Climate Pros and Foes

By on March 25, 2014
As the first person ever to ski down the Seven Summits, Kit DesLauriers is uniquely qualified to discuss the effects of climate change at high elevations
As the first person ever to ski down the Seven Summits, Kit DesLauriers is uniquely qualified to discuss the effects of climate change at high elevations

As the first person ever to ski down the Seven Summits, Kit DesLauriers is uniquely qualified to discuss the effects of climate change at high elevations

JACKSON, WYO – Athlete activist and nonprofit group talk climate science with local students

As the ink from Gov. Matt Mead’s signature dried on a hurried budget amendment blocking funds to teach new national science standards – which include teaching climate change as a human-caused problem – Journeys School students learned about climate science from local pro-skier and mountaineer Kit DesLauriers.

“Whenever I ski the Grand, which I do about once every spring, I’ve noticed every year that there’s been less and less snow at higher elevations earlier and earlier in the season,” DesLauriers told students. “These changes that I’ve seen here, and that I’ve seen on almost every continent, and during the time that I volunteer at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, have made me really concerned.”

Educating Journeys School students about climate change on behalf of the nonprofit Protect Our Winters, spearheaded by pro-snowboarder Jeremy Jones in 2007, DesLauriers was the first person to ski down all of the Seven Summits. When asked by a student which mountain was hardest to ski, DesLauriers responded soberly, “Everest, definitely.” But it was the Tetons that forged the ski mountaineer’s relationship with snow in the first place, and impassions her now to raise awareness among students about climate change.

Connecting with her young audience of sixth and seventh graders, DesLauriers shared core Jackson Hole affinities. “My favorite thing is to be outside in the winter. Skiing is my dance – it’s my thing. In time, things could be different, and not as amazing.

It can be so sad when we realize it may not be as great as we have at this moment. Skiing is just my art form, and I want to protect that for future generations,” she said, earning robust applause.

Governor Matt Mead and Representative Matt Teeters

Governor Matt Mead and Representative Matt Teeters

DesLauriers told students she joined Jones, who launched POW to mobilize the winter sports community, in order to combat climate change. Last year, President Obama nominated Jones a “Champion Of Change” for his work fighting climate change with POW.

“We represent the global snow sports community – there are 23 million of us in the U.S. alone. Clearly, its time for us all to step up and take responsibility to save the season that fuels our passions, and is also the foundation for our livelihoods, our jobs and the economic vitality of our mountain regions,” Jones states on POW’s website, noting U.S. snow-based recreation contributes $67 billion annually and supports more than 900,000 jobs. “So when we look at the cost of inaction, it’s serious business,” Jones emphasizes.

After hearing from DesLauriers and viewing a POW video on the science of climate change, featuring a tribe of world class skiers and riders sharing reasons for their commitment to fight climate change, a handful of sixth grade students were asked what they came away with from the presentation.

“I got that climate change is really happening,” said snowboarder Stephen Bailey. “When I go up Teton Pass, I’m going to pay more attention to how the snowpack is changing.”

Budding champion ski racer Alexandera Howard offered, “I really need to change and be more conscious of energy use, turn off the water and lights, and try not to use so much energy.”

“Some people care in Sweden,” said Swedish skier Anna Leideman. “I’m going to heighten awareness and try and get more people to pay attention to what’s going on.”

Skier siblings Gains and Darcy Mueller were reflective: “I understood about climate change, but I didn’t know it was affecting our environment so much,” Gains said, “and now I really understand – the glaciers melting so fast and the [impacts to and decline of] walruses; I am already trying to do some things.”

“Can you imagine a world if we do not stop CO2?” Darcy asked.

“Drought, death and starvation,” DesLauriers answered. “The range of effects would be like a gigantic bell curve and very unstable; though it could mean we’re pushed to do some very good things eventually.”

If the snowpack vanished and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort shut down, how would climate change affect the Jackson Hole economy, wondered seventh grader Reed Carlman.

DesLauriers pointed to total loss of ski resort jobs and the tanking of winter ski-related tourism.

Wyoming recently became the second U.S. state, after South Carolina, to reject the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), specifically opposing provisions that teach students about climate change related to fossil fuel combustion.

Based on framework developed by the National Academy of Sciences Resource Council, NGSS, among other topics, teaches climate change is human-caused and about evolution. Twenty-six broad-based state teams worked together with a 41-member writing team and education partners throughout the country to develop the standards.

Rep. Matt Teeters, R – Goshen County, authored the budget rider to block NGSS implementation in Wyoming schools. Teeters said teaching climate change as fact would “wreck Wyoming’s economy … and cause other unwanted political ramifications,“ according to the Casper Star Tribune.

State Board of Education Chairman Ron Micheli agrees with Teeters. “I don’t accept, personally, that [climate change] is a fact,” Micheli told the Tribune. “[The standards are] very prejudiced in my opinion against fossil-fuel development.”

The State Board of Education ignored the unanimous recommendation of a committee of 30 some science specialists urging the board to adopt NGSS. Instead, according to the Tribune, the board asked the committee to revise standards to present climate change as theory, not fact, and to present the benefits of Wyoming mineral extraction.

Wyoming Citizens Opposing Common Core, a nonprofit group formed to oppose NGSS, hailed Wyoming’s rejection of the standards.

“The NGSS cannot be called objective, something parents and the business community expect of a quality science education,” the group’s website states, adding, “The disciplinary core ideas discuss several topics that require educators to teach unproven theories without demonstrating a balanced comparison to opposing ideas, most notably when dealing with human impact on the earth, climate change (global warming), and evolution.”

On behalf of Climate Parents, a nonprofit group that supports NGSS, Marguerite Herman garnered more than 12,000 signatures backing the adoption of NGSS in Wyoming schools. Herman argues, “It is a dangerous precedent to allow those who deny climate science for ideological or economic reasons to censor the science education kids need to be ready for college, career, and a changing climate.”
To date, nine states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards, which were finalized in 2013. The Wyoming State Board of Education plans this week to consider Herman’s Climate Parents petition.

About Jeanne Ball

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