Progress, Not Perfection: The Inflation Reduction Act and POW’s Hot Trail Summer

The biggest climate change legislation ever has just cleared the senate. Here’s why trail runners should care.

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President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) last Tuesday afternoon, which is the most significant federal clean energy investment in U.S. history. The law allocates $369 billion to energy and climate reform investments. 

As trail runners, this law directly impacts the activities to which we devote much of our time. Generally, when people talk about climate change, they often focus on the negative impact on winter sports because it’s easy to quantify – we can see the melting snow caps – but it’s more than that.

“It’s not just a winter sports thing. It’s not just some melting snow thing,” said Stephanie Howe, professional trail runner, and captain of Protect Our Winters (POW) Trail Alliance team. “It’s something that’s impacting all of us.”

At the time of this writing, there are at least 22 significant wildfires burning across the Western U.S. Just this year, at least five wildfires have grown larger than 25,000 acres. 

burned trees
Fire damaged forest & trees, along the Pacific Crest Trail, Mount Adams Wilderness, Washington

This new legislation comes on the heels of the non-profit POW publishing their summer report, “Hot Trail Summer: The Impact of a Warming Climate on Climbing and Trail Sports.” POW’s detailed report highlights three significant threats of climate change to summer trail sports. 

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Climate Change’s Impact on Trails

  1. Access. First, climate change will reduce and limit access to trail systems. The ongoing influx of more frequent and severe wildfires causes the closure of recreational areas, with lasting impacts on trails caused by charring, erosion, and tree die-off.
  2. Physical wellbeing. Second, climate change threatens the health and well-being of those outdoors. Warmer air temperatures make it uncomfortable to enjoy training during certain times of the day. Risks of heat-related illnesses are increased. Increased levels of poor air quality caused by wildfire smoke, increased dust levels brought on by drought, and higher surface-level ozone concentrations expose us to dangerous respiratory conditions.
  3. Overall experience. Third, climate change will diminish the outdoor experience. Reduced air quality, drought, and charred landscapes contribute to the reduced experience of environmental adventures. The deterioration and limited access caused by wildfires will likely lead to increased overcrowding. 

In short, if these trends were left unchecked, it would make it increasingly more challenging and complicated to enjoy the trails during the summer.  

The IRA and Climate Solutions 

After 18 months of negotiations, Democrats passed the historic climate legislation along party lines. The climate solutions in the law will actualize efforts to address the climate challenges in POW’s report.

“It’s historic. It’s hard not to feel inspired,” said Mario Molina, executive director of POW. “It doesn’t have everything we wanted, but it’s a good start. It goes to show that who gets elected actually matters, so now we look to the midterms.” 

Molina, though optimistic, was quick to point out that how the laws are enforced moving forward is particularly important. “The proof is in the pudding. The environment doesn’t care about what’s put on paper; it’s about how we implement the policies.”

The legislation is timely, given this summer’s production of relentless heat waves and historic flooding across the country. July 2022 was the third-hottest on record in the U.S. Yale’s Climate Connections details how this summer’s heat has affected individuals worldwide. In short, their work provides a vivid account of the summer’s heat that has been growing more intense globally, a direct result of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

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The newly signed legislation addresses energy security and climate change in several ways. The law includes a host of tax credits to spur wind, solar, and other renewables; incentives to bring down the cost of electric vehicles; and incentives for homeowners to install energy-efficient heating and cooling systems. 

The law is intended to steer American individuals and businesses away from a reliance on fossil fuels. Supporters maintain it will lower greenhouse gas emissions by 40%, based on 2005 levels, by the end of the decade. It also includes funds for investing in forest and coastal restoration and resilient agriculture.

How runners can make a difference and take action 

There are many ways trail runners and outdoor lovers can help protect the areas we exercise and play in. As a collective, the US is home to 80 million trail enthusiasts that have the power to continue to influence U.S. climate policy.

Voting is easily the most effective way to affect climate policy, and not just during presidential elections. 

“The biggest thing runners can do to create systemic change is to vote and to be vocal about standing up for things that we’re passionate about,” said Howe. “To make the biggest impact, you need to support climate champions in the legislature and bills that are going to put these protections into place. That goes nationally and locally. Get to know your representatives, put them on speed dial on your phone, call them, and tell them what you want.” 

Get involved locally. Local representatives wield a lot of power to reduce emissions and prioritize other critical environmental issues in your area. It’s essential to educate yourself on environmental topics. Then, speak with friends, family members, and co-workers about ecological issues. Even better, speak with representatives, senators, and state and local government officials about climate impacts and solutions. 

“But when it comes to the climate, that’s something that we can all elevate to the number one issue. And it doesn’t have to be a partisan issue,” said Howe. “Talking to people about it and not being afraid to say the things about climate that are important. Have a conversation, listen to another side, and find a middle ground. You can always find things that you have in common that you agree on and just talk about it.” 

By working together, we can continue the momentum for a more optimistic climate policy in the U.S. moving forward. For more information, or if you would like to get more involved before the midterm elections, you can check out POW.