Protect Our Winters mobilizes world class skiers, snowboarders, climbers, trail runners and more to inspire outdoor lovers to act on climate.
The 13 year-old nonprofit’s innovative “The Outdoor State” campaign worked to motivate as many of America’s 50 million outdoor lovers as possible to vote for climate action. Even if unsaid, this meant a vote for the Biden-Harris ticket.
President Biden and Vice President Harris are now at the dawn of their first full day in office.
With that in mind, it seemed like a great to day to run our interview with POW Executive Director Mario Molina that looked back at “The Outdoor State” campaign, its impact on the 2020 Election, and to look at the path forward.
GreenSportsBlog: Mario, to paraphrase Joe Biden, here’s the deal: The President brought the most aggressive climate agenda of any U.S. President in history with him to the White House. How are you feeling about the new Administration as far as climate and the environment are concerned?
Mario Molina: I am excited since the difference between Donald Trump and Joe Biden on climate is staggering. I mean, instead of having a President who doesn’t believe climate change exists, Joe Biden will bring the U.S. back into the Paris Climate Agreement. Instead of being led by a coal industry lobbyist, the EPA will, once he’s confirmed, have Michael Regan at the helm, a man who has made a career of fighting for the environment. We are replacing the current Secretary of Interior — a career oil and energy industry lobbyist bent on opening more federal lands for oil and gas extraction — with Representative Deb Haaland, a ’35th generation New Mexican,’ and the first Native American with the responsibility of managing our nation’s public lands while also honoring its treaties with Indigenous people.
GSB: Imagine that! And in addition to those nominees, I’m excited to see that former Secretary of State John Kerry will be the Special Envoy for Climate and that Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator during Barak Obama’s second term, will be the National Climate Advisor. This is a serious climate team that matches the seriousness of the crisis. I don’t like to imagine what things would’ve been like had Trump been reelected. And so thank you on behalf of POW for your important work in this election.
Talk about what POW’s “The Outdoor State” campaign was and how it did in getting outdoor lovers to the polls to vote climate?
Mario: POW knows that there are roughly 50 million outdoor sport enthusiasts in the United States, or about 10 million more people than there are in California, our most populous state. We also know that outdoor lovers don’t normally vote at the rates other groups do. So, we developed a campaign dedicated to increasing turnout in The Outdoor State, figuring that most of those new voters would vote for pro-climate candidates in races up and down the ballot.
Our content and our athlete ambassadors reached between 8.5-10 million people through a variety of media, with an average of three messages delivered per individual.
We received positive feedback about our content, including our “Common Ground” video that urged people to vote, narrated by Jimmy Chin, director of the Academy Award-winning documentary film, “Free Solo”.
GSB: Do you have a sense as to the video’s impact?
Mario: Well Lew, our goal was to have 40,000 intentions — either pledge to vote or make a voting plan — resulting from people watching the video on our POW Action Fund site. We got very close, with 36,000 people taking one of those two actions.
GSB: Talk more about the role of POW’s Athlete Ambassadors play in the campaign. I recently interviewed snowboarder and POW Ambassador Elena Hight — she said she loved being part of it.
Mario: That’s great to hear. Our athlete ambassadors were huge. They had 1.5 million engagements with The Outdoor State, through hosting virtual events, and commenting, sharing and liking on social media.
At the outset, some of the athletes thought we were asking a lot of them but as they saw how important this election was and how much of an impact they could have, pretty much all of our Ambassadors got on board enthusiastically.
GSB: This is not surprising to me at all. My interviews with POW Athlete Ambassadors, from Elena Hight to Olympic medal-winning snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler to climber Tommy Caldwell and more, showed them to be enthusiastic, fearless and knowledgeable.
Now, I’m going to get in the weeds a bit here. There are two parts to POW: 1. A nonprofit — or a 501(c)(3) for those keeping score at home — that cannot engage in partisan politics, and 2. A political advocacy group — or a 501(c)(4) — that can. How did the two wings of the POW house approach The Outdoor State campaign?
Mario: Great question, Lew.
The communications focus from our 501(c)(3) was to get The Outdoor State to make a plan to vote in this most unusual election, thanks to the COVID pandemic — by mail, early in person, on Election Day. Our message was “If you love the land, make a plan.”
The POW Action Fund, our (c)(4), focused on showing The Outdoor State for whom to vote. We wanted to focus our resources on states that are somewhat purple in that they don’t skew heavily toward one political party, and boast huge numbers of passionate outdoor lovers who consider outdoor recreation a part of their identity. After exhaustive research, the Action Fund settled on Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire and North Carolina.
We offered videos, narrated by POW Athlete Ambassadors for each of those eight states, that educated voters about who on the ballot was advocating for the climate. Gretchen Bleiler narrated the Colorado video, climber Conrad Anker handled Montana, and so on.
GSB: Those videos were brilliant — featuring outdoor athletes who are credible voices on climate should have found a willing audience in The Outdoor State.
How do you think it all went? Biden of course won the Presidency. The Democrats, thanks to the Ossoff and Warnock run off victories in Georgia, won control of the Senate. And the Democrats also still control the House.
What is your take?
Mario: Well, we didn’t really sweep this thing. Yes, the Democrats control the Senate thanks to the wins in Georgia but the margins were razor thin in the runoff and in several key states in November. We did win the Presidency, Senate control and retained the House, which is great, but it wasn’t a convincing mandate.
When you think about it, the climate movement basically waits for four years to get roughly half of the country involved.
That’s why we launched The Outdoor State as a continuous effort that won’t stop now that the election is over. And that’s why we have conversations with folks who don’t agree with us politically but who love the outdoors.
Those are not always easy conversations to have but have them we must. POW founder Jeremy Jones did that in “Purple Mountains,” his documentary film to see if he could find common among outdoor-minded conservatives.
GSB: It’s a must-watch.
Mario: Absolutely! One of its lessons is that we have to have these conversations to build the power of The Outdoor State at the local, at the state level.
Image at top: “If You Love The Land, Make a Plan” ad (Photo credit: Protect Our Winters)