oregonian)

 

And, if this week is any guide, the young cadre of new Democratic House members is going to push party establishment to move faster and stronger on climate than was the case in 2009-11, the last time the party was in control. 

On Tuesday, close to 200 climate activists, including incoming high-profile Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), jammed into the offices of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA-12), who hopes to re-assume the position of House speaker. Per David Roberts, writing in Wednesday’s edition of Voxthey called on Pelosi to lead the Democrats “in developing an ambitious, comprehensive plan to address climate change — a Green New Deal.” 

 

 

 

Protect Our Winters (POW) and its Action Fund Helped Push Climate-Friendly Candidates and Issues Across the Finish Line in Snow Sports States

The POW Action Fund, which “supports [candidates and] elected officials who will take legitimate action on climate,” saw their get-out-the-vote efforts pay off in three important races in mountain west states with big winter sports industries.

 

Alex Deibold, Gretchen Bleiler, Kaitlyn Farrington on POW_s September 2017 Lobby Trip to Washington DC Forest Woodward Athletes

Protect Our Winters athletes, including from left to right, snowboarders Alex Deibold, Kaitlyn Farrington and Gretchen Bleiler, helped support climate-friendly clients at the federal and state levels (Photo credit: Forest Woodward)

 

  • Jared Polis, who pushed for the nation’s most ambitious renewable energy goal — 100 percent by 2040 — became governor-elect of Colorado.
  • In Montana, Democratic Senator Jon Tester won re-election with a narrow 15,000 vote win. The POW Action Fund gave Tester one of its first endorsements based on his support of Montana’s growing renewable energy industry and its strong outdoor recreation economy.
  • Steve Sisolak rode a strong protect-public lands and renewable energy platform to the governor’s mansion in Nevada. Voters in the Silver State also approved a ballot measure that requires electric utilities to get 50 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030, up from around 25 percent today.

 

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 9.33.33 AM

Montana Democrat Jon Tester won re-election to the U.S. Senate thanks in part to the efforts of the POW Action Fund (Photo credit: Alex Wong, Getty Images)

 

THE LOSSES

New Republican Senators Have Weaker Environmental Records Than Their Democratic Predecessors

Republicans flipped at least three senate seats, with a fourth more likely than not going their way (Florida GOP Governor Rick Scott has a 12,000~ vote lead over incumbent senator Bill Nelson pending a hand recount). Each of the incoming senate rookies look to be significant downgrades on the environment and climate than their Democratic predecessors. 

FLORIDA: Bill Nelson has a solid LCV lifetime scorecard rating of 71. Rick Scott, as a two-term governor of Florida, does not have a LCV scorecard (they only score senators and house members). But, according to Kevin Clark, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “Governor Scott regularly put the wishes of corporate polluters above the needs of Florida’s environment and families. He’s sided with a fringe movement of climate change deniers, defunded popular and bipartisan conservation programs, and undermined the enforcement of air, water, and climate protections.” 

INDIANA: Democrat Joe Donnelly will exit the senate with a middlin’ 59 LCV score. His Republican successor, businessman Mike Braun, has no environmental record. But he did answer “strongly disagree” to the question “Are additional regulations necessary to prevent climate change?” 

MISSOURI: Claire McCaskill, outgoing Democratic Senator from the Show Me State, had a strong 74 lifetime LCV score. Her replacement, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, cheered President Trump’s decision to scuttle the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

NORTH DAKOTA: North Dakota has been dubbed the “Saudi Arabia of Fracked Natural Gas.” Thus it is no surprise that Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp often sided with the extractive industries. Still, she was able to earn a 52 lifetime LCV score. Incoming GOP Senator Kevin Cramer? During his tenure in the House, he compiled a 1 LCV score. You read that right. 

 

Kevin Cramer

North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer brings a lowly score of 1 (out of 100) the League of Conservation Voters to his new job in the U.S. Senate (Photo credit: Rick Abbott, Forum News Service)

 

Climate Bipartisanship Weakened

Carlos Curbelo (FL-26), the most vocal Republican in Congress calling for action to address climate change, narrowly lost his South Florida seat to Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who accused him of not going far enough on the environment.

Curbelo was the co-founder of the bi-partisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, along with Democrat Ted Deutsch (FL-22). It was set up to explore policy options that address the impacts, causes, and challenges of climate change. To join the Caucus, a Democratic House member must bring along a Republican partner in a Noah’s Ark sort of way. The election was a bloodbath for GOP caucus members — 21 will not be returning in January (13 lost and 8 retired).

 

Carlos Curbelo

Carlos Curbelo (FL-26), co-founder of the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, lost his re-election bid (Photo credit: Tom Williams, AP)

 

Carbon Pricing Ballot Initiative Defeated in Washington

In Washington State, voters rejected an initiative that would have imposed the country’s first tax on carbon dioxide. Economists have long said that carbon taxes would be an important tool for fighting climate change. Make it more expensive to pollute, the theory goes, and companies will quickly find ways to reduce their emissions. The YES vote was ahead in the polls by a significant margin in early October. Then fossil fuel industry groups pumped more than $31 million into the campaign and the proposal went down. 

 

THE UPSHOT

I see three key outcomes from last week’s election regarding the environment and climate:

  1. Positive governmental action on climate will likely continue to come from the states and not Washington for at least the next two years. New governors in Colorado and Nevada, assisted in their victories by Protect Our Winters Action Fund, will play important roles.
  2. The states will remain the most effective climate policy laboratories because, despite the Democrats winning control of the House, short-term gains on climate in Washington are unlikely. Republicans, whose leadership remains solidly in the climate denial/skeptic camp, still run the Senate and, of course, the White House. A smaller Climate Solutions Caucus in the House will need be a beacon of bipartisan leadership.
  3. With Congress gridlocked on climate and the President heading in the wrong direction, Green-Sports’ role will become more important. “The opposition from the White House on positive climate action will stall any movement at the federal level,” asserted Allen Hershowitz. “That is why work and progress on climate from the high profile sports sector is more important than ever.”

 


 

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Climate Change Fight Is a Marathon Citizens’ Climate Lobby Aims to Win

Please indulge me this rare sports-free post. Green-Sports-themed posts will return next week!

I had the good fortune to spend Monday and Tuesday in Washington D.C. among an amazing group of 1,400 volunteers at the Citizens’ Climate Lobby National Conference. The 10-year old grassroots organization exists “to create the political will for climate solutions by enabling individual breakthroughs in the exercise of personal and political power.”

Though the group is very diverse — volunteers come from all corners of the United States, there are high schoolers and octogenarians, lefties and conservatives (a growing number, in fact) — CCLers have three things in common.

We…  

1. Are passionate about solving the climate crisis,

2. Believe in CCL’s market-based Carbon Fee & Dividend legislative proposal that would place a price on carbon and that would share the dividends equally with every household in the country. This would grow the economy, in particular the lower and middle classes, and clean energy technologies would scale at the pace needed to avert the worst effects of climate change.

3. Know that getting to meaningful climate solutions is a marathon and we are in the race until it is won.

Are we closer to the start or the finish of the climate change marathon? No one really knows. But, Tuesday’s lobby-thon — CCLers met with almost each of the 535 House and Senate offices — showed that Citizens’ Climate Lobby definitely picked up the pace.

 

For those of us engaged in the climate change fight in the United States, it is very easy to get dispirited.

  • We have a climate change denier in the White House.
  • Congress is controlled by the only major political party in the world — at least as far as I know — which casts significant doubt on the veracity of climate change.
  • Daily political discourse is much, much, much more focused on Russia, Stormy Daniels, witch hunts, Robert Mueller, etc., etc., etc.
  • Even the environment, when it gets covered, centers on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s many scandals, rather than the virulently anti-climate policies he, his boss, and their Administration are enacting.

All of this is happening as the climate change news becomes more dire. In Wednesday’s Washington Post, this headline blared: “Antarctic ice loss has tripled in a decade. If that continues, we are in serious trouble.” If you are reading this, you know there are a legion of such stories out there.

 

Crevasses

Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica, a site of significant ice loss.  (Photo credit: Ian Joughin/University of Washington)

 

So it is understandable that many people would rather do something — anything — else other than get and stay involved with climate change activism.

These people need to meet Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) volunteers.

 

WHERE MANY SEE DESPAIR, CCL’ERS SEE A TANGIBLE WAY FORWARD…AND THUS, HOPE

Are CCLers naive? Just the opposite.

CCLers know that we humans have put our climate in critical condition and that we need to quickly change the course we are on, energy production- and usage-wise.

We also know that the solutions that exist now (wind, solar, efficiency, storage, etc.) can get us where we need to go in time to avert the worst effects of climate change, if we have the political will.

As far as CCL is concerned, building that political will to critical mass means finding a legislative solution in Congress.

The hopeful news is that CCL has a transformative policy measure — designed to appeal to both sides of the political aisle — that, once signed into law and implemented — will grow the economy, benefit mostly those in the lower and middle income stratas, and will reduce emissions at the scale and pace necessary.

Do the italicized parts sound a bit Kumbaya-ish?

Your skepticism is understandable — I just ask you to put it aside, at least until you’ve read the CCL policy prescription and how its 1,400-member volunteer army, moved it forward this week.

 

THE POLICY: CARBON FEE & DIVIDEND

Carbon fee and dividend sounds like something a gaggle of accountants would get giddy about…but a climate crisis game-changer? Really?

Really.

Here’s the slightly wonkish gist:

CARBON FEE

To account for the many societal costs (climate change, medical costs due to pollution, climate refugees, etc.) of burning fossil fuels, CCL proposes a fee^ — which would escalate yearly —be established on the emissions of fossil fuels. It will be imposed where the fuels are extracted (at the mine or well) or, if we are importing it, at the port of entry.

This fee accounts for the true cost of fossil fuel emissions, creates a level-playing field for all sources of energy, and informs consumers of the true cost comparison of various fuels when making purchase decisions.

THE DIVIDEND

All fees collected minus administrative costs will be returned to households as a monthly energy dividend that is divided evenly per household, based on size. If you have a social security number, you get the dividend.

WHO BENEFITS

You and Me

In year one, about 2/3 of households — the lowest 2/3 on the income scale — will break even or receive more in the dividend than they would pay in higher prices.

Why?

The people who make the least tend to also use the lowest amount of carbon — they likely don’t live lavish, carbon-intense lifestyles. But they’re getting the same dividend as everyone else.

And, since the lower income groups will likely spend most of the dividend, billions will be injected into the economy.

As families see they can do better financially simply by using less carbon, they will likely make smarter choices about their energy usage, meaning their net financial benefit will increase over time. This will spur innovation and build aggregate demand for low-carbon products at the consumer level.

The environment and the economy

In just 20 years, independent studies show that this system could reduce carbon emissions to 50 percent of 1990 levels while adding 2.1 million jobs above baseline to the American economy.

If you need a bit more clarity, check out this two minute video about CF&D:

 

 

THE POLITICS: BIPARTISAN APPROACH; SOME GOP MOVEMENT IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

There have been a number carbon pricing bills brought forth in Congress over the years but none have passed. Most have been structured as taxes, meaning the revenues go to the federal government for the Congress to disburse, not to the citizenry, as with CF&D. These bills have only garnered support from Democrats.

CCL leadership says they won’t push to introduce Carbon Fee & Dividend as a bill (i.e. to have it considered and voted on) until it has a Republican co-sponsor. They believe that for a carbon pricing law to have staying power, getting there has to be a bipartisan project. Since any number of Democrats in both chambers would likely sponsor CF&D, finding Republicans to co-sponsor is crucial.

But, you may ask, why would any GOP senator or representative sponsor a carbon pricing, given the climate change denial from the President and Congressional leadership and the party’s lockstep opposition to anything that looks like a tax?

It is a valid question, and, so far, not one Republican has stepped up.

But while the climate change fight is a marathon, one that has been run against fierce headwinds since November, 2016, something is impossible until it isn’t.

And there are, largely below the radar, some changes brewing on the GOP side.

  • Most notably, a group of esteemed Republican leaders of yore like George Schultz and James Baker, along with ex-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, economist Greg Mankiw, the late, great Steven Hawking, and others, formed the Climate Leadership Council (CLC). They published a market-style, dividend-based carbon pricing proposal that is similar to CF&D.
  • And, thanks in good measure to the efforts of CCL volunteers, the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus was formed in the House in 2016. Members explore policy options addressing the impacts, causes, and challenges of climate change. For a Democrat to join, she or he must bring a Republican “dance partner” along. As of this week, the Caucus numbers 78 (39 from each party), representing 18 percent of total House members. Over the past 18 months or so, there have been a few climate/environmentally-related votes in the House in which some Republican Caucus members broke with party leadership.

Now, many Democrats fear that GOPers who join the Caucus do so as a “Greenwash”. This means they’re not interested in doing anything meaningful on climate change, but they want to appear like they do, so they sign up. And that may well be true in some cases. It also must be said, sadly, there have been some votes in which Caucus GOP members voted with the President.

So I’m skeptical.

 

But, I’m much more interested in getting a price on carbon than giving in to my skepticism.

And so I am more than willing to support the market-based, CF&D approach if it can gain Republican support.

What about other issues, you may ask?

From healthcare to immigration to gun safety to income inequality to basic decency to stopping the insanity that began when we woke up on 11/9/16 to [FILL IN THE BLANK], I line up firmly on the Democratic side. Thus I hope a Blue Wave washes ashore in November. And, if that means we have to start in January, 2019 with a smaller Caucus — and a longer marathon to run — so be it.

 

THE CONFERENCE: YOUNG CONSERVATIVES OFFER HOPE

Despite the above, my climate change fighting batteries got recharged, big time, at Monday’s CCL National Conference/lobbying training and Tuesday’s Lobby Day on Capitol Hill. This was my third conference/lobby day in the past four years.

Monday’s highlight was a terrific talk by Ted Halstead, founder, Chairman and CEO of the Climate Leadership Council (the GOPers eminences grises group I mentioned earlier). His main thrust is that a dividend-based carbon pricing scheme will be a transformational “grand bargain” between right and left. In Halstead’s eyes, the left gets a carbon pricing scheme that benefits the lower 70 percent of families, the right gets regulatory simplification*, and carbon pollution starts to wane.

If you want to really get Halstead’s approach, please watch/listen to his 13 minute Ted Talk.

 

 

 

Halstead then brought on to the stage leaders from Students for Carbon Dividends (SC4D), a new group of college and university organizations — 23 Republican clubs and 6 Democratic clubs so far — that are supporting dividend-based carbon pricing. “This is the first time College Republican groups are publicly supporting a national climate solution,” said Alex Posner of Yale, the President of SC4D. “Young conservatives are very much interested in climate solutions. And liberals on campus are looking for something to move the needle.”

SC4D Vice President Kiera O’Brien of Harvard added, “According to a Pew Research study, 75 percent of young republicans want action on climate but have no outlet. We feel like we’ve been given a false choice: Conservation or the economy. We believe that, a dividend approach will result in conservation, economic growth and less regulation.”

Hopefully, many more young conservatives will follow Alex’ and Kiera’s lead on climate, and FAST!

 

LOBBY DAY: THE MARATHON CONTINUES

Kudos to the CCL staff! They were able to schedule lobbying meetings for 1,400 people with with over 500 congressional offices on Capitol Hill — and those took place on one day!

 

CCL

Citizens Climate Lobby volunteers pause for a photo in front of the U.S. Capitol before heading to over 500 Congressional offices to advocate for its Carbon Fee & Dividend legislative proposal (Photo credit: Citizens Climate Lobby)

 

And, it is my great honor to lobby with my CCL colleagues.

If you want to learn how to run an organized, strategic meeting — lobbying, business or otherwise — join a CCL lobbying meeting. Respectful and meticulously well-planned, they feature open-ended questions that get the member and/or staff talking, fact-based discussions, clear asks and tangible next steps.

I took part in three meetings, two with staff from Democratic House members (José Serrano from the Bronx and Joe Crowley from the Bronx and Queens) and with a staffer for an upstate New York Republican (Tom Reed, Ithaca to Jamestown).

CCL has been calling on these offices for years so much of our pitch isn’t new. Some of the objections and questions raised by staffers were similar to those I heard in 2015-16: “We need to promote conservation without hurting the economy,” “How does the dividend get allocated?”

But the staffers’ body language was more positive, more forward leaning. And their questions showed that some, small bits of progress had been made. There was a deeper understanding of the power of the dividend and interest in a “Grand Bargain.”

Leaving Capitol Hill, I felt energized, looking forward to the next phase of the climate change marathon, but also wondering how fast people like Halstead, Posner and O’Brien can rally their conservative friends to join in.

The marathon continues and I have yet to hit “the wall.”

 

JOINING CCL

The more I do this work with CCL, the more I am convinced that its  bipartisan approach to carbon pricing is ultimately going to be successful. If you would like to be a part of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, click here.

 

^ $15/metric ton on the CO2 equivalent emissions of fossil fuels, escalating by $10/metric ton each year,
* It is important to note Halstead’s/CLC’s plan eliminates carbon-based regulations like the Clean Power Plan in exchange for the carbon fee while CCL’s program does not remove regulations

 


 

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Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports, Part 3: Gretchen Bleiler, Olympic Snowboarder and Climate Change-Fighting Advocate

The Winter Sports world plays an outsized role in the Green-Sports movement. This makes sense, when one considers climate change is at least partly responsible for shortened outdoor pond hockey seasons, canceled ski races, and more. GreenSportsBlog is taking an in-depth look at the intersection of Green & Winter Sports with an occasional series, “Winter Sports Drives Green-Sports.”

In Parts 1 and 2, we interviewed the First Couple of Green-Sports, cross-country skiers and climate change fighters, Erika Flowers-Newell and Andy Newell.

Today, in Part 3, we talk with Green-Sports ROCK STAR, Gretchen Bleiler. She won a silver medal as a snowboarder for the USA at the Torino Olympics in 2006. Her climate change-fighting chops are also Olympian: Gretchen lobbies members of Congress, many of them Republicans, for action on climate and the environment as a member of Protect Our Winters (POW), an incredible group of outdoor sports professional athletes and climate change fighters. And if that’s not enough, she and her husband are Green-Sports entrepreneurs, with their reusable water bottle company, ALEX. I hope you enjoy reading our wide-ranging interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Gretchen, there are so many things to talk about, so let’s begin at the beginning. I’m guessing you grew up in the mountains somewhere…

Gretchen Bleiler: I actually grew up in a town called Oakwood, just outside of Dayton, OH. A year after my mom and dad got divorced, my mom decided to move us out to Aspen, CO when I was 10. My grandparents had owned a place there since the 60s. And it was there that my awareness and respect for our environment really took root. During the first week of 6th grade, I knew my life was forever changed when I was catapulted into an Outdoor Education trip, part of our school curriculum, where we climbed a 14,000 foot mountain. And I had never been camping or hiking before!

GSB: …14,000 feet? No sweat! I grew up in Fairfield, CT and our field trips were to places like the United Nations and the Mark Twain Museum in Hartford. Cool in their own right but I wish we had outdoor education trips…

Gretchen: They were great. We hung out in nature for a week, far away from civilization, and learned how to survive on our own during 24-hour solos. During the winter, we learned how to build igloos in order to survive and stay warm in case we ever got lost in the mountains.

GSB: I’ve been to the area and it is spectacular. Is that where your interest in sports took off?

Gretchen: Oh that happened while I was in Ohio. I know it sounds crazy but, when I was seven years old I said to myself “I’m going to grow up to be an Olympian!” Actually what’s even crazier is that the sport I ended up competing in, snowboarding, wasn’t even close to being an Olympic sport at that time.

GSB: I knew when I was seven that I would never make the New York Yankees and I was right, too! Dang, we were two very self-aware kids! So what sports did you play in Ohio?

Gretchen: I did everything…swimming, diving, rode horses. I played soccer, tennis, and golf…You name it.

GSB: And when you got to Aspen you started with snow sports?

Gretchen: Yes! I had skied a bit before we moved to Colorado. But when we moved to Aspen, another incredible part of my education was that during the winters, we would have a half-day off one day per week to go skiing on the mountain.

GSB: OK, I’m officially jealous now…

Gretchen: One of those Wednesdays, I took a snowboard lesson with a bunch of friends and I was hooked. That was 1992.

GSB: …Even though it wasn’t an Olympic sport?

Gretchen: Even though it wasn’t an Olympic sport. Not only that, but it wasn’t even allowed on most mountain resorts. But that was actually what I loved about it. It was an anti-establishment movement meant to mix things up and bring fresh blood into the ski industry. It was about breaking the rules. It was free and creative and outside of the box. It wasn’t just about how fast could you get down the mountain, but equally important was your style; how creatively you could approach terrain, and the tricks you were doing. Snowboarding didn’t start as a competitive sport, but rather a new lifestyle.

 

Gretchen Bleiler headshot Monte Isom

Gretchen Bleiler (Photo credit: Monte Isom)

 

GSB: Sounds like a new culture, which must’ve been amazing to be part of at the start. Now, you told me off line you have three brothers…

Gretchen: …Also a half-sister…

GSB: …And a half-sister. Did you snowboard against your brothers and half-sister and could you beat them?

Gretchen: I always looked up to my brothers. They were always in on the cool new stuff. So I just watched what they were doing and would follow along. I would learn about the tricks they were doing and then go out and try to do them myself.

GSB: I imagine you pushed each other. When did you get into competitive snowboarding?

Gretchen: When I was 15, a kid from the Aspen Valley Snowboard team suggested I join them. That winter, I joined the team and found myself doing well in competitions. Snowboarding was controversially inducted into the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. While a lot of core snowboarders boycotted the Olympics, this was my dream come true. Now my goal was clear: Become an Olympic snowboarder.

GSB: Did you make the team?

Gretchen: I had only been snowboarding for 6 years in 1998. But I really went for it for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. I ended up tying with my best friend, Tricia Byrnes, for the last spot. By the way, she’s a real environmentalist — she’s never owned a car. Anyway, it came down to a triple tiebreaker and Tricia got the spot. I was happy for her, but I was devastated. After that experience, I vowed to myself that enjoying the ride had to be non-negotiable while I worked everyday towards my goal of becoming an Olympian. I realized I wanted to make the Olympic team so badly that I had lost the fun in my snowboarding, and vowed never to lose sight of that again.

GSB: Say more…

Gretchen: In order to achieve something, you have to become it. I became very aware of my choke points — self-doubt under pressure, worrying about results. “Lighten up,” I told myself. In January of 2003, I threw down a gold medal winning run at the X Games while having fun. I enjoyed the day with my friends and family. And I banked that feeling. I went on to win every contest I entered that year, and ultimately that feeling is what helped me make it to the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy and win a silver medal in the half-pipe.

 

Highlights of the women’s half-pipe competition at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, IT. Gretchen Bleiler’s silver medal-winning run starts at 1:24 of this 3:12 clip.

 

 

Gretchen Bleiler Danny Kass Bob Martin

Danny Kass joins Gretchen Bleiler in celebrating their silver medals in men’s and women’s half-pipe at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, IT (Photo credit: Bob Martin)

 

GSB: You became it, you achieved it…

Gretchen: …Thanks. It was a dream come true, and a fairy tale all in one. Yet, one of the greatest things I took away from those Olympics is actually something most wouldn’t expect. There was a US speed skater named Joey Cheek

GSB: Oh, sure, I remember him! Talented, charismatic…

Gretchen: …Not only did he win a bunch of medals, but he turned around and donated all of his prize money to an organization he worked with called Right To Play. Their mission is to use sport to educate and empower young people to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict, and disease in disadvantaged communities.

GSB: Incredible, really…

Gretchen: I know! He used his Olympic experience to stand on the podium, promote his mission, and then light up Right To Play by raising a lot of media attention and therefore a lot of funds towards the organization. It made a huge impression on me. Also, after the Olympics were over, the U.S. Team was invited to the White House to meet President Bush (43). We also had a luncheon with a House member and I’ll never forget what he told us: “Congratulations! You are Olympians. You will always be Olympians. But this is not an end, it’s just the beginning. The question is: What are you going to do with it?” Cheek and the White House meeting opened up my field of vision and I decided to use my platform to talk about climate change.

GSB: How did you go about doing that?

Gretchen: Well, it wasn’t from the scientific point of view; I let the scientists take care of that aspect of it. Rather, I share my own experiences as a professional snowboarder who’s traveled around the world chasing snow! Reduced snow pack, warmer temperatures and shorter winters all mean a hit to the sports we love, but these changes also impact the economies of all the mountain town communities where I compete and train. This has all been happening in my lifetime….

GSB: Which isn’t all that long…

Gretchen: …Hearing from locals in Switzerland about their receding glaciers, rain in January in the Alps and more. The reactions were and have been unanimous: Climate change is real, we are the cause, we have to do something — and we can. So I began to work with different climate change and environmental groups. Then, in 2009, I joined Protect Our Winters (POW) and that helped focus my efforts and hone in on my platform and find my voice.

GSB: What about POW allowed you to do that?

Gretchen: POW is terrific: We’re mobilizing the outdoor sports community against climate change. As individuals we all have unique stories, but, together, we are winter’s voice and are the voice for all the other industries that are affected when winters are impacted by climate change. I’ve found my niche in POW — it has given me opportunities to step outside of my comfort zone and stand up for something that, in my opinion, is the biggest issue facing humanity.

GSB: Tell us about some of those opportunities…

Gretchen: Throughout the years I’ve been a part of POW’s “Hot Planet, Cool Athletes” school assembly programs. It makes the topic of climate change engaging, more relatable, and more personal for students. And it also makes the solutions more real, more achievable. Then, I got into lobbying on Capitol Hill and speaking at big international events like COP21, the global climate conference in Paris in 2015 that led to the Paris Climate Agreement

 

Gretchen Bleiler Forest Woodward

“Ms. Bleiler Goes to Washington”: Gretchen Bleiler on her 2017 lobbying trip to Capitol Hill with Protect Our Winters (Photo credit: Forest Woodward)

 

GSB: Which President Trump plans to pull the US out of. UGH! How did you feel when you were making these presentations?

Gretchen: I was sooooo insecure when I first started — didn’t go to college as I went into professional snowboarding straight from high school. Like I said, I had to battle and push myself out of my comfort zone. Even when my mind told me “I don’t want to do this!” I pushed myself to do it anyway. When we first started going to meet members of Congress in 2010, the reaction was “who are these winter sports athletes?” Now, everyone knows us and they know we come back every year and are holding them accountable for their words. They know that collectively we have a huge social media presence so our audience will find out what their representatives are doing to help on climate — or not. On our last trip to the Capitol a few months ago, after Hurricane Irma, I spoke in front of the House of Representatives’ new, bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus (CSC). This is a group that more people need to know about: For a Democrat to join, he or she has to bring in a Republican…

GSB: YES! I know about the CSC! I volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a national group of citizen lobbyists advocating for a revenue neutral price on carbon through a “carbon fee and dividend” legislative proposal. An amazingly persistent CCL-er from Philadelphia, Jay Butera, would go down to Washington weekly, on his own dime, with an endless supply of positivity, to push the Climate Solutions Caucus. Started by Florida representatives Ted Deutch (D-FL22) and Carlos Curbelo (R-FL26), the group has grown from a handful of members to about 60 in about two years. Republicans are continuing to join, even in the wake of the Trump election and the hijacking of the EPA by his administration and the fossil fuel industry.

 

Gretchen Bleiler Capitol Hill Forrest Woodward

Gretchen Bleiler, flanked by professional fly fisherman Hilary Hutcheson (l) and Auden Schendler, Chairman of the Board of POW, testifying in front of the House of Representatives’ bi-partisan Climate Solutions Caucus (CSC) in 2017. At the head of the table sit CSC members Ryan Costello (R-PA, in purple tie) and Ted Deutch (D-FL, glasses). (Photo credit: Forest Woodward)

 

Gretchen: I love Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the CSC! To testify about the impacts of climate change on the outdoor sports and recreational industry, directly after Irma, was ironic in its timing. On one hand, Reps. Deutch and Curbelo from Florida, who started the caucus, were obviously dealing with matters of life and death after the destruction of the hurricane. On the other, what better time to talk about climate change because it was directly in our faces, with flooding in the south as well as wildfires in the west? We were able to inspire the committee with our stories and show them how important it was to us to see Democrats and Republicans working together around climate change. Beyond the caucus, we had a lot of meetings, mostly with Republicans who are on the fence about voting pro environment. These conversations are sometimes difficult because we don’t often share the same point of view, but that’s the point — we don’t have to agree to have a conversation. Actually, in order to solve this problem, we need to listen to people with different opinions, but we have to somehow agree on the facts of the reality of climate change. There is just no time for denial at this point; we need solutions. But what’s great about our group is that most everyone has a story about why they love the great outdoors, so we’re able to bring it back to that common ground, plus back it up with economic facts, like the snow sports industry is a $72 billion dollar industry.

GSB: That is significant…

Gretchen: …And it supports 695,000 jobs, which is more than all of the extractive industries — oil, gas and coal — combined.

GSB: Even more significant…Do you do anything else for POW?

Gretchen: Beyond our Capitol Hill trips, and the Hot Planet, Cool Athletes presentations, I write op-eds and make calls to Colorado electeds.

GSB: What is that like for you?

Gretchen: I’m getting more and more comfortable. POW is currently running a campaign to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) from a senate proposal to allow drilling on pristine lands that might net some limited short-term economic gains, but at a severe environmental cost. Drilling our public lands for fossil fuels that will only emit more greenhouse gases is no way to balance a budget. I called Colorado’s Republican US Senator, Cory Gardner on this issue…

GSB: Did you talk to the Senator or his staff?

Gretchen: I talked to a staff member, they listened and we’ll just keep on calling. Also, while we were on the Hill, a POW group met with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) who is leading the effort to open up ANWR. Many members of POW’s Riders Alliance spend a lot of time skiing and snowboarding in Alaska, for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, for now at least, she continues to make choices that show she’s not looking at the big picture of protecting our public lands and climate.

GSB: Well, she’s facing significant resistance in Alaska and elsewhere. This just means POW’s calls and meetings with Members of Congress are more important than ever. So what can we look for from you and POW in 2018?

Gretchen: For 2018, we are laser-focused on electing a climate-friendly Congress in 2018, House and Senate. And we’re also working on the state level, from Governors races to state legislatures.

GSB: You know what, Gretchen? YOU should run!

Gretchen: Oh, I don’t think that’s for me. But activism and pushing our electeds on climate? Count me IN!

GSB: Well, I think you’d be great. But, what you’re doing with POW is so important. In fact, dear readers, I can’t stress how important and extraordinary Gretchen’s and the rest of POW’s efforts are. These athletes, Olympians and World Champions, are finding the time to lobby members of Congress, and campaign for climate-friendly candidates in the 2018 election. Now, before I let you go, tell us about your green business, Alex Bottle.

Gretchen: We started ALEX to be a sustainable lifestyle company. ALEX stands for Always Live EXtraordinarily; all of our products are a constant reminder for us to strive for that. “Extraordinary is such a big word and we want to make it approachable by reminding people that it’s our small everyday choices and actions that add up to an extraordinary life. By focusing on the steps in the journey and not the just the end result, we can achieve our own extraordinary, AND love the process.

As for products, our first focus was in the reusable bottle space because we were sick of seeing people around us use disposable plastic bottles. We realized that to get people to make the shift from disposable to reusable, we needed to make it simple. Since the reusable bottle offerings at the time lacked any style, and they were impossible to clean, they turned people off. That’s when my husband, Chris, had the idea to make a reusable bottle that opened in the middle for cleaning. What’s interesting is when we opened the bottle in the middle, it allowed for a bunch of other cool features we didn’t expect, like being able to compact it to half its size, use it as two cups, or completely customize the color combinations. It became so much more then just a bottle. We’ve since released two new products: An insulated commuter cup and a pint cup, both with sneaky bottle openers on the bottom.

We wanted to have a small and thoughtful line up that covers every drink situation. Our bottle is great for smoothies, cocktails, and fruit infused water, while our commuter cup is great for keeping coffee and tea hot, and then you have the stackable pint cup for festivals and parties. We designed it so that you could have three reusable products and be set for any situation.

 

ALEX FAMILY -01-01

The ALEX Bottle product line (Photo credit: ALEX Bottle)

 

 

Gretchen ALEX Kate Holstein

Gretchen Bleiler, in her natural habitat, with snowboard and ALEX Bottle in hand (Photo credit: Kate Holstein)

 

GSB: Congratulations to you and Chris. What’s it like to be manufacturing a consumer product?

Gretchen: In some respects, it’s been like climbing Everest. Thankfully, Chris runs the business and manufacturing end, and I’m an ambassador for the mission of the brand, which is encouraging people to live their extraordinary. We wanted to manufacture Alex in the US but the costs are just prohibitive. So we started in Indonesia but had problems there. In fact, we’re on our fourth manufacturer since 2009. Now Alex is produced in China. But, despite the fits and starts, we’ve found our niche and we’re proud to be able to manufacture and sell a product that lives up to our high standards.

GSB: Where can one buy an Alex Bottle?

Gretchen: The best place to get one is on our website, www.alexbottle.com. That’s where you’ll find all of the color options. Since a lot of people love Amazon, we offer our insulated commuter cup and our Stainless Steel pint cup through Amazon Prime.

GSB: How are you planning to scale the business and perhaps add the brick and mortar channel? Are you looking for venture and/or angel funding?

Gretchen: We’re not looking at venture funding, at least as of now. Our plan is to grow the business organically, via the winter, adventure and outdoor sports communities. We really focus on customer service and celebrating the people who support and buy from us. We’ve definitely found that our ALEX family of customers are the best spokespeople for what we’re doing, so focusing on making sure their experience is extraordinary is our biggest opportunity for growing the business.

GSB: All the best to you and Chris…and I still think you should rethink the “run for office” thing.

 

Gretchen and Chris

Gretchen Bleiler, husband Chris Hotell and Kota in their ALEX Bottle studio (Photo credit: Gretchen Bleiler)

 


 

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President Trump Yanks Yanks Out of Paris Climate Agreement; Sports World Starts to Speak Out

President Trump yesterday announced he was pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement in a carefully staged White House Rose Garden event. Even before he finished speaking, leaders from the worlds of international and domestic politics—with the notable exceptions of Trump-world and many but not all Congressional Republicans^—business, and science made strongly worded statements of condemnation. Some corners of the sports world—in particular, green-sports groups like Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) and Protect Our Winters (POW), also spoke out. Here are their statements, GreenSportsBlog’s take and more.

 

STATEMENTS FROM GREEN-SPORTS WORLD ON U.S. PULL OUT FROM PARIS CLIMATE AGREEMENT

 

Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI)

SandSI is a new global organization made up of sports federations, governing bodies and other parties, including individuals, from 6 continents and nearly thirty countries. It is designed to leverage the combined cultural and market influence of sports in support of healthy, sustainable and just communities.

“Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) stands united with the global sports industry in support of international cooperation to address the serious threat of climate change, as enshrined in the Paris Agreement. SandSI deeply regrets the decision of the United States to withdraw from the Agreement, and will support all sports federations, leagues, teams, venues, and events in re-doubling efforts to mobilize operations, business partners and millions of fans in response to the urgent global threat posed by worsening climate change. SandSI supports united collective action. We urge all members of the global sports industry, and all fans alike to join Sport and Sustainability International’s work to respond to the increasingly dangerous threat that that climate change poses to current and especially future generations.”

 

SandSI Congress

Attendees at the inaugural Sport and Sustainability International Congress in Paris. (Photo credit: Sport and Sustainability International)

 

Sport and Sustainability International founding director Allen Hershkowitz’ gave his take on the U.S. exit to GreenSportsBlog Thursday. Click here to read it.

 

Protect Our Winters (POW)

Protect Our Winters (POW) is the leading climate advocacy group for the winter sports community, led by elite skiers, snowboarders and more. In response to Trump’s decision, POW encouraged their followers to take positive action.

 

Protect Our Winters

 

“Trump Bailed on Paris. What’s Next?”

“Today, Trump bailed on the Paris Agreement. With one over-hyped, fancy announcement, he told the nation he’s taking the United States out of the most monumental global climate agreement. We do not accept inaction on climate change. We are extremely disappointed in this decision.

Here at Protect Our Winters, we try very hard to find a silver lining in everything. We want you to have an opportunity to take positive action on every negative rollback. Fortunately, cities, states, and business leaders across the country have already initiated conversations about setting greenhouse gas reduction targets to mimic what was agreed upon in Paris at COP21. We’re really happy to hear this. And, we need you to call your governor and ask them to join this movement. If our federal government won’t do it, let’s ask our governors and mayors to step up.

As always, we made it easy for you. Enter your information to make the call below; we even wrote you a script. Thanks for helping us take action to move our nation forward, not backward, on climate change.”

 

I AM PRO SNOW

Staying in the winter sports world, I AM PRO SNOW (IAPS) brings together winter sports athletes, businesses, resorts, and mountain communities around the world to help stop climate change and shifting to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.

IAPS is a division of the Climate Reality Project, a group founded by Vice President Al Gore in 2006 to bring together a grass roots network of individuals from around the world to, according to its website, “turn climate change awareness into action” to “solve the greatest challenge of our time.”

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a Climate Reality Leader, trained by Vice President Gore in 2012 to give presentations of an updated version of the “An Inconvenient Truth” slide show and have done so 30+ times.

IAPS did not put out its own statement on Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, but the Climate Reality Project put out a long, detailed, call-to-climate-change-fight arms statement. Click here for the link. Al Gore also put out this:

“Removing the United States from the Paris Agreement is a reckless and indefensible action. It undermines America’s standing in the world and threatens to damage humanity’s ability to solve the climate crisis in time. But make no mistake: if President Trump won’t lead, the American people will.

Civic leaders, mayors, governors, CEOs, investors and the majority of the business community will take up this challenge. We are in the middle of a clean energy revolution that no single person or group can stop. President Trump’s decision is profoundly in conflict with what the majority of Americans want from our president; but no matter what he does, we will ensure that our inevitable transition to a clean energy economy continues.”

 

Gore

Al Gore (Photo credit: Climate Reality Project)

 

President Barack Obama

Barack Obama was, without question, the United States’ first Green-Sports president. Obama:

Plus Obama, now 56, still has a smooth, left-handed jump shot.

 

obama-souza

President Obama, driving to the basket during a pickup game with White House staffers at Martha’s Vineyard in August, 2009. (Photo credit: The White House/Pete Souza, official photographer)

 

The first Green-Sports President has largely stayed silent since leaving office. But I guess watching his successor begin the process of unraveling one his administration’s most important accomplishments was too much for Obama to take so he issued this statement:

“A year and a half ago, the world came together in Paris around the first-ever global agreement to set the world on a low-carbon course and protect the world we leave to our children.

It was steady, principled American leadership on the world stage that made that achievement possible. It was bold American ambition that encouraged dozens of other nations to set their sights higher as well. And what made that leadership and ambition possible was America’s private innovation and public investment in growing industries like wind and solar — industries that created some of the fastest new streams of good-paying jobs in recent years, and contributed to the longest streak of job creation in our history.

Simply put, the private sector already chose a low-carbon future. And for the nations that committed themselves to that future, the Paris Agreement opened the floodgates for businesses, scientists, and engineers to unleash high-tech, low-carbon investment and innovation on an unprecedented scale.

The nations that remain in the Paris Agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created. I believe the United States of America should be at the front of the pack. But even in the absence of American leadership; even as this Administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got.”

 

GreenSportsBlog

I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed by SandSI, Allen Hershkowitz in yesterday’s interview, POW, Vice President Gore and President Obama about President Trump’s #AmericaLast decision to pull the U.S out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

As far as the sports world is concerned, I will be interested to see if/when U.S. pro sports leagues/college conferences, teams, owners and athletes speak up on the Paris Exit. I hope I am wrong but I think POW will be the exception and many will stay on the sidelines, citing the desire to stay out of politics. Given the way sports got involved in the North Carolina bathroom bill and other issues, if politics becomes the excuse for staying silent, it would seem to be a disingenuous one. But we shall see; perhaps the leagues and teams will step up. GreenSportsBlog asked the major U.S. pro sports leagues, the USTA and the PAC-12 for comment. So far, the NFL and the PAC-12 declined comment; we’re waiting to hear back from the rest. We will relay any statements we receive to you.

Finally, since this is GreenSportsBlog, I will use a sports analogy to make my our statement:

In the “Global Affairs, Global Emissions and the Global Economy” game, businesses, nonprofits and individuals are the players. In this case of the Paris Climate Agreement, 195 national governments are the referees, steering the action of the game. In this Climate World Cup, the U.S. has the best team (scientists, cleantech innovators, companies, nonprofits). The U.S also is the head referee, a crucial and, in terms of leadership of the 21st century global economy, advantageous position to be in.

At least it was until yesterday.

Now the U.S. has sidelined itself as a referee, joining Syria and Nicaragua on the sidelines.

To be sure, as Vice President Gore, President Obama and many others have said, U.S. companies, governors, and mayors, academics and others will continue to play the game. And, per Allen Hershkowitz, sports federations and governing bodies will do so as well. But having the federal government step away from its important role will hurt the U.S. economically and diplomatically. Thankfully, we’re in the early stages of this crucial global game and most fans in the U.S. (71 percent in one poll) want their country to stay on as referee. My bet? Sooner or later, continued pressure from fans and the players will bring the U.S. federal government back into the game. So keep the pressure on.

 

^ Republican House members who are part of the Climate Solutions Caucus, including Carlos Curbelo (FL) and Patrick Meehan (PA), spoke out strongly against the decision to take the U.S out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

 


 

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