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Climbing and the Environment

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Harri · · Karperö · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 5

Hi,

I have a couple of questions on climbing and the environment. Hugely appreciative if anyone cares to chime in! The questions below, and the background to why I'm asking, below them.

1) Do you care about the environment, meaning issues like climate change and biodiversity loss?

2a) If you do, does that affect how you practice climbing? Meaning, modes of travel, carbon offsets, buying less gear, and overall thinking and acting upon issues such as chalk usage, vegetation removal, consideration of crag flora and fauna in general, etc.? Please feel free to even share tips on low impact climbing if you wish!

2b) If you don't think that environmental issues are relevant in climbing, why do you think that?

Background: I'm finishing my PhD on media representations of climbing, gender, and the environment, and in relation to that, I've started thinking about possible postdoc projects. I've often come across climbers saying that they care about the environment,and enjoy being out in nature, etc. However, there isn't a huge amount of research done to elaborate on those sentiments. So, I'm trying to think whether this would be a useful research direction, and wanted to sound off with the grassroots community.

I realize this is a long post and a big ask but if anyone wants to take the time to answer, big thanks in advance!

Cheers,

Harri Salovaara
University of Jyväskylä, Finland
Climber since 2005ish

Lena chita · · OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 1,657
Harri wrote:1) Do you care about the environment, meaning issues like climate change and biodiversity loss?
Yes


2a) If you do, does that affect how you practice climbing? Meaning, modes of travel, carbon offsets, buying less gear, and overall thinking and acting upon issues such as chalk usage, vegetation removal, consideration of crag flora and fauna in general, etc.? Please feel free to even share tips on low impact climbing if you wish!

Environmental concerns affect my decisions related to climbing to SOME extent. I don’t think of environmental impact of climbing as separate from environmental impact of the rest of my life.  So decisions I make are not necessarily climbing-related. 
If I were to focus on climbing-specific considerations:

On one hand:

—I live far from climbing, and make a point to carpool, 99% of the time. 
— I own a car that is bigger than a car I would have owned had I not needed a 4wd/high clearance vehicle for climbing. But if the options with those specifications, I believe that I own a car that is smaller/more fuel efficient (Subaru)

—I do not use chalk, and I do stick to LNT practices

On the other hand:
— I do NOT avoid air travel to go to climbing destinations, and environmental considerations are not the reason for me not to go on my climbing vacation overseas. 

— not sure that buying “less gear” is possible. I buy the gear I need, and I use it until it is no longer useable, but environmental considerations do not enter into calculations on getting a new rope, or replacing worn carabiners. 


2b) If you don't think that environmental issues are relevant in climbing, why do you think that?

I think climbers as a user group are very small, and have minimal impact on environment as a whole. 
Similarly, I think in my own life, if I look at my carbon footprint, and guess how much climbing adds to it, it is not the majority of my personal impact. 

Also, I think climate issues are not going to be solved by individual decisions to turn off the faucet while brushing teeth, and composting. I do those things, and a lot more, but ultimately I think it requires actions on government/company/regulation levels. 
climber pat · · Las Cruces NM · Joined Feb 2006 · Points: 286

Lena Chica's post accurately reflects my opinions.  Especially at the end where we need government regulations to change our society to be less impactful on the environment. Leaving climate change action to the individual is guaranteed to fail as there will always be some significant proportion that denies or sees no harm in their actions.  Even those, like me, who are highly concerned about the environment recognize that our individual sacrifice is meaningless if everyone does not participate in the solution and are less motivated to actually do something positive.

I see no way out of this environmental mess without significantly reducing the human population.  :(  Mathematically, any change is environmental impact (magically reducing CO2 emissions by 50% per person) is quickly overcome by the doubling of the population every 35 years.   Certainly we should change our policies (tax code and cultural norms) to discourage more children.  If a plan to save the planet does not include human population control then the plan is doomed to failure and not a serious plan.

Additionally, I decided not to have children so at least the harmful effects of my life ends with me and not multiplied by the exponential growth of my offspring.

F r i t z · · The Western Slope · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 470
Harri wrote: Hi,

I have a couple of questions on climbing and the environment. Hugely appreciative if anyone cares to chime in! The questions below, and the background to why I'm asking, below them.

1) Do you care about the environment, meaning issues like climate change and biodiversity loss?

2a) If you do, does that affect how you practice climbing? Meaning, modes of travel, carbon offsets, buying less gear, and overall thinking and acting upon issues such as chalk usage, vegetation removal, consideration of crag flora and fauna in general, etc.? Please feel free to even share tips on low impact climbing if you wish!

2b) If you don't think that environmental issues are relevant in climbing, why do you think that?

Background: I'm finishing my PhD on media representations of climbing, gender, and the environment, and in relation to that, I've started thinking about possible postdoc projects. I've often come across climbers saying that they care about the environment,and enjoy being out in nature, etc. However, there isn't a huge amount of research done to elaborate on those sentiments. So, I'm trying to think whether this would be a useful research direction, and wanted to sound off with the grassroots community.

I realize this is a long post and a big ask but if anyone wants to take the time to answer, big thanks in advance!

Cheers,

Harri Salovaara
University of Jyväskylä, Finland
Climber since 2005ish

1) I care and I voted Green Party in the last election, but I’m also more than a bit suspicious of the Establishment’s politicizing of climate change.

2) My Honda Fit gets 49-53mpg, I bike commute to work 16 miles roundtrip and I don’t own or use chalk at all. However, this barely offsets the amount of miles I spend driving to crags for what is ultimately a selfish hobby.
Jim T · · Colorado · Joined Jun 2012 · Points: 314

Nolan, great comments on air travel.  Why do you think there is so much focus in the world on automobile emissions, but virtually zero discussion about air travel? You might be only the second or third person to acknowledge this, over the last 40 years of me listening to and reading about environmentalist arguments.

climber pat · · Las Cruces NM · Joined Feb 2006 · Points: 286
Jim Turner wrote: Nolan, great comments on air travel.  Why do you think there is so much focus in the world on automobile emissions, but virtually zero discussion about air travel? You might be only the second or third person to acknowledge this, over the last 40 years of me listening to and reading about environmentalist arguments.

The discussion centers around automotive travel because of the amount of automotive travel vs air travel.  One estimate is that air travel accounts for 11% of transportation related CO2, automotive accounts for 72% of transportation CO2 emissions.  So work on the biggest problem 1st.   Also the CO2 footprint of air travel is similar to car travel if measured per passenger mile. Cars are driven so many more miles.    This article implies that per passenger mile CO2 emission of air travel is actually lower than per passenger mile of automobiles.  

https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2015/09/evolving-climate-math-of-flying-vs-driving/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwzozsBRCNARIsAEM9kBNJyl7KU96wruJ0tKygRcVOUh9ApR5TvinTIee3Uhx8tEXhX2rm7dwaAiOxEALw_wcB  


This article says there are more CO2 emissions flying than driving.

thoughtco.com/flying-drivin…

My guess is that the difference of C02 emissions per passenger mile is not that significant irrespective of mode of transportation.  Probably longer flights are more efficient than shorter flights.  So reduction in travel overall should be the goal.

Electric automobiles fuels from renewables is much more achievable than electric airplanes.
 
Victor K · · Denver, CO · Joined Jul 2003 · Points: 170

A minor point, but a full airliner gets around 90 mpg/person. A full car that does better than 20 mpg is basically comparable to commercial flight. Nolan is right though. The main thing about air travel is that you go so much further. Cutting out air travel is big.
 

Dan Daugherty · · Virginia Beach, VA · Joined Aug 2018 · Points: 0

Slightly off topic, but I think this is a relevant anecdote. We're moving to NM to be closer to climbing so we don't have to travel as far to NV, UT, CO, CA, etc. Just another way to reduce the emissions footprint.

1) Yes
2a) It doesn't. I try to use the same 'leave no trace' principals for all outdoor activities, not just hiking and camping. Climbing specific, I try to use as little chalk as necessary and avoid positions that will disturb local flora and fauna. I know the route developer did some work cleaning the route that may have disturbed the local flora and fauna so I'm not naive in thinking that nothing is being disturbed indirectly by my climbing a route.

curt86iroc · · Lakewood, CO · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 259

1. YES
2. YES

A tip on flying to climbing destinations. When possible, I try to take routes that are direct to save unneeded air travel (an often overlooked impact). I am happy to trade the minimal price increase for less time in the air.

Andy Eiter · · Madison, WI · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 211
Harri wrote: Hi,

I have a couple of questions on climbing and the environment. Hugely appreciative if anyone cares to chime in! The questions below, and the background to why I'm asking, below them.

1) Do you care about the environment, meaning issues like climate change and biodiversity loss?
Yes

2a) If you do, does that affect how you practice climbing? Meaning, modes of travel, carbon offsets, buying less gear, and overall thinking and acting upon issues such as chalk usage, vegetation removal, consideration of crag flora and fauna in general, etc.? Please feel free to even share tips on low impact climbing if you wish!
Yes and no.

Regarding climate change, no, not really. It only comes to mind in regards to travel. I will arrange carpools when practical, but driving separately to a crag 45 minutes away will not deter me from making the trip. I have never flown to a climbing destination, but that is for other reasons (e.g., cheaper, more mobility at destination, road trips are more fun). I buy most of my gear and clothing used, mostly to save money.

Regarding biodiversity and environmental quality in the immediate vicinity of my climbing, yes. I consider crag flora/fauna in my actions (e.g., keeping off fragile flora, not leaving food for fauna, general LNT). I only limit my chalk usage to protect the aesthetics of an area.
Glowering · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 5
1) Do you care about the environment, meaning issues like climate change and biodiversity loss?

2a) If you do, does that affect how you practice climbing? Meaning, modes of travel, carbon offsets, buying less gear, and overall thinking and acting upon issues such as chalk usage, vegetation removal, consideration of crag flora and fauna in general, etc.? Please feel free to even share tips on low impact climbing if you wish
In the US climbing and environmentalism have a shared history. John Muir was a climber and an important voice for environmentalism in the late 1800s. The Sierra Club was a climbing and environmental organization in the early 1900s before it dropped climbing. Climbers usually appreciate and want to conserve nature.

Unfortunately the right wing media complex in the US has succeeded in redefining environmentalist in many peoples minds. All it really means is you care about the environment and want to reduce pollution but they’ve led some people believing it only means militant far left people like Earth First. In reality there is a spectrum of environmentalism just like everything else.

Another misconception is that the environment is just the natural ecosystem. It also includes people and man made structures. Eg jobs lost is a negative environmental impact. A broken hold on a climb may have little to no ecosystem impacts but a big environmental impact for other climbers. 

1. I think it may make sense to think about this in local impacts vs global impacts. Local impacts could be bolt holes, chalk, trails, noise and other disturbances. Global impacts are things like climate change which are more a result of everyone’s behavior. They may be harder to quantify and predict. I care about both and think in terms of impacts to humans first of all. I don’t feel like we should eliminate humans for the good of the planet. I feel we shou,d take care of the planet for the good of humans primarily but also for other organisms. A healthy and diverse environment is good for people, it will probably be less expensive to deal with human caused global warming causes than its negative effects (eg sea level rise and more extreme weather events)

2a for global impacts my philosophy is I try to be efficient and not waste resources but still do what I want to do. My family owns several, now older,  cars and the one that gets used first and by far the most is a Prius. It uses 1/3 the fuel of my 4x4  truck.  But if I need the truck to tow or go off road I use it. We don’t know what will happen with climate change. Someone could come up with an inexpensive sequestration system to pull carbon out of the air. So I try te reduce but not eliminate my impacts. I recycle. I eat less processed food.

For local impacts it’s really situational. The biggest impact to a local ecosystem may be disturbing nesting raptors. So I’m glad when crags are closed for that. They are a predator who serves an important role and have limited places to nest. But for bolts and chalk the impact of those is primarily to other climbers. The rock doesn’t feel anything. Adding a bolt to a climb could really change the nature of a climb and that could be a big environmental impacts to other climbers. Putting in bolts and more route could lead to more climbers and more disturbances to local fauna and flora and bolts/chalk close to the ground may be visual impacts for other land users. So at some out of the way crag it’s not a big deal. But next to Lower Yosemite falls it can affect a lot of people.

It really takes some analysis and attempts to quantify things to weigh the benefits and cost of climbing and other lifestyle choices.
Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 1,306

Yes, I care, climbing is just a piece of it.

The big hurdle we face? Growth. Period. If every economy is based on consumption and therefore constant growth, what then? It isn't just about not having children.

Even the poorest climbers in the US, are still likely consuming far more than they "need", even allowing for things like climbing and travel. I came into climbing after many years of living "small", quite contentedly. Still do. When you start from huge overconsumption, there's a lot of easy low hanging fruit to get started!

Best, Helen

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 1,306

Lol! Nice posts while I was slowly typing.

IME, one thing that has to change, always, before any real change for good occurs, is the various interests finally unpolarize, and work together. I've seen this over and over, with all sorts of "issues". When people finally get off their high horses, and talk, real shifts happen, and lasting change. Eventually, the "new" thing becomes the norm.

Climbers, overall, are a plus. People will be out using areas, climbing or no, and our group is one that can ​be in the forefront of protecting an area. Politically, most of us defend big stuff, like wilderness. But more importantly, at climbing locales, it is often the local climbing coalition that does grassroots work on trails, litter, waste, on and on. That, benefits all ​users. We can, as climbers, reinforce good stewardship as partners with the land owners, agencies, and managers.

Or not. At peril of our access.

Best, Helen

Dylan Pike · · Sandy, UT · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 405

Yes, I care about the environment, and support some environmental policies. However, this doesn't really change how I practice climbing. I drive a full size pickup, because its practical. I climb way out in the desert, because I don't want to be at the crowded Wasatch Front areas, and I like developing new routes. Sometimes, I drive out there by myself to scout new areas or clean a route. When I'm climbing, I have no problems trundling rock or removing limited amounts of vegetation. I've got no problems with bolts as long as they are stainless.

I think often climbers drive themselves into a frenzy talking about the environmental impact that we are having at crags, and at certain extremely popular places, I agree. However, I think we often dramatically overestimate the environmental impact of climbers. I think the best thing climbers can do to reduce their environmental impact is pack out your shit, or at least bury it deep. I'm tired of going to popular sport crags or boulder fields and finding a rock sitting on top of a steamer.

There are big picture things that some people are willing to do to fight climate change, but personally, I like my steaks and I wont be trading my truck in for an Impreza any time soon.

Michael Dupont · · Woodbury, MN · Joined Sep 2008 · Points: 30

1) Yes.
2) Again yes. I won't go to the crag UNLESS I am carpooling with others, never just going by myself. I have also limited myself to 1 flight a year for vacation, which often gets eaten up by a family trip although climbing can usually be squeezed in. As a result, I climb less outside.

Steve Tarnowski · · Aztec, NM · Joined Apr 2015 · Points: 15

Harri,

I think it's notable you started to define "environment" for purposes of this conversation but then chose a definition that doesn't limit the idea at all: "issues like climate change and biodiversity loss." With such an unbound definition I think you are going to have a hard time finding someone who says they don't care about "the environment."

Personally I think a more interesting question would be: when you think about how climbing impacts and relates to the environment - what do you think of as the environment?

In the US, most climbing-environment issues I see are about the immediate climbing environment. When climbers talk about the envrionment, they are concerned with erosion on trails and at the base of cliffs, bolting and cleaning rocks, human and pet waste, and are sensitive to historic / cultural sites (ruins and petroglyphs where I live), and  nesting birds. Climbers and climbing associations have partnered with environmental groups to preserve land and protect the qualities we like from 'destructive' uses like mining, drilling, off-road vehicle use and clear-cutting.  

While this background can and it seems like is starting to springboard to less-immediate environmental issues like climate change, at times I think this is a partnering / overlapping with other outdoor recreation immediate environment concerns (Save Our Winters) to form a larger coalition of outdoor interests.

It is not common for people to limit their trips to the outdoors bc of concerns about carbon emissions  (I don't either bc these are collective action problems). That's probably something that will have to happen for most of us if we price carbon in a meaningful way. Stuff like buying carbon offsets (which some high-profile outdoor industry people have started doing) sets a good example for others in terms of educating others about the social cost of carbon and showing that it's possible to be carbon-neutral (concerns about the integrity of offsets aside). Ultimately though I think it's 'cute' the same way veganism or vegetarianism for animal welfare reasons is 'cute' in that there is no tangible benefit to your sacrifices (I have been a vegetarian for something like four years).

One thing that comes to mind in the context of this conversation about generally pro-environment (whatever that means) outdoor enthusiasts living carbon-intensive lifestyles (myself included) is this Doc Sarvis rant from the Monkey Wrench Gang :

"Look at this traffic." He said, "Look at them, rolling along on their rubber tires in their two-ton entropy cars polluting the air we breathe, raping the earth to give their fat indolent rump-sprung American asses a free ride. Six percent of the world's population gulping down forty percent of the world's oil. Hogs!" he bellowed, shaking his huge fist at the passing motorists.

"What about us?" Bonnie said.

"That's who I'm talking about."

Also groups like the Sunrise Movement are 'rebranding' climate change as not an environmental problem, but a problem where there will be issues growing the food you eat, providing the water you drink, causing your power to fail in the heat of summer, your whole community might be destroyed, where millions of people in the US will be displaced, along with countless millions around the world. I think this is a more appropriate approach given the nature of the problem and this formulation might be better suited to be a 'kitchen table' issue, and not some abstract hand-wringing about polar bears.
Glowering · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 5
Also groups like the Sunrise Movement are 'rebranding' climate change as not an environmental problem, but a problem where there will be issues growing the food you eat, providing the water you drink, causing your power to fail in the heat of summer, your whole community might be destroyed, where millions of people in the US will be displaced, along with countless millions around the world. I think this is a more appropriate approach given the nature of the problem and this formulation might be better suited to be a 'kitchen table' issue, and not some abstract hand-wringing about polar bears.

I think that further confuses the issue because those ARE all environmental problems. What they are really saying is we shouldn't focus on the ecological environmental impacts, but rather the human environmental impacts.

An environmental impact report often contains sections such as the following (note that Biological resources is just one section of many):

3Environmental impact analysis
  • 3.1Aesthetics
  • 3.2Agricultural resources
  • 3.3Air quality
  • 3.4Biological resources
  • 3.5Cultural Resources
  • 3.6Geology and Soils
  • 3.7Greenhouse gases
  • 3.8Hazards and Hazardous Materials
  • 3.9Hydrology and Water Quality
  • 3.10Land Use and Planning
  • 3.11Mineral Resources
  • 3.12Noise
  • 3.13Population and Housing
  • 3.14Public services
  • 3.15Recreation
  • 3.16Transportation and traffic
  • 3.17Tribal Cultural Resources
  • 3.18Utilities and Service Systems
Lena chita · · OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 1,657
Glowering wrote:

I think that further confuses the issue because those ARE all environmental problems. What they are really saying is we shouldn't focus on the ecological environmental impacts, but rather the human environmental impacts.

An environmental impact report often contains sections such as the following (note that Biological resources is just one section of many):

I do not think this approach is necessary bad. Putting the impact in terms of things that affect people directly is a good idea, IMO, to reach some people. 


And it doesn’t have to be one approach ca the other. You can reach certain segment of the population by talking about polar bears, you can appeal to others by talking about crop failures and starvation in Indonesia or India,  you can reach yet more by talking about flooding in Houston, or drought in Colorado. And these may not be mutually exclusive groups, either. 
Harri · · Karperö · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 5

Wow, thanks very much for all the thoughtful answers here! Very cool, and definitely encourages me to think further on this in terms of future research.

To answer a couple of questions, yes the phrase "caring for the environment" is very generic, but whether that generic "caring" affects concrete individual actions and possibly even politics, is interesting to me. And, my PhD is in English, but I have been encouraged to branch out more into sociology to achieve a more rounded picture of climbing/climbers and the environment.

Again, thanks very much taking the time to answer, and look forward to reading even more responses hopefully!

Mike Lane · · AnCapistan · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 880

Let me refine your questions for you:

1) Do you agree with the purported theorem that energy useage and industrialization are killing this planet's biosphere?

2a) If so, are you also accepting the reality that the human population must be reduced by, at a minimum,  50% within the next 10 years in order to avoid mass extinctions? Are you willing to vote the Left back into power to meet that goal?

2b) Are you in denial?

Any serious consideration of humanity's impact upon the globe, not just limited to climate change but also with habitat destruction, deadly compound pollution, radiation, ozone depletion; leads inevitably to the conclusion that humanity must end, and quickly.
The only question remains whether we are taking everything else down with us or not.

What bothers me, though, is the Left cynically using this Inconvenient Truth as a mere tool to regain power with the vacuous pretense that taking irrelevant actions will have any impact in regards to the urgency and drastic needs to avoid an epochal catastrophe 

PWZ · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 0

^
I think that may have been the written equivalent of "Pocket sand!"

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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