Election day is right around the corner. While some us may view climbing as an escape from politics and all of the other stressors of daily life, the truth is that politics have a huge impact on our sport. Government policies affect what climbing areas remain open, the health of the environments where we climb, and even the cost of gear. It’s imperative that we participate in our democracy as both United States citizens and climbers.
“Climbers should be concerned about these issues because they affect climbing, public lands, and the future of humans on planet Earth,” said Erik Murdock, policy director of the Access Fund. “We have been recently fighting, among other things, to reverse the reduction of Bears Ears, limit the losses to climbing as a result of industrial activities, and promote a more just public land system that is open to all people and protected for future generations. If these things are important to you, you absolutely need to vote as soon as possible.”
Beyond being an enjoyable and meaningful pastime for millions of Americans, outdoor recreation is also a booming economic sector, with $887 billion in consumer spending generating $125 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue and employing 7.6 million Americans, according to a 2017 study.
With all of this in mind, we've compiled the positions of 2020 presidential candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump on three pressing issues to climbers and our associated industry: Public lands, climate change, and tariffs.
Roughly 60% of climbing in the USA is located on public lands. Presidential and congressional candidates who support conserving public lands will help maintain our climbing access.
Within his first year in office, President Donald Trump dramatically reduced the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Southern Utah, opening these lands to oil and gas development. Approximately 40% of the climbing in these areas is no longer federally protected, including: Valley of the Gods, Harts Draw, Lockhart Basin, and a portion of the climbing in Indian Creek.
Throughout President Trump’s term, his administration has consistently rolled back protection of public lands as a component of his “Energy Dominance” campaign, in an effort to open these areas to oil and gas development. According to his campaign website promiseskept.com, “The Trump administration reversed President Obama’s moratorium on new leases for oil and gas development on federal lands.”
If climbing areas located on public lands are leased to oil and gas companies for development, it could block access to these destinations, muddle iconic landscapes with oil wells, open roads to heavy truck and machinery traffic, and pollute the surrounding air and water.
“The energy dominance mandate has resulted in cascading repercussions that have negatively affected our protected lands (e.g., Bears Ears reduction), our environmental protections, and our opportunities for public comment,” Murdock said. “Public lands need to be in public hands.”
He continues: “Energy development is one of the values of our public lands. However, so are recreation, conservation and traditional importance. Unfettered and inappropriate energy development is not good for public lands because it inevitably harms other values, such as climbing.”
On a positive note, however, Trump did sign the Great American Outdoors Act into law, which provides funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund. The first of these organizations protects natural areas and water resources and helps ensure recreation access, and the second organization provides funding for public land maintenance.
Former Vice President Joe Biden was a part of the administration that designated Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante as national monuments in December 2016. He maintains that he will continue to fight for the protection of public lands.
According to joebiden.com: "Biden will take Executive Action protecting America’s natural treasures by permanently protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other areas, establishing national parks and monuments that reflect America’s natural heritage, banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters, modifying royalties to account for climate costs, and establishing targeted programs to enhance reforestation.”
As global temperatures rise, landscapes around the world become forever changed, and climbing becomes more dangerous, particularly alpinism and ice climbing. Global warming was the likely cause of the 2014 rock and ice avalanche on Mount Everest that killed 16 people.
“Wildfires, floods, droughts, glacier recession, and many other climate related changes need to be addressed with a high level of urgency,” Murdock said. “Ignoring climate change is not good for climbing, public lands, and all humans.”
President Trump has been unclear whether or not he believes in climate change, at times calling it a “hoax” and at other times calling it a “very serious issue.” Though his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, his rescinding of the Obama-Era Clean Power Plan, and his consistent encouragement of oil and gas development have displayed that climate change is not a very serious issue to his administration.
Joe Biden, if elected, has vowed to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and to stand as a leader for a carbon-neutral future. "Biden will not only recommit the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate change—he will go much further than that,” reads joebiden.com. “He will lead an effort to get every major country to ramp up the ambition of their domestic climate targets."
Additionally: “The Biden Plan will ensure the US reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050.”
Tariffs impact the cost of climbing equipment to the consumer. A large portion of outdoor gear is manufactured abroad and then imported. Tariffs on these imported goods are often passed down to the consumer, resulting in higher price tags on equipment and apparel.
During his ongoing trade war with China, Trump increased tariffs on Chinese imports from 10 percent to 25 percent. He did so to encourage American companies to bring manufacturing to US soil, but outdoor companies have repeatedly expressed how difficult it is to change a supply chain. It can take months or years, and in the meantime it is costing the consumer money and reducing the number of sales.
Black Diamond and Columbia created a mock hangtag to demonstrate the effect tariffs have on the cost of equipment, showing that more than 30 percent of the price of their products are from federal taxes—5.5 percent being an import tariff and 25 percent being a punitive import tariff.
Biden has condemned Trump’s trade war with China, stating that tariffs are only hurting manufacturers and consumers. According to joebiden.com: “In 2019, U.S. manufacturing was in recession, and Trump’s much vaunted China trade strategy ended up contributing to a decline in American manufacturing exports.”
Biden has asserted that he will work with allies to modernize international trade rules to ensure the ongoing benefit of manufacturers and consumers, both domestic and abroad.
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Voting is already underway throughout the US, Millions of Americans have already made their voice heard via early voting, mail-in ballots, and absentee ballots.
The presidential candidates will be on every American’s ballot on November 3, but your state and local officials also play a role on policies relevant to climbers. Note that it is now too late to vote by mail. If you have an absentee or mail-in ballot, it will need to be returned to a dropbox. For more information on how to vote, and to learn more about your local candidates and ballot initiatives, visit ballotready.org. For more information about the election as it pertains to climbers, check out the American Alpine Club's free Summit Register publication.
Be informed, and go vote!