YPCCC Partnerships: Interview with Lindsey Halvorson from Protect Our Winters (POW)

Founded by athletes in 2007, Protect Our Winters (POW) helps passionate outdoor enthusiasts protect the places we live in and the experiences we love from climate change. Through the intersections of cultural change, political will, and the use of green technologies and financial instruments, POW envisions a future where the world embraces renewable energy, electric transport, breakthrough technologies, and market policies to achieve carbon neutrality by the mid-century.

Aqsa Mengal from YPCCC’s Partnerships Program had the opportunity to recently sit down with Lindsey Halvorson, Director for Advocacy and Campaigns at Protect Our Winters, to learn more about POW’s climate communications, education work, and partnership with YPCCC.

Headshot of Lindsey Halvorson. This is a black and white photo of a white woman with dark hair and glasses

Aqsa: Thank you for speaking with us, Lindsey. To start, could you tell me a bit about yourself and your role at POW?

Lindsey: I’m the Campaigns Director for Protect Our Winters and Protect Our Winters Action Fund. I’ve been at POW for about six years, and I believe I’ve found a place where my passion lies. People love POW because it encompasses what they like to do outside, and POW represents how they identify as outdoor enthusiasts. I work on all of POW’s campaigns across the team, which includes federal and state policy. I also work on local energy solutions, including rural electric co-ops across the West.

Aqsa: That’s great to hear! What led you to where you are now? How did you get involved in climate work?

Lindsey: I grew up in a mountain town in Colorado, and realized one summer that our town was changing. There were wildfires, droughts, and blizzards that impacted our tourism economy. I realized that my community was in jeopardy, and I had to do something about it. That led me down a path of studying policy and getting involved in solutions for the climate crisis. Eventually, I found that my reason for doing this work is rooted in being outside and doing what I love. So, I made it back to Colorado and decided to work for POW. At POW, there is a shared passion for protecting places we experience through activities like biking, hiking, or skiing. I really embody the POW model of finding solutions to protect the places we belong to and love that are being impacted by climate change.

Aqsa: Diving a little deeper into POW’s work, what are the organization’s broad goals for climate action? And who is your target audience?

Lindsey: POW’s mission is to engage passionate outdoor people to protect the places they live in and love from a changing climate. We engage people across the US West and East, and across Europe and Canada whose identity, livelihood, and joy are based in outdoor recreation. We’re talking about 50 million passionate people who love to hike, bike, ski, climb. We include them in what we call ‘the outdoor state,’ which essentially, if you put all these people together, would be the largest state in the country!

Our broad goals are to engage those folks who spend their time outside and identify as outdoor enthusiasts to take part in the climate conversation. Because we are passionate about outdoor recreation, we often don’t start off the conversation talking directly about climate change, but instead ask them what they did outdoors this weekend, or what they like to do outside. This opens the door for us to then talk about how they’ve seen their favorite places or activities changing and shifting because of climate change. Every single person at POW has a story about a time when climate change impacted their lives – like a year of low snow, or when they couldn’t fish because it was too warm. Everyone has a story of impact. It’s about finding a way to engage those people in climate action to build the cultural movement in the outdoor community. We engage athletes, businesses, creatives, scientists, and others in climate conversations to help elevate climate action to the outdoor community. Our community includes professional athletes, creatives, scientists, and businesses, all of whom do inspirational work, so the goal is to engage them in the climate conversation to broaden our reach.

Aqsa: Tell us a little bit more about how you engage this audience in support of your goals?

Lindsey: We try to engage and mobilize our audience in climate action. We do a lot of federal policy work to help pass climate legislation. We do state level policy work to introduce climate policy in key states across the West. We also do local clean energy work to support the clean energy transition in our communities. In addition to this work, we are also working towards producing a culture shift through films and film grant programs for athletes to talk about their lives and tell stories to build community connection.

Aqsa: It’s great to see your comprehensive approach towards climate action, blending policy work with broader culture change. I’d love to hear about how POW has utilized YPCCC resources or insights to support this approach.

Lindsey: There are a few different ways in which YPCCC resources have been used at POW. First, a number of POW staff have completed the 10 Insights from Climate Change in the American Mind course provided by YPCCC, which has, in turn, informed our daily decisions about how to communicate around climate. So, there is this deep learning and ongoing practice of utilizing YPCCC resources to educate ourselves.

We also utilize it in our training materials with athletes. A lot of times professional athletes can be scared of discussing climate issues because of their own environmental footprint, such as driving to races, or utilizing air travel. But we want members to understand that you can care and act on climate in many ways, and perfection is not a requirement. To do that, we use YPCCC data, such as the Climate Opinion Maps, to show that there is a big audience who will support you in your climate efforts, and that really helps our athletes feel supported.

Lastly, we use YPCCC resources as part of our leave-behind material for advocacy visits. Using YPCCC research to highlight opinions in specific communities during those advocacy visits and providing evidence-based research really helps in all our advocacy efforts.

Aqsa: That’s great to hear! What do you think POW does well that other climate communicators could learn from?

Lindsey: I think a lot of organizations do this well, but essentially, starting with the story of who we are and tying that to a personal connection with the outdoors. We span different political ideologies, different geographies, ethnicities, races, and genders, and still come together because we all have this common experience of enjoying the outdoors. We use our common love for the outdoors as a starting point for our conversations. A lot of organizations do this, but for us, I believe what’s different is the emphasis on the outdoors and sharing experiences of what we each love to do outside. I believe POW has tapped into something special there and it has opened up a lot of communities for us that wouldn’t normally want to talk about climate change. Lastly, we are able to create content that really resonates with people, such as feature-length or short films, which move beyond numbers and provide a personalized story on a changing climate, and that is inspirational.

Aqsa: What has been POW’s single most exciting or surprising discovery you made in communicating or organizing around climate? 

Lindsey: We did a messaging study in 2019 called Motivating Lifestyle Driven Advocacy, and one of the things we found is that the outdoor community is one-third Democrat, one-third Republican, and one-third Independent, which means we have a broad audience to reach. So starting with the story of outdoor spaces and then moving to the discussion on climate action is instrumental and one of the most powerful ways in which we engage our audience. We’ve also found that our community doesn’t like to be overtly political either, and building trust is a key component. What we’ve found while working with athletes, businesses, and creatives is that we are able to communicate more authentically with audiences and convince them to think about climate differently if we work with trusted figures like athletes and creatives to share those messages.

Aqsa: We know from research that trusted messengers are key when it comes to effective climate communication with diverse audiences. It is always exciting to see that insight being put into action. Lastly, how does POW remain hopeful and inspired to build public and political will in the climate movement?

Lindsey: What is inspiring to me is our community. I am continually impressed by the creativity of our athletes and artists. They spend so much of their time competing and on the road. They have to train and focus on winning within their profession, and in addition to those responsibilities, they spend time with us advocating for climate action. That’s a really powerful way to engage people who aren’t traditionally engaged in climate; it helps us extend our audience beyond athletes to include the entire outdoor community. The outdoor community choosing to spend their time with us to engage in campaigns, or talk about climate with their friends, instead of being outside is a powerful thing. That might seem small but there’s something really powerful in building a strong and resilient community of people who are incredible humans. How we continue to build hope is through the joy we derive from community-building, getting outside together, and participating in this movement for change together.

Thank you to Lindsey Halvorson and Protect Our Winters for their time, ongoing partnership with YPCCC, and important work in the climate space.