We Can All Protect Our Winters
November 17, 2023Nov 17, 2023By Jenna O'Brien, KEEN Community Impact Manager
6 MIN READ doing good for planet
Despite growing up in Chicago, I always answered with a confident “yes” when someone would ask me if I was an “outdoorsy kind of person.” I was always outside. Walking without purpose or to catch the bus or the el, riding bikes with friends to the public pool, fishing under powerlines, camping with family, meeting for summer gatherings at our communal backyard (aka Lake Michigan).
Many of the joyful things in my life are intertwined with my love of this earthly place. So, it makes logical sense that I would want to protect and preserve it for future generations. But what I haven’t always been confident about, are my answers to questions like: “How does an urban community preserve natural landscapes?” or “What does it mean to be a climate advocate in a city?”
Little Jenna finding nature behind a car dealership in Chicago.
The southwest side of Chicago isn’t exactly the Sierra Nevada mountains or the Rio Grande, but it is a place I want to safeguard from climate change, and some of you might feel the same about where you live. So, when I was offered the opportunity to attend a summit learning about these very things by our new partner, Protect our Winters (POW), I jumped at the chance!
Did you know that there are 50 million Americans who also identify as outdoor enthusiasts? I definitely didn’t. Collectively, we make up what the outdoor industry likes to call, "the Outdoor State." From skiers, snowboarders, climbers, and trail runners to mountain bikers, hunters, anglers, hikers, and every outdoor activity in between - like biking Lake Shore Drive or belonging to a weekly community walking club – we all share one big unifying commonality: a love for the outdoors.
Protect our Winters (POW) believes that by training, supporting, and mobilizing this great big community, we could be one of the most influential and impactful voices for climate action. POW has become the place where the outdoor community comes together to get inspired and take action. With a mission to help passionate outdoor people protect the places and experiences they love from climate change, POW has been leveraging their community of influential athletes, prominent scientists, inspiring creatives, and powerful business leaders to help advance non-partisan policies that will protect our world today and for future generations.
Every year, this dedicated group comes together for a Leadership Summit to reflect, connect, play, and think big about how the Outdoor State can intentionally contribute to climate advocacy in the year ahead. This collective approach offers participants a window into the high impact opportunities available to build broad reaching systemic solutions to climate change.
I was PUMPED to be part of it.
Photo by Protect Our Winters
I had heard rumblings about past summits. Three days filled with amazing people, great food, awesome conversations, no showers, and iffy weather. It’s the work conference we all dream about.
Held just outside Lake Tahoe, on the native homeland of the Washoe, September in Nevada is picturesque. A generous sun, mild breeze, with faint hues of autumn speckling the trees – it made me excited for my first, all outside, summit. Yes, you read that correctly. The entire conference is hosted outside.
After checking in, and receiving a good number of weekend supplies, attendees were unleashed into a field to choose a tent. The whole process was giving easter egg hunt vibes, but instead of finding an egg we were choosing our dome-shaped home for our time there. I settled on a spot that looked directly into the forest, had an easy route to the lodge to use the bathroom, and set up camp.
When I finished unpacking, I took the gondola up to the top of the ski hill and walked back down admiring the beauty of Mt. Rose to calm my nerves. I had only spoken with three other people in this large group prior to arriving and it seemed like everyone knew one another. Fortunately for me, the temperature decided to drop 30 degrees, and if being from the Midwest has taught me anything …. I know how to talk about the weather. Nothing breaks the ice or brings people together more than collectively freezing your butts off in unexpected 30-degree weather.
The summit agenda was thoughtfully designed, offering outdoor activities, facilitated conversations amongst attendees, and curated learning through panels and individual talks. Members from POW’s creative, athlete, science, and brand alliances were all in attendance.
"The most influential concept from the summit for me, one that I could bring home, was the conversation about imperfect advocacy."
Discussions covered everything from the recent passing and implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act (the IRA), the largest climate investment in U.S. history, to renewable energy development, tribal sovereignty, and the state of the Outdoor State. We heard from elected members of rural electric co-ops, tribal members, folks from nonprofits like Natives Outdoors and from brands like Burton and Strava. We heard from science alliance members about climate change’s impact on things like glaciers. We watched documentaries created by creative alliance members and learned about ways to talk about something as complex as climate.
I was exposed to many ways to impact the climate space and feeling excited about the big and shiny pieces. But the most influential concept from the summit for me, one that I could bring home, was the conversation about imperfect advocacy. The belief that because I am not a “perfect” climate activist that joining a movement like this is hypocritical. Dis-ingenuine even.
This is the very thing that keeps me, and probably some of you, from getting involved in climate activism. I drive a gasoline-powered car during the winter rather than taking public transportation. I often fly as part of my job, to go on vacation, and to see my family. I forget to turn off lights, take longer showers than I should, I eat meat, and have a gas stove. The fact is, I commit climate treasons daily, and thanks to confirmation bias and being human I tend to embrace information that supports my beliefs that I am not suitable to be a climate advocate.
The idea of imperfect advocacy challenges these very real feelings because the reality is, I am not perfect, and no one is. While some of my actions are harmful, I do grow my own food, carry a reusable water bottle, try to eat local in season produce, support regional farms, research plants native to Illinois that fit into my landscaping, I compost and recycle, ride my bike and walk in the summer, and all that stuff counts!
So what is an imperfect climate advocate to do? Here are 5 ways to get involved and do your part to make a difference:
1. Research what is happening in your area and how to get involved in your own community’s climate efforts. No better way to get started than with your neighbors.
2. Take POW’s free course on Crux Academy, “How To Be A Climate Advocate,” a first of its kind climate education offering.
3. Make a plan to vote by researching how your representatives plan to engage with climate policy.
4. Become a POW member! Join here
5. Keep doing all the little things you are doing. It counts!
Let’s continue to educate ourselves about environmental issues and celebrate all the unique ways we show up. Every small step we take in our own lives promises a better and more sustainable tomorrow.