Growing up in the Midwest, winter was a special time. The first snowfall every year meant a return to the winter sports we love, like skiing. For both of us, our love of the environment and our desire to protect it began during those beloved winters in our homes of Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Whether one grows up skiing, surfing, hiking or just simply enjoying the outdoors on a nice day, nearly everyone creates an emotional bond with nature. It’s something — one of the few things left, really — that has the potential to unite all people across geography, ideology and other divisions. Progressives in Seattle can often be found hiking in the Cascades, while conservatives in Alabama may find solace on an early morning in the duck blind. Our planet is the common denominator.
In recent years, Midwestern winters have changed. As one of us previously wrote, climate change threatens our white Christmases and snowy winters. Since 1930, 57% of weather stations have seen a decrease in annual snowfall, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In Benji’s hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin, winters are warmer now, and snowfall is less frequent.
Meanwhile, as Jessie races the World Cup circuit around Europe, cities that depend on winter tourism and historically had a steady snowfall throughout winter now have had to stockpile humanmade snow to make it through the season. She’s witnessing melting snow and flowers blooming alongside the trail in late November while skiing on the Arctic Circle in Finland. These sights and the reality of what these winter-based communities are now facing around the world remind us of the continuing need for action on climate.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by facts and data, but personal experiences are easily understandable, and they shape who we are and how we view the world. We can learn a lot by sharing our stories, and those bonds help us unite behind a cause.
We both got involved in climate advocacy largely because of the meaningful time we’ve spent in nature and the effects of climate change we’ve experienced firsthand. While what we’re witnessing can make the situation seem daunting, it’s our deep love for our planet that keeps us involved in climate advocacy and gives us hope for the future.
Because love for the planet is nonpartisan, conservation should be a goal that both Democrats and Republicans can share. While the Democratic Party had an early start addressing climate change for a few decades, Republicans are increasingly engaged in advocacy and legislating when it comes to our environment. For example, in April of last year, Olympians and Republican members of Congress gathered in Washington, D.C., to talk about the need to act on reducing pollution and slowing warming. A shared love and concern for our natural environment brought the two groups together through the efforts of the Protect Our Winters Action Fund and the American Conservation Coalition.
In order to reduce emissions and slow warming, we will need a dynamic approach to the issue. And the approach in Minnesota will look different than the one in New York City or Florida or even Arizona. Having as many voices at the table as possible will be crucial in developing a comprehensive climate strategy. Climate change is a global issue that presents local challenges.
Together, we are hopeful that we can protect the natural spaces — what Protect Our Winters calls the borderless “Outdoor State” — that millions of people around the world cherish. Bipartisan policies that increase resilience and reduce emissions are more economically viable and turnkey than ever before. Together, we can use our voices to advocate for them. We won’t always agree on the right path forward, but our shared love for this planet will keep us grounded in our quest for solutions.
Jessie Diggins is a three-time Olympic medalist in Nordic skiing and a member of the Protect Our Winters Athlete Alliance and Board. Benji Backer is the president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition and a Deseret contributor.