Jeremy Jones has a big appetite for mammoth challenges. Whether it’s making snowboarding films on “un-rideable” backcountry peaks or designing the next generation of snowboards or establishing the nonprofit Protect Our Winters (POW) to mobilize the outdoor sports community to address climate change, he’s demonstrated a considerable aptitude for finding bold solutions to seemingly impossible tasks. His latest test—and arguably his biggest—is to see if he can convince cold-weather-loving adventure athletes of all stripes to vote in Tuesday’s midterm elections.
We caught up by phone with Jones, a former National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, in his home base in Truckee, California, to discuss his views around what’s at stake in this election and his latest film, Ode to Muir.
Watch Ode to Muir, Jones’s latest film, featuring backyard Sierras exploration in the footsteps of philosopher conservationist John Muir, in a 24-hour digital premiere on TetonGravity.com from Sunday, 11/4 through Monday, 11/5.
Why is POW putting such an emphasis on this election?
This is the most important election of my lifetime, and it’s truly an “all hands on deck” moment. We know from the science that we are on the path of doom, quite frankly. It’s World War III. The Pentagon knows it. They’re gearing up for it. And here we are, not even talking about it.
Right now, our government is run by 51 percent climate deniers to 49 percent climate champions. We need to move that two percentage points. Then, we can start really going full tilt on embracing the solutions to climate change. My hope, in a perfect world, at this next presidential election, people are debating solutions to climate change, not whether or not it’s happening.
What is POW’s strategy?
Our fundamental strategy is focused on young non-voters. The biggest political party in the country is the non-voting party. It’s almost the same size as the Republican and Democratic parties. Our strategy is looking at all of these elections and understanding where we can bring those new voters to get a win in a tight, “purple” race. The Pow Action Fund is spending between $400-500,000 on this election cycle.
For example, Washington has Initiative 1631 (which, if passed, would make it the first state to tax large emitters of carbon). We’re pushing a couple of races in Nevada, and in Montana supporting Democratic Senator Jon Tester’s reelection. Then there are a couple of races in Colorado and my district, California's 4th.
We don’t spend time trying to switch a climate denier. We recognize that we can win by getting people who believe in climate change off the sidelines.
In the 11 years since you’ve started POW, what have you learned about politics?
How hard it is to get someone to vote is mind-boggling to me. It’s never been easier to vote, yet the experts say you have to have 12 communications with someone to get them to go from a non-voter to a voter.
Did you have an ah-ha moment when climate change really hit you?
I definitely noticed it at a glacier in Chamonix. There is a glacier where they mark its recession—you see these really small increments of recession, and then about 15 years ago the receding rate just starts escalating. Now, it is really escalating, year to year.
Also, in 2005 I was in Prince Rupert, Canada, at a closed ski resort with some locals who were in their early 30s. The resort was shut down, but I was hiking it with them. They were showing me different jumps and the warming hut. They just loved it. I asked, “Why isn’t it open anymore?” They said, “We just don’t get snow here anymore.”
That was kind of a tipping point to something that we were already seeing. My life, my job is to be really intricately connected with snow. We were seeing changes in snow, but that was probably the final straw that made me start POW.
What would you say the outdoor recreation industry has done to respond to climate change?
We look at the other sectors that wield a ton of power in the federal government—the fossil fuel industry and the pharmaceutical industry, both incredibly powerful. The outdoor industry is actually bigger than both of those combined. The Outdoor Industry of America has published a study that says outdoor recreation supports 7.6 million jobs and creates $887 billion in economic revenue. But then consider how little we in the industry do collectively for climate change. This is changing, thankfully. The support to protect Bears Ears, led by Patagonia, was a really awesome first step. Quite frankly, I’ve been waiting for the industry to take that second step on climate. Because while Bears Ears was going down, the Trump administration was moving to open up offshore drilling in California and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The outdoor industry is waking up, which is great. But again, time is running out. A scientist put it to me the other night. He said, “You realize that a kid learning to ski or snowboard today, their kid will be the last kid to ski or snowboard in Tahoe.” How doesn’t that scare the crap out of the outdoor and ski industry?
What’s your response to when climate skeptics point out that lately we’ve seen massive, even record, snowfalls in the Sierras and elsewhere?
You have to look at the long-term trends. Something like 15 out of the last 16 years have been the warmest ever recorded. We also understand that the warming climate will create stronger storms. We’ve seen this trend probably in the last six years, where it’s a true feast or famine. You’ll have this extreme blizzard in one area and extreme drought in the other area.
So, it’s kind of like playing the lottery. I’m confident that there is going to be some place next winter that just gets buried by snow. But on the flip-side, unfortunately, that’s maybe one out of 10 places. On the other side of that is this extreme drought that is unfortunately much more common than these extreme blizzards.
How does your new film Ode to Muir fit into this agenda?
Ode to Muir is totally, at the end of the day, a “get out the vote” movie. It’s the most important film I’ve ever made. There’s very little snowboarding in it, but I’d say it’s an adventure film that talks about politics and the Paris Agreement and voting and Congress. But we do it in a very natural uplifting manner. It’s currently showing in all purple states. And we are doing a 24-hour digital premiere on tetongravity.com of it Sunday and Monday before the election.
Would you ever consider running for office in the future?
Oh, man, I would really like to avoid that. My goal is not to go there, for sure.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.