A Response to Remsen @ NENSA

FasterSkierOctober 30, 2009

Mr. Remsen, a ski coach at Rutland High School wrote this article at NENSA about green skiers. Here’s the link.

Below is my response to his letter:

Dear Mr. Remsen:

A provocative letter you posted at NENSA.  One certainly can’t argue with you that the average high school ski racer might be the ‘greenest’ racer out there.  Yes, he/she would likely have fewer pairs of skis, wax their skis less frequently, and travel a shorter distance to training camps and races.  This would indeed result in a smaller carbon footprint than that of an elite skier in northern Vermont who has a fleet of skis, waxes a couple pair of skis for each race, and will even leave New England in search of snow and competition.

But let’s take this a bit further- or even greener.  How about your average high-schooler who doesn’t even ski at all.  They wouldn’t own skis or even wax, and he/she definitely wouldn’t be traveling to ski races.  This high school kid could one-up the greenest ski racer out there; no carbon guilt from ski and wax production, and certainly none from burning gas on the school bus to get to practice or races.

But why stop there- how about a kid who doesn’t even go to high school.  There would be no carbon output from his/her transportation to even get to school, let alone the whole skiing piece.  Following this logic, the greenest person out there is the one that does the least.  In fact, the less you do, the less carbon you emit.  Period.  Why not eliminate ski racing altogether?  That would certainly ensure abundant snow in the future for our children’s children to enjoy.

Actually, it won’t.  The point is people emit carbon.  We put carbon into the atmosphere by cooking our food, heating our homes, even breathing the air. Carbon footprints aren’t a competition, they are an inevitability.  But it’s not this carbon that’s a problem.  It’s the bigger issues, the ones that are often beyond the control of the individual. It’s the way our society functions, the fuels we choose to use for energy, and the economics and politics behind those systems.  These are difficult problems for an individual to address.  But if the whole group demanded cleaner energy and cleaner products, if they refused to use anything else, things would change.

That’s what 350 is all about.  Climate change is huge, and people should care about it.  A high school drop-out might be ‘greener’ than a professional ski racer, but if that person isn’t actively trying to do something about climate change, it doesn’t matter.  People need to care. They need to do what they can in their own lives to make a difference.  They need to reach out to others to do the same. But I don’t think that means sacrificing everything that is important to you.  350’s Day of Action was a great chance for everyone, drop-outs and pro athletes alike, to let the world know that climate change is an important issue and they want to see big changes.  Though I’m conscious of my own footprint, participation in a movement like this is far more important than counting the pounds of CO2 I am personally responsible for putting in the atmosphere.  It made me proud to see how many athletes in the cross-country ski community cared enough about this to put aside their own plans for the day and participate.

Mr. Remsen, while I respect your concern about the legitimacy of an elite athlete’s green-ness, I think it is misguided.  In no way are elite skiers claiming to be the greenest skiers out there by participating in a day of environmental action with 350.org or joining a new racing team that strives to make a difference in its community. What they are expressing is concern and consciousness about the current state of things, something that rarely crosses most professional athlete’s minds, not to mention their public actions.

I suppose this is the same concern and consciousness that you strove to communicate in your letter to NENSA, but I think you might have missed the point.  I was left wondering if you understood the big picture.

If elite racers want to reduce their impact on the globe in this simple way you suggest, by returning to the ways of the high school athlete, then they wouldn’t be elite skiers anymore.  In fact, the easiest way for them to reduce their impact would be to quit skiing altogether.  This issue is far more complex than that.  I hope that trying to be green doesn’t mean abandoning Olympic dreams and lifelong passions.  I hope there are bigger ways to combat climate change than just quitting something you do because it isn’t green enough.  And I hope that elite skiers can be a part of these changes and help their communities move in the right direction.


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