Andy Newell on Athletes For Action

It was almost a year ago that my life changed quite a bit when I found myself writing a letter to President Obama and the rest of the world leaders urging them to unite and come together to fight climate change.  How did I get into this position? Being environmentally conscious is something a lot of winter sports athletes take to heart but it wasn’t until the 2014 Olympic season that I decided this was a great opportunity to be heard loud and clear by starting the organization Athletes For Action.

Like many cross-country skiers I’ve always tried to do the ‘little things’ when it comes to living a more sustainable life and making greener choices but I was pretty confused why we weren’t seeing smarter decisions coming out of Washington or from most of the countries that the World Cup Tour stops at each winter.  How come every day people seemed to be busting their butts to save the environment while our world leaders failed to get any kind of big changes made? This question is what sparked the number one goal for Athletes For Action: target the leaders in this world that can implement big changes and make sure they get things done.

I partnered with the organization Protect Our Winters and we set our sights on the 2015 UN Framework Convention as the next big opportunity for the world to come together, put the dollar signs on the backburner for a minute, and unite on setting more strict regulations on carbon emissions.   Sometimes countries communicate like dysfunctional married couples in therapy–without someone there to ask the questions for them, they tend to play the tough guy card and nobody wants to be the first to budge.  I didn’t want this to happen again so we started writing letters to world leaders and recruiting Olympic athletes to sign and help promote the initiative.

I like to make it clear that I’m not a scientist, I’m not really politically savvy, and I don’t like telling people who to vote for, but over the past 12 months I’ve learned a ton about the environment and how politics plays the biggest role imaginable when it comes to protecting it. This sparked the secondary goal for Athletes For Action: educating the athletes.

Andy presenting to a group of students on athletics and climate change
Andy presenting to a group of students on athletics and climate change

With today’s social media tools, athletes have some of the biggest potential when it comes to reaching a big audience. Lebron James has more Twitter followers than the population of a medium sized country.  As I personally started to learn more about how the political system worked and how some of these big environmental decisions were being made I saw the kind of impact big name athletes can have and an even greater need for an organizations like Athletes For Action.

There are plenty of athletes and skiers alike out there who claim to be super ‘green’ but can’t even name their state congressmen or senators or have any idea which direction they tend to vote regarding the environment.  We’re all guilty of it and unless you’re in 8th grade social studies class sometimes it’s hard to know how our government works and who makes what decisions.

So a lot of my time is spent working with Protect Our Winters and folks at the White House to help make it more appealing and easier for athletes to get involved in environmental activism despite what kind of party line they follow. Going green should no longer be a partisan debate but rather about doing what’s best for the planet.

Maybe it’s because I tend to simplify things, but I would like to see Athletes for Action grow into a tool that anyone can use to get transparent information. I would like to make it very black and white that if you are an athlete from THIS area, you need to get on THAT guys case, about making THIS decision. It’s that simple.  Magnify that on a global scale and I think we might actually have the recipe for some big change.



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