Four-hundred thousand demonstrators gathered on the streets of New York City for the People’s Climate March on Sunday, Sept. 21. Timed to occur just days before the United Nation’s climate summit, the event boasted high-profile attendees including former Vice President Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jane Goodall, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who wished to demonstrate the world’s necessity to combat climate change.
Amongst the crowd was a lesser-known figure who has been diligently working in the environmental movement for several years — U.S. Ski Team member Andy Newell.
Newell wasn’t always an activist and says that he used to be indifferent to political action. However, as he began to witness environmental activists fighting to raise awareness about climate change, he realized that he had the power to make a difference.
As Newell worked with the movement, he saw a unique opening for him to create real change, and in 2013 he started Athletes for Action. Using his status as an Olympic athlete, he created the organization to ensure that he and other winter athletes’ voices were heard at the upcoming 2015 U.N. Framework Convention in Paris.
Working together with McKibben, Newell drafted a letter for fellow athletes to sign that was addressed to world leaders, urging them to recognize climate change and take action.
“It sounds like a small step, but even getting governments to recognize the problem and take it seriously can be a big step,” Newell wrote in an email. “We are still working on that even here in the U.S.”
Athletes for Action received extensive attention during the Olympic year and as a result, Newell was asked to Washington D.C. to meet with Todd Stern, who is special envoy for climate change for the Obama administration and leads talks at the United Nations climate change conferences.
As Athletes for Action gained awareness, Newell partnered with an organization called Protect Our Winters, which was founded by snowboarder Jeremy Jones.
“Since they are an organization that has a pulse on the winter sports community they have been incredibly helpful in aiding me organize and get these projects off the ground,” Newell said.
He added that the partnership with Protect Our Winters has allowed him to continue to be involved with climate change activism, while being a full-time athlete.
As part of the the partnership, Newell marched alongside the Protect Our Winters contingency at the People’s Climate March.
Despite having completed the SMST2 100 k Ski-A-Thon only a day before, Newell boarded a train to New York at 6 a.m. and arrived at the largest-ever march on climate change. He said it was an experience he would never forget.
“It was crazy to see the energy of that many people and also pretty interesting to see how many different organizations were involved in the march,” Newell wrote. “As a skier we can get caught up in the winter sports side of climate change, but there are so many other reasons to get involved and they were all represented on the streets of New York.”
After departing New York that evening, Newell said that the energy from the event further fueled his aspirations for his organization. In the next year he plans for Athletes for Action to make some noise around climate change while creating an environment where it’s easier for athletes to get involved.
“We as individuals can continue to recycle and conserve and work toward a more sustainable life, but the only way we can see big progress and change is if there is better legislation coming out of the U.S. and internationally to reign in big business and big oil,” he urged.
With his continued work with Athletes for Action and Protect Our Winters, Newell hopes to foster new growth of athlete participation.
“It’s funny because I used to be a person who could care less about politics and I feel like there are a lot of professional athletes out there who are in the same boat,” Newell said. “There are plenty of people out there who claim to be ‘green’ athletes but at the same time have no idea who represents them in congress or how most of these big environmental decision are made, which is something that needs to change.”