Jake Jensen: Climate change should be centered around more serious matters than outdoor recreation

Impact of climate change will be far more serious than fewer good powder days in Utah.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Snow is made near the base of Solitude Mountain Resort opening day on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, as Utah resorts see limited snow accumulation for the start of the season.

The outdoor industry has become increasingly outspoken about the threat it faces from climate change. Utah’s local ski resorts and the president of Snowsports Industries America, a Utahn himself, have even given their say on the matter.

Though many of us appreciate the response from the outdoor industry on the subject, the overall message of their argument is frequently flawed, only focusing on how climate change will affect outdoor recreation. With climate change posing an existential threat to biodiversity, longstanding social norms and even human life, our fight against climate change should be centered around more serious matters than outdoor recreation.

It’s evident that the effects of climate change are here, and we know that we need to transition to renewable energy as soon as possible to mitigate the effects, but what are our reasons for making this transition and protecting the environment? Any argument towards transitioning to renewable energy holds merit, but the reasons for supporting this transition are relevant and worth discussion.

Arguments for environmental protection should extend deeper than an imagined right we feel to powder days, which seems to be the common rhetoric of statements made by those in the outdoor industry with some articles looking only at how climate change will affect snowfall in ski areas.

Though many people, myself included, enjoy the outdoor recreation access in Salt Lake City, our support for a transition to renewable energy cannot begin and end with our ability to continue to ski, bike or climb in the Wasatch Mountains or elsewhere. There are severe consequences of climate change that are occurring right now and will continue to occur more frequently, and their relevance far exceeds the threats faced by the outdoor industry from climate change.

Sea level rise, drought, increased natural disasters and the potential creation of climate refugees are just a few examples of the effects of climate change that should be at the center of our discussions on the topic. Human lives and major global changes that will be forced through the effects of climate change should be the emphasis of our transition to renewable energy. The people of Kiribati, whose island in the central Pacific could be completely submerged in water within several decades, surely feel no sympathy for our lack of powder days in recent years.

Now, none of this is to say that the livelihoods of outdoor industry workers and the value of outdoor recreation don’t matter. Loss of local jobs and outdoor recreation is no small concern. However, in arguments pertaining to a needed transition to renewable energy, these maybe aren’t the climate change effects we should be focusing on.

I applaud the outdoor industry in Utah for speaking out in support of a transition to renewable energy, but I implore them to center their support around the more serious effects of climate change that we will continue to see. It would do us all some good to spend more time reflecting on the place of privilege we hold in discussions surrounding climate change and less time trying to figure out how many people we can squeeze up the canyon on a winter day.

Jake Jensen

Jake Jensen is a student in his senior year of his undergraduate degree at the University of Utah studying environmental and sustainability studies.