Increasingly, I’m struck by the power of conservative business lobbies in Washington, including the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute. They speak effectively on behalf of fossil fuel interests, and often claim to speak for all of business when it comes to the issue of climate change — even though broad sectors of the US economy, notably agriculture and tourism (not to mention coastal real estate), are threatened by rising temperatures and extreme weather.
Last week in the Guardian, I looked at what’s called the outdoor economy — a sector that is big and growing.The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that outdoor recreation, which includes hiking, biking, camping, fishing, hunting, skiing and motorcycling, supports 6.1m jobs in the US. That’s more than fossil fuels, some say, although the numbers are disputed.
What’s inarguable is that the oil, gas and coal industries carry a lot more clout in DC than does the outdoor industry. Here’s how my story begins:
Two small California ski resorts, Dodge Ridge and Badger Pass, shut down in January as temperatures climbed to near-record highs and weeks passed without snow. With the Sierras suffering a historic drought, it’s hard to say for certain if they’ll reopen.
The ski-industry closings are a small but representative setback for what a new report calls the outdoor economy — that is, “the stream of economic output that results from the protection and sustainable use of America’s lands and waters when they are preserved in a largely undeveloped state”.
Outdoor recreation is a powerful economic force. It accounts for “more direct jobs than oil, natural gas and mining combined”, according to the report published by the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, in January.
But in the political arena, those businesses that depend upon nature are decided underdogs when they battle adversaries, such as the fossil fuel industry, which would like to see more exploration for oil and gas on federal lands.
If you’ve ever visited one of the big national parks out west, you can see why the outdoor industry is outgunned (pardon the expression) in your nation’s capital. Typically, the hotels, motels, restaurants, fishing outfitters and the like on the perimeter of the parks are small businesses. They can’t hire lobbyists or make meaningful campaign contributions.
One company that has done a fine job of promoting the outdoors is The North Face. They ran a great Internet and TV ad campaign last year, encouraging more people to spend time in beautiful places. As more Americans spend more time outdoors, it seems likely that they will want to see this nation’s most beautiful places protected. Admittedly, that’s a slow and indirect way to build a constituency for climate action.
Take two minutes and enjoy this North Face commercial, set to the music of Woody Guthrie, performed by My Morning Jacket. And is it just me or did Jeep steal this idea for its Super Bowl ad?
You can read the rest of my story here.