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Thursday, October 20, 2011
Updated: October 21, 1:57 PM ET
Mr. Jones goes to Washington

By Melissa Larsen
ESPN.com

Jeremy Jones was in New York last week promoting a new partnership between his nonprofit foundation, Protect Our Winters, and Alamos, makers of fine Argentian wine that comes from high-altitude, snowpack-dependent vinyards in the Andes mountains. He screened the teaser for his next movie, "Further" which you can (should immediately) watch here. And, this being a snowboard blog, you think I'd have asked him some questions about it, but we ended up talking politics instead.

Jones, Gretchen Bleiler and Chris Davenport recently went to D.C. with Protect Our Winters to talk climate change legislation. I was curious to know how it went, and if legislators on Capitol Hill really care about what a bunch ski and snowboard athletes think about environmental-protection policy. This is what he had to say...

Jones may be the face of POW, but the foundation is supported by a rapidly-growing number of mountain athletes and wintersports enthusiasts.

This was our second time going to D.C. A year and a half ago we went to try to get the clean air bill [American Clean Energy and Security Act] to pass. It was a really close vote. This year we went to help uphold environmental policies George Bush put in place -- EPA regulations that got passed while he was in office that are under attack. You compare the two experiences and you see how gnarly the political situation is right now on Capitol Hill.

As a foundation we've had to put more energy into upholding the science of climate change that than we had to when we first started Protect Our Winters. Three years ago our energy was going towards solutions. Now we're defending science, because the oil companies have gotten really effective at poking holes, and casting a level of doubt, in the science.

We met with a handful of congressmen who were really happy to see us. They said, "We know our country's been through a rough patch, but keep the hope. You guys are critical. You need to continue to organize because we need your help."

What happens on Capitol Hill is, our elected officials see thirty oil lobbyists for every one from an environmental group. And some of these officials maybe believe the science but also see that voting for climate change legislation could be the kiss of death for their jobs. So they told us, "We need to hear from your side, instead of just the oil groups. We need to know that you think this is important." They read letters; they read Op-Ed pieces. If they get 500 emails on the same topic, it carries a lot of weight. It affects how they vote.

We're out in the mountains every day and we don't need the graphs and the Al Gore movie to know that climate change is real. We see it around us. It's important for them to hear from us.

Climate change needs to be fought on all levels. We all need to reduce our personal carbon footprints, and there are a lot of simple ways to do that. But the reality is, for us to really tackle climate change, we need policy in place to reduce emissions. Protect Our Winters is focusing on elected officials, in mountain states, who are on the fence -- people who vote for both good and bad legislation. Because if you can move the needle on three or four votes, it can make the difference in whether legislation passes or not.

The reason we have athletes meeting with representatives is that we're out in the mountains every day and we don't need the graphs and the Al Gore movie to know that climate change is real. We see it around us. It's important for them to hear from us. I started POW because I saw clear, cut-and-dry change happening in the mountains. It had nothing to do with some scientific report I read.

For example, we met with some representatives from Alaska who are fence-sitters -- sometimes they vote for good legislation, other times they don't. And I can say to them that there's no question that the climate's changing up there. And they listen because I've spent 6-8 weeks a year in Alaska for 17 years. Our trips used to go till May 5, now they go to April 20 because the meltdown happens so much faster. There are places we could land a plane four years ago that we can't land on today because the glaciers are breaking up.

An expert in multiple arenas.

What's unfortunate is that this whole topic has become political, as if you have to be a Democrat to understand that climate change is real. You can have right wing conservative points of view and still care about the environment -- and more and more Republicans are coming out making strong statements saying this. We don't have to have the same politics to work together.

I have a lot of respect for people with passionate views who plant their stake in the ground and fight for it, even if they're on the other side of the fence. It's the middle of the road people who don't speak their beliefs that I'm not inspired by. You know, I don't necessarily agree with all of the politics of my friends in Alaska, but we all want to protect the mountains.

But it's tough for elected officials from states like Alaska, New Hampshire, Maine, Montana, Colorado. When you go to one of those places you see the diversity of the people and beliefs there. And it's what makes those states awesome, but it's also what makes it hard for their representatives to vote. That's why we're focusing on energizing people in those states, letting them know what's at stake. Because what we're learning, and what they told us on Capitol Hill, is they really do pay attention when people organize and speak up.

Making it all about politics alienates whole groups of people who should be working together. Like, for instance, snowmobilers -- they can do really amazing, positive things for the environment, but so many of them are like, "Well, I ride a snowmobile so how can I talk about the environment?" And I had the same issues in the beginning, like who am I? I don't live this perfect environmentally conscious life, so how can I talk?

When you get into climate change people get scared because they don't want to be hypocrites. But we're all hypocrites. We're all a part of the problem. But we're also in this system and the whole system needs to change. You can't be so hard on yourself. You have to start somewhere.