Auden Schendler is Aspen’s V.P. of sustainability. He might say his job is pushing huge rocks up very large hills. Or, he might say his job is pissing people off, repeatedly, until they wake up to what’s right in front of their noses. He’ll surely tell you that while Aspen is absolutely one of the center of excessive consumptions, it’s also a locus of incredible influence.
“Where else are you going to change the world? Bangladesh?” he asks. “It might feel good to help there, but you won’t change the world from there. This is the place, these people.”
To make that happen, though, he needs to convince those rich, influential people to become revolutionaries.
1. Really? Why do we need a revolution? Isn’t sustainably making gear, switching to renewable power, cutting our own carbon footprint going to be enough?
Um…no. The notion of changing habits to solve climate change won’t work. You change your habits, everyone in America changes their habits, every corporation changes their habits. Let’s say they crush it, you cut your carbon output 30 percent, and corporations do the same. You won’t solve climate change. You’ll spectacularly fail. So if that’s the case, and climate science says that’s the case, you have to answer with another question: What is enough? And the answer is that the fix on climate is revolution.
2. So, very big change. But where do we even begin?
Start by becoming a civic actor. Engage in the political system. You need to become a citizen again. Write a letter, a physical letter or at least an e-mail, on your own, to a politician. Don’t just check a box online. If you actually were a citizen you’d make yourself see climate change as an existential threat. You and your children are at risk and you can do something; are you going to sit there and wait for this wave to crush you, or are you going to build the ark? Also, if you were engaged you wouldn’t tolerate the corruption in the political process that prevents progressive action. You just wouldn’t. And, yes, I’m afraid to bring it up with people sometimes, it takes a lot of energy. But we can’t be afraid of that for the same reason we can’t be afraid of confronting someone making a racially insensitive comment. You have to challenge ignorance.
3. Speaking of being a citizen, how guilty is the ski industry of getting this wrong?
The CEO of Hunter Mountain said, “I don’t know what’s causing climate change.” Okay, wait a minute. You have a fiscal responsibility, and possibly a legal one, to know that information. That’s malpractice. But it’s pervasive. But then you have combined with that this sense that your business is threatened. And if your business is threatened, you may not want to trumpet it from the rooftops. But that’s the wrong reaction. The message ought to be, “We the ski industry are going to be a material part of solving climate change.” How cool a message is that? How POSITIVE a message is that vs. denying it, watching skiing disappear?
And when we hear our trade group – any trade group – say their members don’t care about these issues we say in response that, “You have created the conditions for them not to care, because in your role you have failed to bring in Lonny Thompson, or Bill McKibben, or Al Gore, or James Hanson, and instead you brought in Mitt Romney [ex-National Ski Areas Association guest speakers] and Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster who organized climate denial.” My head’s going to explode…it’s about leadership.
4. Switch that around. Who does get it?
All the athletes care about it; they have to. They don’t have a future if they don’t. There’s an irony, too, for the ski industry not to understand this; their money is way bigger than the athletes’, but the athletes see what the corporations don’t or can’t or don’t want to. And the bigger picture is better. There’s $66 billion in skiing. Expand that and there’s $650 billion in the outdoor industry. And the Outdoor Industry Association gets it; it’s a member of a trade group called BICEP that’s very active on climate, and you have The North Face, and Patagonia, Black Diamond. All we want from the National Ski Areas Association is to be part of that and to educate constituents on climate, too.
5. Put a question to anyone you want to on this. What would you ask?
I’m really curious as to whether Obama really understands climate science and if he does why he isn’t throwing it all on the line, right now, to deal with it.
I would also ask my childhood dentist, now deceased, why he never used Novocain.
6. Maybe there’s a special circle of hell preserved for your dead dentist? Moving to other matters, who inspires you and why?
I love Rosa Parks. She didn’t just happen into history, she trained up and never let up. She was a badass. I also find Springsteen’s ability to maintain his everymanness and not lose himself in his fame and greatness is admirable. I like people who don’t get corrupted by power.
7. What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
I like candy. Always have. Sweet Tarts, Airheads, bring them on.
8. What superhero power would you want?
The ability to wear a cape.
9. What’s the best thing about the outdoor industry (or culture)? Worst?
Best: Everyone who is outside is an environmentalist. And they understand this moment in time intuitively. This is a double-black-diamond moment. This is the place where we cannot fall. Maybe you’re not a skier but you’re a trail runner, or a mountain biker or a climber. But that’s 21 million environmentalists right there. They are rabid. They are fanatics of the outdoors. If I can just get them on my side we have a movement. By the way, of 300 million Americans you don’t need 300 million to care about climate. You need 21 million.
Worst: Obsessive, vapid, narcissistic over-exercising and then talking about it.
10. How do you define adventure?
“I’m not sure this is going to go, but let’s poke around and see what happens…”