The outdoor community must step up and become advocates & activists–NOW.

Yesterday in Salt Lake City, the EPA held a public hearing on the Regional Haze Rule (think: Clean Air Act). You know, the seemingly no-brainer effort to clean up the air around Utah and some of it’s most beautiful outdoor spaces.

It came across my desk from the OIA government affairs team as something we wanted to show some support for (again, no-brainer). When I was doing some social promotion around the event, I pictured a big rally of outdoor advocates all singing the praises of cleaner air and literally thought to myself, “I wonder how much of an impact this will make since it’s basically just going to be a big hoorah all from the outdoor community. Will the opposing side even notice that this hearing is happening?

I was incredibly, profoundly wrong in my assumption.

This is what outdoor athletes Caroline Gleich and Brody Leven experienced yesterday when they attended the meeting. Just hearing their stories digitally was enough for me to wake up and snap to attention. This is not the scene I had envisioned in my head:

On the front lines today with @brodyleven at the EPA public hearing about regional haze in Utah’s national parks. It seems like all of Carbon County fit in two busloads to represent the interests of the coal power plants. We felt like the underdogs. The outdoor/tourism industries were seriously underrepresented. I’ve never been so nervous to speak in front of a group. When I started speaking, I could feel the hostility in the air. But I shared my story and the facts. Utah’s outdoor recreation and tourism industries bring in $12.2 billion dollars per year. It’s important to clean up the air around the parks and reduce the emissions from coal burning power plants. When I was done, hardly anyone clapped. We need to get more young people and outdoor people to come to these things. We need to make signs and speak up. It’s our air and our future. It’s scary and not always fun, but it’s hugely important to protect the quality of life and the Utah we love. At the end, I gave the coal miners a smile and a wave. I came to realize our goals aren’t that different. We are both trying to protect our livelihood- our jobs and the lifestyle we know. It’s just the path to the future that we disagree on. #cleanair4utah @protectourwinters @healutah @sierraclub

A photo posted by Caroline Gleich (@carolinegleich) on

As it turns out, the pro-coal attendance far overwhelmed the presence of outdoor advocates. Folks from Carbon County (yes, that’s really the name of the county) were actually shuttled to Salt Lake City by the busload to make sure the coal industry was heard loud and clear. Inside the building, the hearing was packed with these representatives, and Brody observed that there were hundreds more rallying outside as well. Brody told me they basically had to sneak into the event. He saw signs that said “Fossil fuels are beautiful.” When Caroline finished her testimony about the importance of cleaning up the air around Utah’s beautiful outdoor spaces and protecting the health of the state’s community, she noted that hardly anyone clapped.

That scene is embarrassing. Look at the statistics for the outdoor industry: we generate $646 billion in consumer spending annually, and create 6.1 million direct jobs. That’s 6.1 million people whose livelihood is connected to the health of our outdoor spaces. In Utah, at least 82% of residents participate in outdoor recreation each year. So where were we during yesterday’s hearing? Why wasn’t there a loud and proud standing ovation when Caroline concluded her speech?

And none of this includes the much more obvious fact: this isn’t just about our parks, this is about the air you breathe every single day. In parks, in cities, everywhere. This is about the air you breathe, the air your families breathe, the air that future generations will be breathing.

Image via Unsplash

Do I have you riled up yet? Good. Here’s a place to start taking action: You can submit formal comment on this Clean Air Act until 3/14/16.

The outdoor community needs to do more than just love our outdoor spaces: we need to become strong advocates and activists for the issues that affect our industry. Not just clean air, but on a laundry list of initiatives that need our support, from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to wildfire funding. And don’t even get me started on the public lands heist.

If you truly care about the places you play, you need to do something about it. Posting beautiful Instagrams of Arches National Park won’t mean anything when the air there makes you ill, and saving up for months to buy a new ice axe won’t matter when global warming means your favorite routes never get cold enough to freeze. When your favorite forest burns to a crisp because you didn’t speak up about the importance of wildfire funding–that’s all on you. Sign those petitions, they matter. E-mail, call, and tweet your representatives–they’re listening. Attend community events, share these issues on social media, support organizations like Outdoor Alliance and Protect Our Winters.

The outdoor community has such potential to be so strong and so loud and so impactful–let’s make that happen together.

Disclaimer: Opinions here are my own and are in no way affiliated with OIA. But if you want to learn more about OIA’s stance on this issue, check out this recreation alert. For more on OIA’s climate change policy, read more here