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For the love of snow

Grassroots campaigns take on global climate change

What: ActionONE silent auction and slideshow, featuring Blake Jorgenson, Bruce Rowles, Crispin Cannon and Kurtis Croy.

Where: Garfinkel’s

When: Dec. 5 at 8 p.m.

Tickets: $10

The majority of the world’s scientists believe the earth’s climate is changing, that global weather systems are no longer completely natural, and that human factors like greenhouse gas production are part of the reason some regions are experiencing global warming.

But if people are one of the causes of global warming, can the same people work together to reverse the trend?

According to Marie Fortin of HillTrip and Ian Bruce of the Alpine Club of Canada, the answer to that question is "yes". And who better to start with than the people who live, work and play in the mountains.

"I’m just in love with the mountains, and that’s what HillTrip and this fundraiser is all about," said Fortin, HillTrip founder and the organizer of the ActionONE slideshow and silent auction this Sunday. The proceeds from the event will go to support the Melting Mountains campaign by the David Suzuki Foundation and the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC), as well as future HillTrip projects. The highlight of the night will be a series of slideshows by some of the top photographers from the area: Blake Jorgenson, Bruce Rowles, Crispin Cannon and Kurtis Croy, will be putting on slideshows.

In addition to the slideshows, representatives from the Melting Mountains campaign will be on hand with a display and a short presentation. They will be back to make a full presentation, including new data collected by Environment Canada and others, in February.

The name ActionONE comes from Fortin’s own desire to take action, as well as to encourage people to take some action. "There’s been a lot of talk and a lot of education, which is good but I want to be able to take action, too. Most of the people who worked with me on this think the same way, they love the mountains, they love the snow, and want to do something," said Fortin.

The name also stems from the fact that this is Fortin’s and HillTrip’s first project. Managing HillTrip has become her third job, but Fortin hopes to make it her career. One side of it will always be non-profit, raising money for climate change education and events, and the other side will work with resorts, hotels, touring companies, the snowsports industry and other mountain-related companies to help them develop their own plans to reduce emissions.

"The business model is changing, especially in communities like Whistler. There will always be the economic side, but companies are starting to look at issues like sustainability as well, which means the triple bottom line – social and environmental bottom lines as well as economic," said Fortin.

While most resorts work together to reduce emissions and waste through entities like the National Ski Areas Association, most businesses are on their own. "There is a lot of information out there and a few programs, but someone needs to do the math, and put it all together so companies can know how much they can make a difference," Fortin explained.

Not only does that mean creating custom programs for a variety of different businesses, but also marketing those programs to customers and clients.

For example, ActionONE is auctioning off cat-skiing trips, which concerned the organizers at Melting Mountains because of the emissions that the vehicles create. To resolve the issue, Melting Mountains will calculate how much greenhouse gas will be created on the trip, and HillTrip will plant enough trees to offset those gases. In addition, by coupling education with backcountry excursions, she says it will be possible to educate and influence more people on the impacts of global warming, such as the retreat of glaciers and lower annual snowpacks.

Carbon-neutral vacations, where guests are charged slightly more to either buy carbon credits (protect forests) or plant trees to offset emissions, have been talked about in the past, said Fortin, but she would like to see them become more mainstream with calculations and systems in place.

She also sees an opportunity to leverage the Olympics to get the message out. "The issues are all inter-related," she said. "People need to see the connection, between the snow they’re skiing or riding on and the vehicle they used to drive to the mountain, the energy for the lifts, and whatever. If they want to keep skiing in the future, then they’ll think about that other stuff.

"The best part of it is that when that happens we’re all working for mother nature. That’s what I like about HillTrip – it’s what dictates the policies of this company, and why we’re so motivated to launch this company and host these kinds of events."

Ian Bruce, the Melting Mountains co-ordinator for the ACC, is focused on the educational aspects as well as promoting the Peak Challenge, reducing personal greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent or one tonne. He has just finished a tour of the province, presenting the Melting Meadows campaign in mountain communities like Rossland, Vernon and Kamloops.

In all of these communities the campaign was well-received with hundreds of people turning out to see the presentation and find out how they can get involved.

"In terms of response, the momentum is just growing so fast. We’re getting 200 people or more out to events, which is a great turnout for some of these small communities, and the people are eager to help," said Bruce. "We were in Rossland for this annual film festival they have, and afterwards all of these filmmakers come up to me and offered me footage and time to help with the presentation, and photographers offering their work. This is a pretty passionate topic for most of the mountain people we talk to, and for good reason."

Originally the Melting Mountains campaign was created by the ACC on behalf of mountain climbers, backcountry skiers and other recreationists concerned about receding glaciers. "But as we did more research we realized how it really affects all facets of mountain life, and all Canadians. We are speaking to Albertans and I think a lot of farmers will come out and support us because they’re realizing that… to water their crops it really depends on glaciers," said Bruce. "They truly are the water towers for the prairies."

The presentation includes some incredible before and after shots taken of glaciers. The Helm Glacier in Garibaldi Park is one of the examples used to show just how far they’ve receded.

"The effects of climate change on mountains are very visual, they’re quite obvious to everybody and it’s easy to show the before and after pictures. People are definitely taken aback by just how quickly glaciers are melting and what it means," said Bruce.

"On the positive side, people are responding well to the solutions, and the success stories are going on right now. There are great new technologies coming out, and because Canada has signed on to Kyoto, there are a great deal of solutions coming out of that."

By challenging people to reduce their own emissions by 20 per cent (an average of one tonne), Canadians will be personally in compliance with Kyoto said Bruce. Some of the elements of the Peak Challenge are basic, from weather-proofing your home in the winter to turning down your hot water heater to 50 degrees Celsius.

"You don’t have to change your lifestyle dramatically to implement these solutions, a lot of them are really practical and easy," said Bruce.

Following the ActionONE fundraiser this Sunday, Melting Mountains will be giving a formal presentation in Whistler at the end of February where they will discuss the program as well as the new research and science that has been introduced since the start of the program two years ago. Among the most recent Environment Canada findings, the snowpack is melting on average a half day sooner each year in recent decades. As a result, many communities are starting to see spring weeks earlier than normal.

"This is disturbing news for anyone who recreates in the mountains, or relies on our mountains for water or jobs," said Bruce. "The future of our mountain experiences, like skiing or mountaineering, depend on reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

For more on HillTrip and ActionONE, visit www.hilltrip.com.

For more on Melting Mountains, visit www.davidsuzuki.com/Climate_Change/Mountains.asp.




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