Nature lovers working against climate change
Canada’s climate is warming twice as fast as the global average. Sea ice is melting. Our arctic permafrost is thawing. Popular winter traditions are being erased for the next generation of Canadian children. More and more Canadians are saying enough is enough.
Heading to your town’s frozen-over pond to skate is a Canadian rite of passage for many kids. It’s one that David Erb, executive director of Protect Our Winters Canada, cherishes. And it’s a tradition he fears his son won’t be able to enjoy.
“My birthday is December 29th,” says Erb. “Growing up in Ontario, we always had a rink in our backyard for my birthday parties. I have a son who was born in January and loves to play hockey. Today, it is questionable if we can have a rink in January anymore. We see this in all the outdoor sports we do as a family.”
But it’s not just during the cold season that our sporting hopes are melting. We’re seeing the effects of climate change all year round.
“You hear stories all the time,” says Erb. “Last August, I was in Whistler, BC, for Crankworx—the international mountain biking festival—and there was smoke everywhere. They couldn’t run some of the events because of all the wildfires.”
From coast to coast to coast, we’re seeing the effects of global warming. In Nova Scotia, they’re worried about rising sea levels, flooding of beaches and boardwalks, and the collapse of local fishing.
In Ontario, experts warn that the ski season’s duration could drop by up to 32 percent in the next few years and the snowmobiling season could lose up to 87 days in the coming years.
And Alberta recently averaged $673 million a year in insured losses due to climate-related extreme weather events.
The list goes on, from province to province, territory to territory. In a race against the clock, Protect Our Winters Canada is galvanizing athletes and outdoor enthusiasts across the country to protect all that we love in the Great White North.
Climber and United Nations Mountain Hero Will Gadd. Skicross athlete and Olympic gold medallist Ashleigh McIvor. Paralympian skier and gold medallist Joshua Dueck. Mountain biker and Canadian championship winner Casey Brown.
What do these Canadian athletes have in common, besides their passion for the great outdoors? Their passion for protecting those same natural spaces. These Protect Our Winters ambassadors are on the frontlines every day seeing first-hand how climate change is impacting their favourite ski slopes, mountain bike trails, and rock climbing faces.
“Protect Our Winters Canada is a group of people wanting to connect their passion with purpose,” says Erb. It all started in 2007 when snowboarder Jeremy Jones watched some of his favourite snowboarding resorts close because of the gradual loss of snow.
He and his friends had nowhere to go to bring together their collective worries about climate change, so Protect Our Winters was born. It has grown to include all Canadians who love our wild, unbridled forests, lakes, and mountains. “Though our name may suggest otherwise, we’re creating a community that resonates with the entire outdoor community,” explains Erb. “Not just skiers and snowboarders but also hikers and climbers and bikers and paddlers.”
The collective voice of these enthusiasts is being heard around the globe. “With our athletes and with our partners, our message reaches more than 10 million people,” says Erb.
Protect Our Winters offers numerous key initiatives, but one is especially critical: Hot Planet-Cool Athletes pairs Canadian professional athletes with schools to inspire students to take action.
“We reach 10,000 high school students a year with this program,” says Erb. “It’s in really high demand. We have more than 40 schools on our waiting list.
“These high school students know more about climate change than we can teach them, and for the most part they’re all on board with the type of change that needs to happen,” says Erb. “But what they don’t have are the tools and ideas to take action and use their voice. So our whole presentation is about taking personal collective action.”
Right now, Protect Our Winters has 10 regional chapters:
“Joining a regional chapter is the best way to get involved,” says Erb. “These are outdoor enthusiasts with shared values who want to do what they can to protect the places and experiences we all love. There’s a lot of value in knowing you’re not alone and that you’re part of a community of people who want to work together for good. We bring those people together and equip them with what they need, and give them freedom to decide how to best make a difference.”
Although we’re home to just 0.5 percent of the world’s population, Canada contributes four times that amount of total global greenhouse gas emissions. This makes Canadians among the highest greenhouse gas emitters, per person, in the world.
A few months ago, one regional chapter hosted a #GetCraftyForClimate party at a local brewery. “The group invited people from the community to make creative signs for a climate march,” explains Erb. “Another regional chapter did a similar event at a local bakery.”
These 10 regional chapters are just the start. “We’re looking at where there are big cycling communities or ski resorts or a strong mountain climbing presence, to see where to grow our regional chapters,” says Erb. “Where there’s an alignment, we’ll invest time and energy into those places to get people out there, to get people voting for climate champions.
“People come to us at different stages, some with lots of knowledge about climate change while others are on the sidelines and don’t consider themselves activists,” says Erb. “But it’s a space we all need to get into.”
Each Canadian produces an average of 22 tonnes of greenhouse gas every year, three times higher than the average in the G20 countries. Let’s change these statistics!
Compared to eating meat, a vegan diet reduces your carbon footprint by approximately 60 percent. Going vegetarian slashes your greenhouse gas emissions by half. Eating food that is produced using regenerative agriculture methods is also thought to be helpful.
Canadians use more power than anyone else in the world. Choose energy-efficient lightbulbs, appliances, and devices. Better yet, unplug anything that’s not in use. From hairdryers to toasters to coffee makers, plugged-in unused devices account for 10 percent of your home’s energy consumption.
Choose quality, made-to-last pieces; support local designers using eco-friendly fabrics and dyes; or shop at thrift stores. “Fast fashion” creates 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (to say nothing of the industry’s human rights violations).
It’s important to reduce, reuse, and recycle, but too often we focus on the last step instead of first by asking, “Do I really need this?” It’s important to buy ethically and cut waste, but buying less has a bigger immediate impact.
Politicians only listen to groups like Protect Our Winters if these groups represent a lot of voters. Head to protectourwinters.ca to add your name to the movement.
For more information on joining or starting a regional Protect Our Winters chapter, contact program coordinator Izzy Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re a student, a concerned parent, or a teacher or school administrator, invite an inspiring athlete to talk to your school at hotplanetcoolathletes.ca.
Joshua Duvauchelle is a regular alive contributor. joshduv.com
A version of this article was published in the January 2020 issue of alive Canada with the title “Protect Canadian Winters.”