We're screwed. While thinking of what to say on stage to a theater full of skiers and outdoor adventure seekers the day after the most contentious election in modern American history, I couldn't resist that negative sentiment.
My colleagues and I at Powder were on tour for a ski film celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the National Park Service. We hiked, slept, skied and reveled in the silent beauty in Glacier, Grand Teton, Olympic, Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks. The documentary sought to advocate the protection of our public lands and impart the importance of preserving them for future generations.
Yet the outcome of the election, on a local and national level, appeared like an open-hand rebuke to the ensuing health of our forests and rivers and lakes. How was I supposed to introduce the film without acknowledging the reality of half of the country's decision to elect a climate-change denier who extolls antiquated energy policies for the benefit of the oil and gas industry, while looking to repeal climate change legislation that helps ensure the wellness of wilderness?
Even before the election, the climate stats looked ominous: 2016 was on pace to be the warmest year on record, and 16 of the 17 hottest years have occurred this century; of the 150 glaciers that existed in Glacier National Park — an easy drive from Spokane — in the 19th century, fewer than 25 remain; a million square miles of spring snowpack has vanished from the Northern Hemisphere in the last 50 years; and Cascadian spring snowpack is down 20 to 40 percent.
Just a few weeks before — pre-election — I'd stood on stage at Spokane's Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox to introduce the same film. That night, I'd felt hopeful about the future of our natural resources and confident that we could begin to reverse the trend. More Americans had jobs in renewables — solar and wind — than oil and gas and coal extraction. Solar energy outpaced natural gas in electricity-generating capacity. Walmart plans to be 100 percent powered by renewable energy by 2020. More than half of U.S. states require utilities to incorporate renewable energy into their generation mix. The U.S. and China joined nearly 200 countries to mitigate global carbon emissions with the Paris Climate Agreement. President Obama had permanently protected 260 million acres of land and water, more than any other U.S. president. He renewed the Land and Water Conservation Fund and enacted the Clean Water Rule and Clean Power Plan.
But now, with President-elect Trump's appointment of climate-change deniers to the Departments of Energy and the Interior and EPA, I'm not so sure.
Like many of you, especially lovers of the outdoors, it feels overwhelming. We're facing a massive machine that seeks to threaten the health of our lungs and our sacred places. What do we do?
One answer came in December at Terrain's downtown Spokane event, Rally, which invited residents to express their feelings about the election through art. It was the message from one art piece that simply said "Stop Being Comfortable." As I see it, we have no choice but to see the silver lining: that this is a call for all of us to take action, to get out of our complacency, join together and do our part to protect what we love — be that skiing, or anything in the outdoors. We need to get involved in local organizations like Spokane Riverkeeper, among others, promote the environmental message of nonprofits like Protect Our Winters, and ensure that politicians who represent us, like Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, hear our concerns.
While there are certainly huge hurdles ahead, perhaps the sense of hope I had before the election was a façade. This is the rallying cry we needed — locally and nationally — to make the real changes that are necessary. And if we do that, maybe we're not screwed... yet. ♦
John Stifter is the executive producer of Powder Productions and former editor-in-chief of Powder magazine. The Spokane native recently returned to the Inland Northwest.