Protect Our Winter UK’s newest Athlete Ambassador, winter sports industry legend Neil McNab, of McNab Snowboarding, reflects on the impacts of a warming climate and shares why he wants to be a part of “sowing the seeds” for positive environmental action.
As a Mountain Sports professional with thirty years in the high mountains behind me, I have seen changes in the high mountains that I find difficult to comprehend: the potentially irreversible changes to an environment that I once took for granted.
The Alps surpassed the global goal for limiting global heating to 1.5C around a decade or more ago, now averaging over 2C warmer a year.
As a result, I have watched over the years with growing concern as the extremes become more extreme and more common: drastic temperature changes; violent weather events; massive rockfalls; dramatic ice loss; significant changes to snowfall; and droughts followed by widespread flooding.
Many of the slopes that I have ridden together with my friends and clients, the faces that we climbed, the classic summits that we scaled, once without too much concern, have become either inaccessible, out-of-condition or increasingly dangerous.
Climate and environmental changes are becoming hard to ignore. Nowadays, you don’t need to look far to find the scientific facts that explain why our planet is heating up. Frighteningly frequent apocalyptic climate events appear in our news feeds – or sometimes closer to home.
And, whilst some might still be claiming that the climate change we are witnessing is a natural process, in the last ten years, no national or international scientific body has opposed the theory that humans are significantly impacting levels of warming.
Like many, I struggle daily with the knowledge of what I’ve seen and how I live, fighting the contradiction of how I know I need to live in order to protect our plant, with how I actually live. I am aware that, within my lifetime, the planet that I live on has already changed massively, possibly forever.
And yet, global heating has been observed and predicted for over a century, with scientists warning for decades of the devastating effects of a warmer planet. The destruction by humankind of our natural world is destroying the delicate interconnectedness of life on our planet.
However, I live with the knowledge that we can do better; that we can find a better balance between our comfort, stability and wellbeing as humans and the wellbeing of our natural environment. Our lives and those of future generations relies on finding this balance.
Personally, I take some small solace in the fact that my teachings and shared experiences within the high mountains, one of the planet’s last untamed wildernesses, where nature still governs our actions, gives me the opportunity to inform an active, passionate, nature-loving community of the positive changes that it is in our power to make.
In so doing, I help to spread the word for climate action and, as more and more of us in the winter sports community are doing, start to sow the seeds of change. As like-minded people unite, it gives each of us the motivation and self-belief that we will need to accomplish the challenging climb ahead…
As part of the Paris Climate Agreement, 197 countries are committed to limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees celcius, with an outside limit target of 2C. Yet, already at 1.5C, we are destined to lose much of the biodiversity that we take dangerously for granted; diversity that is an integral part of a healthy eco-system.
At 1.5C warmer, coral reefs die, along with a significant proportion of the sea life that is supported by these once thriving environments. Ice caps, glaciers and sea ice melt, raising sea levels and changing global sea currents, endangering not only the sea life that relies on these, but changing global temperature patterns and causing extreme weather events to become more common.
The continuous destruction of global forests, yet another essential part of the cycle of life our planet relies on, impacts not only the beautiful biodiversity of life that exists there, but changes the atmosphere composition that relies on the dense plant life that is being taken away.
If we continue to act against nature like this at the current rate, then we will travel far beyond the 2C that is seen as the high-end cap before life for humankind as we know it changes irreversibly.
So how do we prevent this?
The reality is that part of the reason for our planet’s destruction is that a significant proportion of humanity are living lifestyles that drastically exceed basic human needs. Many of those with the highest carbon footprint are those that should not only know better, but are in a position to do something about it.
And, unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) “those who should know better” is us – those of us who are privileged and empowered by education. Fortunately change comes from within and we can make a difference.
In the UK, as part of avoiding reaching a catastrophic global tipping point and instead changing to a more sustainable way of life, we can each do what we can to reduce our current personal average of 12.7 tonnes of CO2 as part of achieving net-zero emissions in the UK.
To really make a difference, this has to happen in the next ten years – at the absolute latest, by 2040.
Changing how we each live our lives personally, in particular what we eat, how we travel and the source of energy that we use to heat our homes, can make a big dent in lowering our individual carbon footprint, and therefore contribute to wider carbon reductions.
Moreover, we can reduce our consumption by only buying what we truly need. When buying, we can support environmentally-minded companies that ensure their products are produced sustainably. The more we educate ourselves on the impact of each product we purchase, consume or use, and start to reduce our own individual carbon footprint, the more this will reduce demand for unsustainable practices on a worldwide scale.
There are numerous ways to immediately start reducing our individual impact, and the advice, suggestions and solutions can be found with a simple online search.
Simple personal choices made by many can add up to big global change.
However, sustainable action needs to be part of wider, systemic change. Fortunately, as both consumers and voters in a democratic society, our choices, actions and voices can make large-scale difference.
We can choose to offer support to the increasing number of local, national and international programs pushing for the environmental action that we need – organisations such as Protect Our Winters.
This is why I have formed an alliance with the UK branch of Protect Our Winters. As a snowboarder and outdoor athlete seeing drastic changes in my environment, guilty of environmental ignorance in my past, I have chosen, with the support of the POW UK team, to start educating myself on the causes and solutions of this crisis.
My hope is that by learning more, I can help not only to make a difference as an individual, but to be a catalyst for wider change within the winter sports community and beyond.
I am discovering the ways to reconcile the travel necessary for my work with the lowering of my carbon footprint. Where possible, I am cutting out long-haul flights and reducing the frequency of short-haul by staying longer on location. I am car-sharing, travelling by train, by bike, by splitboard.
As a society, we’re not going to be able to drop to carbon neutral straight away, but nothing is stopping each of us as individuals from making the best choices that we can for a more sustainable lifestyle.
Yes, ultimately, we’re going to need direction change and support from the powers that be, but that isn’t going to come without us first raising our individual awareness, voicing and sharing our concerns and actions, and, together, demanding and voting for change.
The time to get started is now.