The Effect of Climate Change on Winter Sports with U.S. Olympic Skier Kaylin Richardson

October 3, 2014

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored to have with us today Kaylin Richardson. She’s a USA Olympic skier. She’s representing I Am Pro Snow today and also climaterealityproject.org. Welcome to Green is Good, Kaylin. KAYLIN RICHARDSON: Thank you, John, for having me. I’m very excited to be here. Love radio; love talking to people like yourself. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, we love you because you’re our first Olympic athlete ever to come on Green is Good after 750 guests and five years. We’re honored to have you on today, so thank you today for your time, Kaylin. KAYLIN RICHARDSON: Nice. Well, I’m so glad to be here, and hopefully I will be the first of many Olympic athletes. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I hope so. Before we get talking about the important work you’re doing with I Am Pro Snow and the Climate Reality Project, I want you to share a little bit about the Kaylin Richardson journey. How did you even get to this point where you’re excited about helping the efforts and becoming part of the solution of climate change and the realities that we face right now of getting from off the barrel and into the energy-efficient mindset across the United States and the world? KAYLIN RICHARDSON: That’s so true. I think that with most people’s values, it stems way back from childhood. I grew up in Minneapolis and the chagrin of both my brothers. I wanted to do everything they were doing, so when they started racing, I followed suit. I made the U.S. Ski Team when I was 15 years old, and then raced the next 10 years internationally. Like you said, I had the honor and privilege to race in two Olympics. I have four national titles. But then in 2010 I retired, which you can’t see this in radio, but I’m putting up air quotes. “I retired,” which for Olympic athletes like myself that you’ve never heard of, that is just a euphemism for saying that I wanted to move on with my life, and I traded my race sports for powder boards and moved to Park City, Utah. Then, in addition to transitioning into a big mountain pro skier, shooting with filmers like Warren Miller and other different outfits, I’ve gotten to do some different things exploring the avenues of entertainment and broadcasting with The Weather Channel during the Sochi Games and NBC Sports and some other things. To take it back to when you asked when I really started getting involved, I have this very keen memory of when I was probably about seven, and I’d spit out gun in a grocery store parking lot, and my mom went, “What did you just do?” I was like, “I just spit out my gum.” It had been raining, and the gum had gone under the car in a puddle, and she made me get down on all fours and get absolutely filthy to get that gum. I remember that was the first lesson where my mom was like, “We don’t litter.” It was a learning moment, but from that age on, it’s just we have to take care of our world. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I love it. How did the issue of climate change become important to you? When did you start seeing that is one of the major issues that your generation was going to be facing on this planet and your children’s generation, of course, are going to have to also inherit whatever change you get to make? When did that start coming into your mindset, and realize that you want to become part of the solution? KAYLIN RICHARDSON: I think that being a winner athlete and being part of the snow sports community, we’re the first group of people that I think have really been keyed into how dire of an issue this is with climate change, because it’s not just our livelihood, but it’s our chosen lifestyle. It’s an issue that affects us all. For those that are deniers and aren’t really taking the credence of all of this, it’s going to happen to them too, but I feel like with this community, it’s a group of people that this is something we love. I think that for any huge problem like this that almost seems insurmountable, you have to come together and it really has to come to the things that you really care about that are going to make a difference. The good thing about climate change is that it’s almost unanimously, all these scientists agree that climate change is happening, and they know what needs to be done. There are steps that have to be taken. I’m like, terrible diseases and poverty and all these other different terrible things that are going on in our world where a solution isn’t that cut and dry, this solution to me that I see is right in front of us. We have control to do something, and that just gets me so excited and so passionate, where I look at people that say, “It’s too big of a problem,” and I’m like, “It’s a big problem, but we have the tools and we have the technology to make huge differences.” JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there that just joined, we’re honored today to have Kaylin Richardson with us. She’s the champion U.S. Olympic skier, and the project that she’s representing today, you can see it at www.climaterealityproject.org. I’m on the site now. It has so much great information. It’s a wonderful site. Before we get talking more about that, I’m not a skier, Kaylin, but I love watching and I appreciate watching great athletes like you, especially champion athletes that have taken it up nine notches. Have you, on the slopes, seen the impacts personally of climate change? KAYLIN RICHARDSON: I definitely have. If you think about my tenure on the World Cup, that was just seven years. That’s a teeny amount of time in the grand scheme of the world. I saw changes with my own eyes in the glaciers. We would go and train in early fall in Europe, and even just during the season, temperatures were rising. The last two years, because I’m a Helly Hansen athlete — that is an outerwear company that’s based out of Norway — the Warren Miller movies I’ve been able to film the last two winters in different parts of the fjords of Norway and in western Norway back two years ago, I was near this town called Olasen. It was raining in February, and you could see these Norwegians were just dumbfounded because they’re like, “This shouldn’t be happening.” Just this last March I was up above the Arctic Circle between the 68th and 69th parallels in a place called the Lofoten Islands. We get there, and the scenery is staggering. It’s absolutely amazingly beautiful. These huge mountains jutting out of the water. We get there, and of course, the people are like, “It’s so great to have you here. We’re so psyched to have Warren Miller come and film,” but then, of course, they’re like, “But this is the warmest and driest winter we’ve had in the last 200 years since we started recording temperatures.” That is not a coincidence. All these things coming together, people can’t continue to ignore it and just sort of be content in their apathy. Even going back to the late ’70s, the spring snow melts used to start two weeks earlier in Colorado, and that’s just over the last not even 40 years. The fact that snow melt starts two weeks earlier. All is connected with the polar ice caps, they’re melting. That’s going to increase the levels of the ocean. It’s all this big kind of mess, but it’s a mess that we can clean up. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You’re now a Climate Ambassador for the Climate Reality Project. I gave the website a couple minutes ago. I’m going to give it again, climaterealityproject.org, and also a Climate Ambassador for the I Am Pro Snow campaign. How did you get involved with that great organization? KAYLIN RICHARDSON: Well, back in early 2012, I just filmed with Warren Miller again, because of the partnership with them for the movie Flow State, and I heard that there were rumors that they were trying to do something together in a concerted effort to take pro skiers and snowboarders to start creating this group of activists to get the awareness out and to encourage people to get involved in this battle. Right away, I wrote an e-mail, and I said, “How can I get involved?” I remember back in 2006 when the documentary An Inconvenient Truth came out, and it really impacted me. I remember during his little talk, his slideshow, when Al Gore quotes Carl Sagan, he pointed out that if the earth were shrunk to the size of a basketball, the atmosphere we all depend on for our very survival would be thinner than a layer of varnish. I remember that quote and the delicateness of the atmosphere and the world that we live in. That really stuck with me. I remember when I heard about the Climate Reality Project, soon after 2006, I remember thinking, “That is a worthy cause.” When I found out that there was this perfect conduit for me to get involved and for me to use my own skillset to help with this plight, I jumped onboard immediately. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s really cool. The U.S. EPA has just recently released the Clean Power Plan, and you’re going to be doing some important work and testifying at the EPA hearings on the Clean Power Plan and the potential that this Power Plan has to make across the country of positive change. Can you explain to our listeners a little bit, Kaylin, about your upcoming testimony and what this really means? What does the Clean Power Plan really mean in laymen’s terms for the public at large? KAYLIN RICHARDSON: Yes. So, I actually already testified on the 29th of July in Denver, and it was also in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Washington, DC, that happened simultaneously. It was a really cool experience to be able to tell my story, through my eyes, what I’ve seen personally because I think that a lot of times people just think this is a government thing, this is a political thing, but it’s not a personal thing. The EPA Clean Power Plan is huge because it’s the largest single action that the U.S. has taken to address climate change. This is something I did not know before starting to work with Climate Reality Project, that while the EPA regulates many pollutants like mercury, sulfur, arsenic, cyanide, these things that you hear about as a kid that could kill you, of course those are regulated. I think that I just sort of thought that carbon pollution, since I’d known from being a little girl and taking science class when I was in elementary school, that it was bad for you. I thought that was regulated as well, but currently, right now, it’s not regulated in any kind of power plants. What also people don’t know is that 40% of all carbon pollution is responsible from power plants. So, if this Clean Power Plan can be enacted, that will take a huge bite out of the carbon pollution in our atmosphere. I just think that because the problem comes from the power sector, it’s something that has to be done, and will also kickstart a movement that we can be a leader and an example for the rest of the world because I think a lot of times these naysayers say, “Even if we do everything right in the U.S., because of places like China and India that don’t make this a priority, nothing will ever change.” What I say is that this gives us the power and know-how to show these other nations that it can be done, and sort of be an example because carbon pollution has been costing dollars and lives for far too long. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Unfortunately, there’s a lot of legacy interests that are heavily invested in the profitability of fossil fuel and other dirty sources that relate to the barrel, that want to maintain the status quo, so great people like you, that are out there in front, working with the Climate Reality Project, get to help hopefully change the paradigm. Talk a little bit about the health and economic benefits from the Clean Power Plan. What would it really mean for a cleaner and better America, and what kind of health and economic benefits could we have if this Clean Power Plan does get adopted here and get implemented? KAYLIN RICHARDSON: I think that it’s all about that connectedness that I’ve been kind of talking about because I don’t think that a lot of people understand that we keep trying to remedy the symptoms, not the force of all these problems. No one has to look very far. You just have to look around your own neighborhood. I’m lucky enough to live up in Park City in the mountains, but just down in Salt Lake City, 10 minutes from my home, there’s a terrible air pollution problem. I remember back in February 2013, I read an article in The New York Times that talked about how there’s this beautiful outdoor oasis that is Salt Lake City because the mountains are right at our disposal, but then it has some of the worst air pollution in the nation at times. A physician made this really compelling illustration. He said that if the 40,000 women in Utah who are pregnant at a certain time suddenly started smoking, that would be a genuine health emergency if all 40,000 of them were like, “OK, we’re going to start smoking a pack a day.” But then he went onto say our levels of air pollution in Salt Lake City are causing the exact same consequences as if all these women were smoking, but no genuine health emergency has been declared. So, it’s one of those things where it’s so arbitrary that it’s not becoming a bigger issue because, like you said, there are those special interest groups and the fossil fuel industry has so much money and can control so much, and as much I love our country and our government, there is corruption, and I think that the cool thing is that everyone’s voice is heard. We’re going to talk about that later, what people can do to be heard. Even asthma attacks are so prevalent, and all these hot days and heat stroke and the temperatures continue to increase. Then you even talk about the dirty weather, like Superstorm Sandy and tsunamis and all this that’s been happening over the last 10 years. People talk about apocalypse, and I just have to laugh. I’m like, “No, this is our doing.” These things will continue, but if they go unabated, it’s just going to become more prevalent. They’ve done a lot of research, and they say that if we were to adopt the Clean Power Plan, we would prevent 150,000 asthma attacks and 100 premature deaths annually by 2030. With the Clean Power Plan, the biggest estimated number and goal that they’re going for is to cut carbon emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. So, the great thing with this plan is it’s very flexible from state to state. Each different state is given different goals and what they need to cut because in each state, they get their power and their electricity from different means. If we could get 30% below that 2005 level, it would be such a huge deal. Also, expanding renewable energy will positively affect the economic climate as well; not just the actual climate, the economic climate, producing so many new jobs than the coal industry during this plan. The climate and health benefits are going to be worth an estimated $55-93 billion by 2030. So, if people like to think about numbers and the monetary gains, we need to start investing in this renewable energy and this new future because, ultimately, it’s going to have to happen anyway. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. One of the great things that we try to do on this show, Kaylin, is to talk about solutions because people really want to become part of the solution once they understand the problem. I was doing some reading on you before you came on the show, and one of things I love that you had said, which is a pet peeve of yours, is when people choose to have elective ignorance. We try to give people entrance points to become part of the solution here, and that’s why I’d love you to do next with the last five minutes or so. Can you share how our guests can become part of the positive change and get behind the Clean Power Plan, how they can support all the great work of the Climate Reality Project and what you’re doing at I Am Pro Snow? Can you share how people can now stand up and be heard? KAYLIN RICHARDSON: Definitely. So, the Clean Power Plan rule is open for public comment until October 16th, so we have less than a month. We need to get as many comments as possible because that really holds a lot of weight. If they can see that people from every corner from the United States are united in this plan, that would speak volumes because, like I said before, the fossil fuel industry is going to fight hard to kill this rule before it takes effect. So, October 16th is a really important date. You can go to climaterealityproject.org, and they make it very easy. It’s an absolutely stunning site to behold, so it’s a very fun place to go visit and get informed, but also they make it very easy for you to fill something out very quickly. You don’t even have to make much of a statement other than, “This is something I believe it and something that needs to change.” Also, if people want to get involved, again, go to the website and there are so many different ways that you can. You can write op-eds or blogs to the local newspaper. But what it really comes down to is just encouraging people to talk about it. I think that a lot of times people don’t want to be the humdrum Debbie Downer at the dinner party by bringing this up and talking about it, but I think, like you said, a lot of times people just don’t know. They’re uninformed, and I think that our current media does a very good job of skewing different things, so that if you can get the information and have a little preparation going in these conversations because I, myself, have talked to some of my best friends, and they are completely uninformed. It doesn’t have to be combative at all. It can be fun, and you can talk about that this is something that can definitely change, and to be part of this at the forefront of this huge movement, is something cool. I think that it’s something that we can share together, and it really comes down to the three different things, your time, your dime, and voice. Your time just means going to the websites, filling out these letters to senators, these letters to the EPA showing that you care, maybe going to different public hearings or different speeches and giving your support. Also, there’s your dime. Whether it’s giving your money to organizations like Climate Reality Project or buying green. I think that a lot of times people think that, “Turning off my lights doesn’t make a difference,” or “Investing in a car that uses an alternate energy, whether it’s a Prius or a Leaf or whatever,” all those things add up. Also, I think it’s just a mentality, that if you make the effort to every day think of how you can change. I started riding my bike a bunch. If I’ve forgotten something at the grocery store, or if I had the time to ride my bike instead of drive my car, I’d do it. In the grand scheme of things, is that going to make a huge impact in 100 years? Probably not, but it’s my own choice, and it’s also me setting an example for others that a lot of small choices make a huge difference. Lastly, people using their voice, like I’ve been talking about this whole time. I think that people don’t understand that just them talking to a couple other people, it’s that ripple effect where, as you can see, it’s something I’m passionate about. It’s something that is so interesting and so solvable, that you can help. The thing is if just you yourself, even if you don’t talk to anyone else, if you go and you submit a comment to the EPA, that is becoming part of the collective, and that’s when big things happen. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome, and that’s so well-said. Thank you, Kaylin, for coming on today. What a great job. What a great ambassador you are. For our listeners out there that want to learn more and want to join this movement and want to become part of the great solution and support the Clean Power Plan, the new EPA plan, please go to www.climaterealityproject.org. Thank you, Kaylin, for being such an inspiring climate ambassador and champion athlete. You are truly living proof that green is good.