John C. Walbrecht: Protecting lifestyles and livelihoods in Utah starts with bold climate action

Gear isn’t enough when there is no snow and the air is dangerous.

As an outdoor brand based in Holladay, at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon, our community, employees and customers are passionate about the places they love to play. And our gear, from carabiners that help climbers safely reach the summit to jackets that keep skiers warm in sub-zero temperatures, helps people who enjoy the outdoors get out there.

But climate change is making outdoor recreation less safe and accessible, and in turn putting the lifestyle and livelihoods of millions of Utahns at risk. It is a safety issue that gear won’t solve. That’s why we need our elected officials to make climate-forward policies a top priority at every opportunity, including the upcoming budget reconciliation process.

This summer, we’ve felt the effects of a warmer world every day. June was Salt Lake’s hottest month since the National Weather Service started keeping records — in 1874. And wildfire smoke has meant countless days with air quality so poor that it’s nearly impossible to get outside. This means our community is running on treadmills instead of trails and forgoing family camping trips for family movie nights.

As a company committed to ensuring that people can find adventure in the world’s most beautiful places, it’s clear that we need climate solutions if we want our children and grandchildren to experience an outdoor lifestyle we treasure.

The recent bipartisan infrastructure legislation, which is waiting for a vote in the House, is a necessary first step toward investing in urgently needed climate solutions, but more action is needed. According to the most recent report released by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.”

While wildfires are a natural part of the West’s ecology, this report signals that these blazes will only become more frequent and more severe in the coming years. That means more trail closures, poor air quality and hotter temperatures will keep Utahns indoors during the summer months, when we should be exploring the outdoors with family and friends.

As a leading gear manufacturer, our goal is to ensure that our customers are comfortable and safe as they weather the elements. There are 50 million people who regularly recreate outdoors, which Protect Our Winters calls the Outdoor State, and a major part of keeping them outdoors is a stable climate.

But we can’t stabilize the climate alone; we need leaders with the will to act quickly on necessary systemic changes in how we make energy and move around.

Investing in the very infrastructure our nation relies on to do business can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and contribute to climate solutions. Upgrading our electric grid to run on renewable energy, ending federal subsidies to fossil fuel companies and providing incentives and building infrastructure that will make electric vehicles accessible to all Americans will go a long way toward transitioning to a renewable economy and contributing to climate solutions.

Yet as an outdoor recreation company, working in an industry that supports over 83,000 jobs and contributes $6.4 billion to the state’s economy, perhaps the most important action we can take is ensuring a place for all workers in an economy run on renewables. We believe that protecting our world-class recreational opportunities should never come at the expense of local jobs. So an important part of climate-forward leadership means providing workforce development and well-paying, clean energy jobs that Utahns can depend on within efforts to address climate change.

This moment, as the bipartisan infrastructure bill awaits a vote and the budget reconciliation is finalized in Washington, D.C., presents Utah’s leaders with a unique opportunity to demonstrate bipartisan leadership. We applaud Sen. Mitt Romney for taking a leading role in crafting the bipartisan infrastructure legislation.

But last week’s IPCC report clearly showed that the limited climate action in the infrastructure bill will not be enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the levels needed to ensure future generations will experience clean air, clean water and a healthy planet.

We need our elected officials to champion climate-forward policies during the budget reconciliation process this month. It is our best chance at taking meaningful action.

Utah can and should champion forward-thinking climate leadership by making our everyday actions more sustainable. Implementing electric vehicle incentives and infrastructure, transitioning our grid to renewable energy, and ensuring a just worker transition will contribute to a vibrant economy in the state for years to come — and ensure a future where we can spend our summers outside breathing clean air and and our winters in the snow.

John C. Walbrecht | Black Diamond

John C. Walbrecht is president of Utah-based global outdoor brand Black Diamond Equipment, which is a Protect Our Winters brand alliance partner. @BlackDiamond