Climate change threatens our livelihoods -- and yours

  • Steve Rendle

  • Mike Kaplan


In the summer of 2003, one of the most legendary and fearsome mountaineering routes in the world –– the North Face of the Eiger –– fell victim to climate change. An unusually warm summer melted much of the ice that makes this route in Switzerland passable. As temperatures continue to warm, this iconic passage may only exist in winter.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, aspen trees have begun dying off in huge numbers. Aspens can fall victim to many diseases, but science suggests that a warmer climate will lead to increasing tree mortality as a result of sickness, insect infestations and other pests.

As CEOs of two of the most widely known consumer brands in the outdoor recreation market -- Aspen Skiing Company and The North Face -- it gets our attention when our companies' namesakes start to vanish before our eyes. Although we operate different businesses, we share concern about the impact of climate change on our companies, the economy, the environment and our customers. We also agree that now is the time for dramatic action by Congress to curb greenhouse gas emissions, stimulate investment in renewable energy sources and clean technology, and encourage energy efficiency.

The effects of warming global temperatures are not theoretical. At Aspen, where our business depends on the climate, we already see a gradual increase in frost-free days and warmer nights. Milder winters mean a shorter ski season and greater reliance on artificial snowmaking, a costly and carbon-intensive practice. In short, climate change impacts Aspen's bottom line.  For the $6 billion ski industry, and the hundreds of thousands of people who make their living directly or indirectly from it, the stakes are huge.

The North Face is part of the $9 billion outdoor market, and our business depends upon predictable and consistent four-season weather patterns for our customers and athletes to get outdoors and ski, camp, climb, run and hike. Climate change disrupts this predictability, creating a tenuous business climate for ourselves, our supply chain and our dealers. Most importantly, it reduces the outdoor activities of our customers.

As our athletes and customers travel the globe, they tell us they see firsthand the changes taking place, from the recession of glaciers to the effects of severe drought. These impacts are having dramatic effects on the people and places many of us have come to love.

But we are doing more than just fretting about climate change. Both our companies have taken extraordinary steps to increase our energy efficiency and reliance on renewable energy, and to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Many of these efforts save us money as well. By installing extensive solar energy systems at Aspen, and by offsetting our energy consumption with wind energy and installing solar panels at The North Face, we are working every day to reduce our impact.

We serve passionate outdoor customers who are eager to learn about solutions and take action towards a clean energy economy. These customers tell us in ever-growing numbers that our reputations and actions for environmental responsibility are why they buy our product and/or ski at our resort.

We also know that these efforts are a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to be done. And that is why a strong global and national climate and energy policy is so important. America is at a critical crossroads on climate change: We can lead the world and jumpstart our economy by spearheading the transition to a low-carbon global economy, or we can delay and fall further behind China and other nations that already have cleaner, more efficient cars, and more established wind and solar power industries.

We pick the first choice, not because we are idealists, but because we are businessmen, and because solving climate change and creating a clean energy economy is a business imperative.  We believe that far from being a drag on economic growth as some fear, comprehensive climate and energy legislation will prove an economic stimulus for the long haul, creating millions of new jobs, spurring technological innovation and stabilizing business. This issue is not an abstraction to people like us. Aggressive action on climate change will preserve and protect the source of our profit and our passion: the stable climate, and the beautiful earth.

That is why we urge the Senate to take action now on a new and comprehensive climate change policy. This is the time for us to be the world leaders that we know we can be, and should be.

Steve Rendle, CEO, The North Face, based in Sacramento, California, and Mike Kaplan, CEO, Aspen Skiing Company, in Aspen, Colorado, are contributors to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at

the "other" greenhouse gases
Nov 13, 2009 06:07 AM
Dear Mr. Rendle and Mr. Kaplan,

It's not just aspen and pines falling victim to climate change. Certainly, there is a devastating beetle encouraged by warmer temperatures, and many other diseases and pests are proliferating which prey on trees. However, most of them are species specific and the fact is, there are so many various species in irreversible decline that merely warming temperatures is not sufficient to explain the widespread damage.

I live in a rural area of western New Jersey, and the ecosystem here is in a state of rapid collapse. I did think for some time it was due to gradual warming and less snowpack. However because of the stupendous rate of spreading symptoms of foliar damage and after this past summer, when both annual plants and aquatic plants exhibited identical patterns of stippling, singing, and early leaf loss, I have become convinced that it is toxic gases in the atmosphere that are the direct cause.

It is well known and documented by scientific research that ozone and peroxyacetyl nitrates, produced by fossil and biofuel emissions reacting to UV radiation, are poisonous to both people (cancer, emphysema and asthma) and plants.

There is no chemical test that I know of to determine when a plant has been damaged by volatile organic compounds. The diagnosis is made by visible symptoms, which can mimic other diseases. And high levels of ozone have been determined to encourage pests. Since the Rocky Mountains are the recipient of all the emissions drifting eastward from all those 8 lane California freeways, it wouldn't surprise me if there is an impact on your ski slopes. Of course, since I am not a scientist I can't prove that the atmosphere is the underlying agent here in New Jersey, and certainly not elsewhere.

But I really think it's worth investigating, because if it turns out to be the recently mandated addition of ethanol (which creates acetaldehyde) to gasoline, we should stop using it, immediately, and then we could continue on with the certain, but slower, climaticide from burning oil, gas, and coal.

Here is a link to my blog where I post pictures and links to research:

Gail Zawacki
Oldwick, NJ
Chris Carrier
Chris Carrier
Nov 14, 2009 02:21 PM
stop patting yourselves on the back and face the truth. Your businesses are the source of the problem and nothing short of shutting them down completely will do any good. All the steps you are taking to "help" are nothing but feel good placebos. They are like taking cough medicine to cure a cold - actually they don't even do that much. What about all the energy used in travel by skiers and shipping and manufacturing of your products? None of us need ski lifts or the latest overpriced hightech jacket to enjoy the outdoors. You do nothing good for anyone so stop kidding yourselves and start feeling guilty as hell.
What climate change
Bruce Gladwell
Bruce Gladwell
Dec 02, 2009 06:13 PM
I am wondering if you have a comment on the recent information coming from UK about the person who broke into the "climate change" offices and the information he uncovered concerning the great cover up of those who claim the climate change model doesn't fit with temperature variences. Meaning that there is no way temperature changes are man made. Also the e-mails explaining how to put down anyone who claims the above. My concern is if climate change is man made there is no way temperatures could ever go down. We are adding continually to the population, yet this past summer was one of the coolest on record for a long time. That is impossible if man is the cause of the warming. Simple example, you put 20 people in a closed room the temperature will always rise everytime you add 1 person, it can never get cooler. Yet if man is the cause of global warming how could the temperatures ever go down since the population of the earth continues to grow?