The Burton Blog

On Climate Action and COVID-19: A Letter From Donna Carpenter

Hi all,

We recently celebrated Earth Day in North America. It’s a time to celebrate our connection to nature, but also to heed her warnings of environmental degradation and impending devastation.

I know it’s difficult, when you are in the middle of a crisis, to think too far into the future. We are faced with the immediate needs of keeping our families safe and our company viable for the long term. But it’s important to remember, the coronavirus crisis is not the only threat to humanity. There’s long been a consensus among scientists that climate change is manmade and is an existential threat to the planet.

The similarities between what we are facing with this virus and the threat we face from climate change are striking to me:

1. Both threats are invisible. Just as we can’t see the coronavirus, we can’t see carbon in the air. And it’s hard to mobilize people around something they can’t see.

2. Neither came out of nowhere. A pandemic like this was predicted by global health experts. Public health experts saw this as inevitable, just as climate scientists have been saying: it’s not a matter of if, but when.

3. Denial of the threat leads to inaction. We are all subject to the laws of nature. Denying the emergency (or, curiously, blaming both on a ‘Chinese hoax’) only leaves us unprepared. One lesson we have learned in this current crisis is that the earlier and the bolder the actions we take, the better.

4. Mitigating these threats require global solidarity. There are no borders when it comes to coronavirus or climate change. Our collective fate is in each of our hands.

I am hopeful that we will now take climate science more seriously.

As you’ve probably heard, the surreal slowdown of social and economic life right now is giving Mother Earth a break. The decrease in air pollution has been significant. This is a great research opportunity, but it will not ‘solve’ climate change. We will go back to business as usual some day in the near future.

That being said, how we are handling the current crisis is giving climate activists, including me, hope for the future. Getting people to care about the welfare of others and to take action based on our collective fate, has always been an obstacle for the climate movement. If you had asked me just a few months ago: would the world basically shut down voluntarily in order to save 1-2% of the population? I would have said no.

I am hopeful that we – as a global community and as individuals – will now take climate science more seriously. We’ve learned that denial simply doesn’t work when it comes to the forces of nature. Fortunately, we’ve also learned that we can take action as individuals that has a global impact.

Photo by Elyse Cosgrove
Denial simply doesn't work when it comes to the forces of nature.

I remember my personal “turning point," when I went from being concerned about the environment to being a climate activist. It was seven years ago at a Denver trade show. Jeremy Jones, the rider and visionary behind Protect Our Winters, approached me to see if Burton would join POW. Ali [Kenney, SVP of Global Strategy, Insights and Sustainability] and I had just started our sustainability efforts and I felt it was too soon to start speaking up. I told him we had to green our own house first. He responded by saying that I could do all the right things, I could work to green our house all day long, but that still wouldn’t move the needle. What was required was all of us using our voices to demand collective change. Burton joined POW that day, and never looked back, becoming one of their strongest and most vocal supporters.

In a bittersweet way, I am hopeful this pandemic will be everyone’s “turning point.” The process of getting back to 'normal’ is going to be a slow and difficult one. But I know once we are through it, there will be a pent-up demand to get outdoors and to snowboard. There will also be a pent-up demand for action around climate change.

With much love and deep gratitude,