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Olympians Take Stand about Climate Change

By Roger Lohr

Andy Newell, US Ski Team and Olympic competitor in cross country skiing, created “Athletes for Action” before he set off for the Sochi Olympics. The idea was to coordinate athletes to encourage definitive government action on climate change. “We’re expecting more out of Washington and from world leaders,” he commented.

Newell recently was joined by fellow Olympian Alex Deibold, (snowboardcross bronze medalist from Vermont) on a visit to the US State Department to speak with Todd Stern, the US special envoy for climate change, and he wants to work with other athletes from around the world and have them address the leaders in their countries, too.

Newell recognizes that as a world-class athlete who travels around the world to compete, his carbon footprint is probably larger than most, but he opined, “We compete outdoors every day, so we’re in tune with the environment and I feel that it’s our responsibility to speak up.” Before the Olympics, Newell rallied 105 athletes from the US and other countries to sign a letter to world leaders calling them to action on climate change.

After returning from Sochi, other Olympic cross country skiers from Vermont recently joined the cause including biathletes Hannah Dreissigacker and Susan Dunklee and Nordic racers Liz Stephen and Ida Sargent. They saw poor snow conditions while racing in Europe at many races last winter. The Olympians recently spoke with VTDigger.com about their views on climate change.

Dreissigacker commented, “We need to put a price on carbon emissions.” Liz Stephen said that the majority of her races this year were on narrow tracks on machine-made snow that was slushy and colored brown with rocks and dirt. While it is true that Vermont had much better snow conditions last winter compared to Europe, Sargent said that Vermont should model Europe’s action on carbon emissions such as driving smaller cars, using public transportation, and installing solar panels. She also supports the Kingdom Community Wind Project in Lowell, VT, a project that has stirred an emotional debate on the state’s energy future.

Biathlete Susan Dunklee voiced her concern about the Montreal-Portland Pipeline, which brings crude oil from South Portland, ME to Montreal and could be reversed to transport heavy Canadian crude oil to the Maine coast. “We’re enabling a system that’s depending on fossil fuels and we need to be finding more creative solutions.”

Newell would like to welcome athletes from the summer Olympics and non-Olympic athletes such as NFL and MLB players to participate in Athletes for Action. “I’d like to see it grow to where athletes from all disciplines and multiple countries are involved.”

Roger Lohr is a freelance writer and the founder of XCSkiresorts.com.

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