Interview: Pro Snowboarder Jeremy Jones Advocates for the Environment

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In the early ’90s, after graduating from Carrabasset Valley Academy near Sugarloaf, Maine, Jeremy Jones cut his teeth on the world cup circuit by donning a speedsuit and racing the clock. It is this pedigree that would provide Jeremy with the skillset to precisely manage speed and trajectory, and prove fortuitous a few years later when he decided to put the bib in the back pocket to focus on filming his exploits in the alpine full time. Quickly, Jeremy became a high-profile advocate for off-piste adventure.

After cementing his place as the preeminent big mountain rider of modern times with segments in Standard and Absinthe movies, Jeremy pivoted away from the conventional formula to partner with Chris Edmands to create My Own Two Feet. My Own Two Feet eschewed using helicopters and snowmobiles to access film locales, in favor of organic approaches where snowshoes, crampons, and splitboards would provide the modus of ascent.

This laid the foundation for Jeremy to use snowboarding as a platform to invoke a conversation about the environment, with Protect Our Winters being the fruits of those efforts. Created in 2007, POW is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit tasked with reversing the effects of climate change both on a grassroots level and in government. While there is no denying the challenges that Jeremy has routinely overcome to descend the largest mountains on Earth, it is perhaps his efforts on Capitol Hill that will prove most consequential as Jones once again finds himself racing against the clock.

Photo: Courtesy of POW/SNOWBOARDER Magazine

What was the tipping point that catalyzed your desire to become an advocate for the environment?

It was a series of moments, but the final one was being up in Prince Rupert, BC with some riders, and we were hiking their local resort. It was mid-February and it was all grass. They were telling me all these great memories they had of it. I’m like, “Well, why isn’t it open anymore?” They said, “It doesn’t snow here anymore at this elevation.” These guys were in their early thirties, and it was really shocking to me that they had lost their ski area within their lifetime. This was around 2005. I started thinking of climate in thirty-year chunks then, and I remember thinking, “Wow, I’m grateful my area isn’t under this stress.” But clearly, things are changing and in terms of climate, thirty years is a blip. That was probably the final straw where I was like, I need to do this.

What was your first step in creating POW?

The last thing I wanted to do was start a nonprofit. Prior to that I was spending a lot of time in Chamonix while I was working with Rossignol. I’d get a run down the Vallee Blanche and they mark every year where the glacier is, and it was very obvious that the previous ten years had receded what it did historically in fifty years. This was when I had like twenty different products with Rossignol and I wanted to take a percentage of sales and send it to someone who was dealing with climate change.

Unfortunately, that group wasn’t out there, so it was up to me to get this thing off the ground. I learned right out of the gate, don’t be afraid to ask. I had no idea what fighting climate change meant. At first, for example, our focus was really on reusable water bottles, energy efficient light bulbs, and things of that nature. As I got better people around me, we pretty quickly realized change needed to happen at the policy level.

jeremy jones
Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Miller/SNOWBOARDER Magazine

When you say the policy level, you mean the legislators. The people who set budgets, enact regulations and pass laws.

Our elected officials can either say, “We’re going to do everything we can to incentivize more extraction and foster more reliance on fossil fuels” or “we recognize that strategy as being bad for the planet and we’re going to support renewable energy.” If you can change that perception or change those goals, you are now reducing CO2 gasses far greater than just changing every light bulb.

The only reasonable argument against progressive climate legislation is the effects these measures would have on the economy, but ultimately there is a different economic factor at play.

There isn’t a single climate denier in Congress that isn’t funded by the fossil fuel industry. It’s really not rocket science, no pun intended, on why there is such a robust climate denial opposition. It is purely because we allow unlimited donations in our elections. Citizens United has enabled that. This is the factor that has allowed the fossil fuel industry to just soak the Congress and the federal government at all levels in coal, oil, and gas money. It’s very simple economics. The fossil fuel industry, the biggest industry in the world, gives money to candidates to protect their profits. Make no mistake, they’re the single biggest donors to politicians. Politicians hate losing their jobs and they need campaign contributions to win elections.

And let’s be crystal clear, this is an industry that is ruining the planet. It would be the equivalent of the cigarette industry heavily subsidized so we can get cigarettes in everyone’s hands and cause lung cancer. On that note, nine million people a year die of causes related to breathing in polluted air. What gives me hope is that there is positive progress when you look at the economics of it. Solar and wind is crushing coal at a high rate. It’s cheaper, and it’s a huge job creator. We have already passed the threshold where more people are employed in the clean energy sector than the fossil fuel industry. The job creation that has already come from renewables is very significant and that is really exciting.

Recently you elevated your efforts with the creation of the POW Action Fund.

We realized that to be really effective, we needed to create the POW Action Fund. There are a lot of rules with what a non-profit can do and can’t do around an election, and if you have an action fund, you’re allowed to specifically say, “This candidate is a champion for the environment, and we support this candidate.” Previously, our whole message was “voting is important, vote for the environment.” Now, we can go in and specifically message that, in terms of the environment, this candidate is good and this candidate is bad.

It’s clear that there’s this very loud minority that are staunch climate deniers. We don’t put energy into trying to change the climate denier’s mind. Instead we go into purple states with strong outdoor communities. I say purple state, meaning the margin of winning and losing between the Republicans and Democrats will come down to anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand votes. I liken it to using a scalpel and not a shot gun. What are the key districts in each state that we can bring out a couple hundred votes and change the election by that half of a percent. A half of a percent can make all the difference.

So, you’re banking on the swing vote.

The swing vote and the non-vote. The biggest political party is the non-voting constituency. They are traditionally between 18 and 35, and actually care about the environment. Studies show that there’s a 90% chance that non-voters can vote how we want them to vote.

But is it too late?

Well, I would say the science has been crystal clear. I’ve never heard a scientist say the issue isn’t as bad as we thought it was. We’ve typically underestimated it, if anything. It is really intense where scientists say we’re going to be in 2050 or 2090. Those dates sound really far off, but I had one scientist come to me and say, “You recognize that your grandchildren will most likely be the last generation of skiers and snowboarders in the Tahoe area.” So that is what 2050 looks like. I was with my son watching a talk by a specialist who broke down the climate situation in five minutes with these bullet points that have been in every IPC report that we’ve heard over and over again. My son looked at me, and he’s like, “Is that stuff true? Is it really that bad?” It was really hard for me to say yes. He didn’t need to say anything, his eyes said it all. It was just like, f*ck, we are really doing this future generation a huge disservice.

This article was originally published in SNOWBOARDER Magazine (as their first Layers column, Volume 32.3) and was republished with permission.


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