I first met world champion big mountain skier Alison Gannett a couple of decades ago in Alagna, Italy, when a bunch of friends and friends of friends descended on the tiny little village to see if it truly was a worthy heir to La Grave (it was, but that’s another story). Climate change was barely a blip on the horizon for most of us, but not for Gannett – she’d already been grappling with the issue for eight years. Since then, she has built successful career as a professional skier and coach through women’s ski, bike, and surfing camps, and has become one of winter recreation’s most tireless and vocal advocates for fighting global warming, creating the Save Our Snow foundation and two other not-for-profits.
Gannett was also the first skier I knew to turn the scary reality of climate change into action. In addition to spreading the word from mountain town to mountain town, she’s cut her personal carbon footprint in half, and she now grows or raises almost all her own food. For these and other reasons, Ali is one of my heroes. Here are hers, in her words:
Malala Yousafzai, Afghan womens education advocate
Recently in Afghanistan, 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot for defending her right to an education. Her courage and determination to take on girls’ rights to schooling, through frequent death threats from the Taliban, now puts her at the top of my hero list. I often find that in the USA, it is easy to take many basic needs and rights for granted.
Bill McKibben, environmentalist
Bill is one of my heroes for his relentless committment for finding a way to make significant headway regarding climate change. He believes that only if and when enough people understand the simple climate math and realize that the fossil fuel industry is prepared to cook humanity off the planet unless somebody stops it. McKibben shows that the fossil fuel industry’s known reserves contain five times the amount of carbon needed to raise the planet’s temperature more than 2 degrees C above preindustrial levels – the point beyond which, according to international scientific consensus, all bets for a livable climate are off. “The fossil fuel industry has behaved so recklessly that they should lose their social license – their veneer of respectability,” McKibben tells his audience. “You want to take away our planet and our future? We’re going to take away your money and your good name.”
Bernie Sanders, Independent U.S. Senator from Vermont
Bernie Sanders: he is one of the few, if not the only politician willing to stand up to corporate America. One of his latest – exposing the 26 billionaires buying the 2012 elections, more here:
Jamie Frederick, anti-fracking activist
Jamie Frederick has become a new hero to me this season. While I have been fighting drilling for natural gas and fracking on my farm this year, this woman has been going public with her tearful and moving story about drilling totally screwing her life up. May we all be as brave!
Malinda Chouinard, Yvon Chouinard, founders, Patagonia
The founders of Patagonia have long been my mentors and heros, especially for choosing people and our planet over profits. Making the best product while causing less harm is not an easy path to choose, but not only have Yvon and Melinda forged the road less traveled, but they make a point of working to assist other businesses in finding this path. The Patagonia Footprint chronicles will hopefully become the world standard in a few years, and we should all follow their advice to “not buy this jacket” and instead buy used, repair, repurpose, and lastly recycle what you already have!
Joel Salatin, farmer
Farmer Joel Salatin has long been one of my heros, but only recently have we been able to put his gospel grass-growing and grazing practices to use in person. His creative approach to grass feeding animals works to reproduce ancient bison grazing, which was hugely beneficial to both the animals and the tall grass prairies. We now move our cows with portable electric fence to a new pasture daily to mimic this natural process, not only improving our ecosystem, but providing meat with a lower carbon footprint than tofu.
Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability, Aspen Skiing Company
Schendler consistently challenges the $650 billion snowsports industry to “use its power in big leverage moves” that will create change and put the squeeze on politicians and other corporations. Aspen has done this in a number of instances: They have filed a brief with the Supreme Court, dropped out of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because it aggressively lobbies against climate legislation, and have lobbied in D.C. “We can no longer ask the question: What can the ski industry do to be sustainable?” he says. “Instead we need to ask: If we really cared about solving climate change, what would we do?” Schendler is adamant about the fact that ski resorts need to prioritize solving climate change if they are going to survive. But, he also recognizes that if we as a society don’t change our ways, we will have bigger problems than a failing ski industry and the science agrees.
Learn more about Alison Gannett, Save Our Snow, Rippin Chix Steep Camps, and more of her efforts to live sustainably and right global warming at alisongannett.com. You can also check out this terrific video profile, below.
Photo courtesy Alison Gannett
Environmental coverage made possible in part by support from Patagonia. For information on Patagonia and its environmental efforts, visit www.patagonia.com.