When Sara Renner planned her comeback to World Cup racing, she left out a trip to New Zealand last summer, a typically annual pilgrimage for the Canadian silver medalist. Renner cited sustainability concerns as motivation in her decision to reduce travel, “We thought about the overall costs of going there. It played into the decision.” Elite athletes don’t usually consider their carbon footprint when planning training. Most of athletics is governed by a more is better mindset. Bling tends to trump social outreach. But green motivations spurned Renner and her husband, Alpine World Cup racer, Thomas Grandi to lessen their impact. It also spurned them to join a collection of athletes endorsing 350 (www.350.org).
Defined by one of its founders, Bill McKibben, a fanatical cross-country skier, “350 is the red line for human beings, the most important number on the planet. The most recent science tells us that unless we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, we will cause huge and irreversible damage to the earth.”
It’s damage that cross country skiers feel early and heavily. While a single weather event can’t be assigned to global climate change, science points to more extremes in the weather we’ll face and the trend in skiing is noticeable. There are more cancelled races, more races run on thin snow cover, and more freakish days of extreme cold or terrifically warm days. McKibben points out the connection to cross country skiing, “Cross country skiers are the ultimate canary in this coal mine. There’s nobody who’s passions are more at risk than cross country skiers.”
This vulnerability explains why some of the sport’s most elite skiers are lending their notoriety to 350. Jorgen Aukland, Anders Aukland and Jens Arne-Svartedal, the three members of the private Team Xtra Personell recently teamed up with 350.org. The Norwegian champions have highlighted 350 practices on their popular television show, Ski Idol. When signing up to support 350.org, they pointed to their sport’s reliance on snow. “It is something we need to be a part of…”
But a part of what? What will 350 do? Cynics point to the overwhelming size of the problem. Skiers tend to brush it aside and focus on the business of the day be it a slightly warmer race, or another set of rollerski intervals. Yet goal of 350 is simple: Get the number 350 into the heads of as many people as possible. Push 350. Cheer 350. Ski 350. Here’s why: On December 9th, 2009 (350 days from today) World leaders will convene in Copenhagen, Denmark to create protocols that the world might follow. These meetings build off of the Kyoto protocols held in 1997. The goal is to move 350 into the consciousness of the world. That’s why athletes like Renner, Grandi, the Aukland brothers, and Svartedal have joined people like Bode Miller, cyclist Tom Danielson, and more to push 350.org. That’s why recently at an environmental summit in Poland, Al Gore endorse 350.org. That’s why his holiness the Dhali Lama has endorsed 350.org. If 350 ppm is adopted as the world standard, then policy, technology and our world’s interaction with the planet will be filtered through that standard, then skiing will have a chance to persist.
Before she came back to World Cup competition finishing 9th last week in Davos, Renner collected 350 cyclists for a training ride near Banff. The ride garnered national media attention and informed folks about 350.org. When faced with the goals of 350, Renner was undaunted, “It is simple and realistic.”
To view many of the athletes involved in 350, log onto www.350.org/athletes. Know an athlete that should lend their notoriety to 350. Email Ashley@350.org. Andrew Gardner is the Head Nordic Coach and Coordinator for Sustainability in Athletics for Middlebury College.