Earlier this month, Protect our Winters New Zealand hosted a constructive climate conversation with U.S. ski team members Sydney Palmer-Leger and Julia Kern, along with climate scientists Todd Redpath and Kelli Archer. The group discussed the gravity of being conscious of your carbon footprint and making individual changes. As citizens of a vastly changing world, Sydney and Julia recognize that they do not possess all the facts about climate change. Yet, they acknowledge how crucial it is to speak up and voice their climate concerns on their international platforms; “Vote! Use your voice! Focus on reaching leaders and government and make individual decisions that do not cost your money. Using your voice is free!” As professional athletes, they believe it is vital to share climate news and work to gain support from more sustainable sponsors, thereby promoting positive consumerism. As athletes who need to make a living off skiing, Sydney and Julia highlight their imperfect advocacy while emphasizing the importance of conversing with political leaders, governing bodies, and businesses about sustainability. They believe that asking questions and engaging in critical climate discussions are essential ways to work toward positive change and inspiring others. Advocacy actions they have taken include; speaking with FIS (the international ski federations) about restructuring the competition calendar to minimise travel and maximise natural snow, phone banking local residents to ask them to vote, and using their social media presence to share their experiences and ask for advocacy efforts from their followers.
If you’d like to learn about how to turn your passion into purpose and find common ground as a climate advocate you can take the same course US ski team athletes have been using with Crux Academy. Finding Common Ground: How To Be A Climate Advocate (crux.academy)
Over the past 40 years, social scientists in environmental psychology have examined human behavior in the context of environmental sustainability, searching for the best approaches to encourage climate-friendly behavior. Research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA combined the results of 430 individual studies that studied environmental-related behaviors. The results suggest that financial incentives and social pressures work better at changing behaviors than education and feedback reports, reinforcing what environmental psychologists have found when looking at these two interventions in isolation. Financial incentives, such as cash payments, coupons, or reimbursements, have a consistently positive effect on changing behavior. The influence of social comparisons has broad scientific consensus, demonstrating that people are affected by other people’s behaviors and opinions. Research has shown that individuals conform to social norms to gain the approval of others or to behave appropriately. The more we see others engaging with behavioral changes, the more likely we are to join alongside them. Consequently, advising policy leaders and advocacy groups to spread the word about local climate change efforts and actions can encourage large-scale behavioral changes.
Susan Joy Hassol, director of Climate Communication, a nonprofit outreach project, explains, “People judge their behavior against what others are doing. There’s a strong tendency to conform to social norms. For instance, those who know someone who has stopped flying because of climate change are more likely to curtail their flying—and the social effect increases if a high-profile person stops flying. This social contagion is why it’s so important to talk about the climate actions you take.” Furthermore, talking about your actions with the communities around you can directly spark productive behavior modifications in others.
In the Magazine of the Sierra Club, writer Mallory Mcduff spoke to a professor of communication studies at the University of Rhode Island to learn how to better engage in climate change dialogues; ” One of Diamond’s main objectives is to help people talk about climate beyond political identities—to create conversation focused around identities such as being a parent, an outdoor recreationist, or a South Islander, rather than being a National or Labour voter.
When discussing climate change, Sydney and Julia found success after finding common ground. Sometimes it might seem like leaders are too different and it’s impossible to have a conversation with them, let alone ask for policy changes. But chances are, the leaders you’re engaging with share some common passions, that may be skiing, or spending time with their children, or enjoying a craft beer. All of these are impacted by climate change. Becoming better acquainted with those around us and their interests can grant individuals the opportunity to encourage constructive behavior changes. Environmental psychology studies also emphasize that people often change their behaviors based on personal and familial health. It might be that your local MP doesn’t care about melting glaciers, but they almost certainly care about clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment for them and their family. Some stories the ski team have shared with their politicians include talking about how they’re unable to complete their summer training sometimes because there’s too much smoke in the air, or it’s dangerously hot, and exercising is too risky.
Systemic change is critical to fighting the climate crisis, but human behavior is at the foundation of the problem and, therefore, a critical part of finding a solution. Athletes have a huge amount of influence, both political leaders, and members of society look up to them as trusted messengers. By training and providing support to athletes with storytelling, climate communication, environmental education, and climate actions we can help the outdoor community to make some impactful change. As we get closer to the national elections, let’s spread our passion for the outdoors and find common ground with candidates and voters. We can collectively help people align their environmental values with their actions.