Lauren MacCallum - The Accidental Activist

 

 

It’s about time I was asked to write an intro about my friend and partner on powder, Lauren MacCallum. Lauren really cares about the scene, and has always wanted to progress it be better and more accessible for all, but also to think beyond what we know and see in front of us. Basically, to think big, like the mountains and nature which surround us. Managing POW UK, she’s finally able to empower us all to be active in realising our rights, our opinions, and lead us in the fight against climate change. So listen up! - Hannah Bailey

Interview: Theo Acworth

Portrait: Hannah Bailey

Video Frames: WRKSHRT - Right to Roam & Accidental Activism

Extracted from Method Mag Issue 21.2

So Lauren, to start things off, who are you?

I’ve been snowboarding for ten years, I live in Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands, and I’m the general manager of Protect Our Winters UK. I hate to use the word activist, but that’s what I get called.

Our content doesn’t often deviate from ‘cool snowboarding’, and that’s something that we’d like to try and change a bit. A few people I like talking to have told me that you’re someone I need to talk to. So, where should we start?

Well, what I can do is help be the translator to the bigger and more systemic issues around climate breakdown and sustainability and that sort of thing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but maybe some of your readership thinks that protecting the environment is a nerdy thing that means wearing Gore Tex and splitboarding? And it totally doesn’t need to be. 

I think there are a lot of snowboarders who understand that this is a serious issue, but for sure there are a lot more who just want to go ride and film and don’t put too much thought into it.

If we’re talking about a subject snowboarders should really care about and get behind, I don’t really see a more suited topic than climate change to match the culture, or sub-culture that is snowboarding. If you want to talk about divesting from big banks and alternative energies, give me another topic that’s more ‘fuck the system’ than climate change. So maybe this can be a small call to arms for the Method readership. Everyone has a part to play, this isn’t some small nerdy thing,  mainstream, and everyone should have a voice and an opinion on this because there won’t be snowboarding in 40 or 50 years if we carry on the way that we are. 

Not being able to ride street in Helsinki or Oslo probably isn’t high on most people’s priority list, but I’m pretty sure our audience is seeing what’s going on with climate change and massively inconsistent weather, and are worried. 

Street snowboarding already requires an alternative mindset and approach to the world, and that exact mindset is needed to fix mainstream problems. That’s quite unique. We can use that voice and power and the alternative thinking of our culture to help tackle a global problem. And as much as I like seeing sick stuff down massive rails and kickers, for me, it’s getting boring. If we just take the same crews to the same spots with the same photographers and filmers, where is that evolving? I just want to see more space created for those alternative stories, those alternative people, those alternative faces. Right to Roam [Ed. 2016 film from Patagonia and WRKSHRT. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it] was something quite fresh, and I know that sounds like I’m up my own arse, and I don’t mean to be, but it was a piece of content that used snowboarding as a medium, but wasn’t really about snowboarding, you know what I mean? 

I think that’s a very nice way to put it. I loved that film and the message it communicated.

There are a thousand stories like that waiting to be told within snowboarding. It’s getting those alternative stories about where we’re at and where we’re going, and just creating space for others to come through that’s important.

 

Broad question, but what are you seeing and hearing at the moment through your work with POW? 

What we’re seeing at an international government level is a complete lack of ambition and urgency to adequately tackle the global climate crisis. The Paris agreement, which I guess most people have heard of, is the global agreement to keep warming to 1.5 degrees. The current commitment from all the countries involved means we’re sitting between a 3 to 4-degree rise in warming, and this means we’ll start seeing catastrophic events. When we talk about catastrophic, we mean seriously interfering with human life on earth. It can’t be said any more frankly than that. So that leaves it up to us to try and hurry along the solutions and investment to solve it, sooner rather than later. 

How you find the experience of dealing with people in power? 

The experiences really vary from day-to-day. People are generally happy that we’re putting in the time to help them and their community. Sometimes I speak to my local representatives as the general manager of a climate change charity. But more often I go and speak to them as Lauren MacCallum, a snowboarder from Aviemore, and I tell them I’m scared about what it will mean for my local community and economy if the winter disappears from the Cairngorm mountains. If you can frame it in that way and make it more personal, politicians are generally more receptive. The business community have got their heads in the sand, but a lot of them have been proactive but just don’t know how to start. That’s why we created the POW Pledge in collaboration with Surfdome, which is eight steps that companies can take to help them get to Net-Zero. A lot of people don’t realise that you don’t have to go out of business to get to Net Zero, these sustainable practices actually save money. It’s cool when you empower someone to create their own actions and massively rewarding to experience. There are definitely hard days at the office when the UK government puts in some ridiculous policy or overrides an environmental protection, but that’s just part of the parcel of caring. It’s important to realise that if we don’t look after politics, politics will look after us. And I mean that in a collective sense. Snowboarding doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s influenced by the decisions that people make for us and around us. And it’s crucial that we engage in those decision-making processes so we can hold people accountable who are making the decisions. 

It seems like there’s often a big gap between what people say and what they do. 

The incoherence is quite startling at times. For example, there’s a policy in the UK government right now to maximise economic recovery from the North Sea, which completely contradicts their own laws and legislation about getting to Net Zero by 2045. POW exists to educate our community and address these issues with politicians and get them to sort it out because they leave themselves open for civil law cases as we saw in Holland, where the Dutch government was successfully sued by a climate group.

© WRKSHRT Video frames.

 

I remember reading about that. Have you ever come up against any problems or reluctance from the media about your work?

Most journalists we work with have been pretty up for helping us get our work out there. There is, however, some really, really unhelpful reporting that goes on when discussing the climate crisis in general, and this is when it’s reported as an individual problem. What we need now with the time we have left is systemic action that is going to have huge impacts on carbon reduction. Individual lifestyle and mindset changes are important, but we really need to get to the big and systemic changes around energy production and put in legislation around multinationals who are big polluters. The top 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. So some journalists and media have an absolute wet dream when they jump on these individual lifestyle changes like ‘Eat less red meat’ or ‘Cycle to work once a week’ because it takes the heat off them and the focus off big polluters, and puts it on the individual.

So we all need to try and be better, but also put and keep the pressure on those who can make massive changes that are far further reaching than those made by individuals? 

Yes. It’s important to remember that the individual lifestyle narrative is something that’s been very well thought out and corroborated by fossil fuel and plastic lobbies to keep things the same and maintain the status quo. I like asking people this, when do you think US Congress first voted on the plastic crisis?

I would guess some time in the 2000s, but now I’m thinking it might be earlier..?

The 1970s. 

Wow, I didn’t think it was that long ago.

Yeah, they’ve known about the plastics crisis for 50 fucking years, and instead of discussing switching to a different material, what the plastics lobbies did was come up with a really clever idea to shift the blame from the corporation to the individual. That was done by running really well-executed recycling campaigns. The fossil fuel lobby is doing the exact same thing through focussing on personal lifestyle choices like ‘There’s a climate crisis because you flew to Geneva to go snowboarding. Because you don’t cycle to work. Because you don’t do meat-free Mondays.’ This is a very careful narrative to make you feel guilty and to make you silent. And it’s fucking working. I get so frustrated when I see our community arguing with each other about ‘you flew there’ or ‘you flew there’. It’s all bullshit, Through the lockdown, we pretty much grounded global aviation, and global emissions were still at 95%. So of course flying is an issue, but emissions only dropped 5%. I flew to Whistler last summer for a wedding, and my return flight from Edinburgh emitted just over 1 metric tonne of carbon. The UK grid emits 57 million tonnes a year. There’s the problem. Sure, I can stop flying and save one metric tonne of carbon, but here’s a better idea, why don’t we all campaign to move to renewable energy and save 57 million tonnes of carbon emissions. Let’s keep our conversations around the solutions to these systemic issues. We have the solutions to move to green energy. We’re about to go into a global job crisis due to the slump from Corona, but we have another crisis that needs solving, and we can do that with good green jobs. These solutions already exist,  but they need to be prioritised and championed so we can use them to kickstart our economies and tackle these issues.

I’d never thought about the psychological side of recycling. That’s gnarly. 

It’s super gnarly. I think where people make mistakes early in what I’ll call their ‘activist journey’ is that they tend to focus on individual choices, and you can almost see them becoming paralysed with the idea that they’re not perfect. So that’s what POW is here to do. We’re not trying to create an imperfect system with perfect people existing within it. What we’re trying to do is create a perfect system with imperfect people existing within it. We need the help and passion and influence of the community to help us realise what that new system looks like and how we make it. We have to come up with the solutions ourselves because let’s be honest, no one is going to do it for us. Having the door shut and slammed in your face and being told no, you’ve just got to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and support each other to create change. That’s where that real life-affirming and community-building experience can come from. 

Actually feeling you’re connected to your community and your neighbours instead of just connected to Instagram. I guess we don’t have that too often anymore. 

Grassroots campaigning is some of the most rewarding work you can do around any issue. At the end of last year and after a lot of campaigning we had a win with POW UK’s first-ever political campaign called ‘Get Radical’. We joined the wider climate movement and brought the voice of the outdoor and snowboard community to the mainstream climate table with a lot of other big NGOs like Oxfam and Greenpeace. We were putting pressure on the Scottish government to up their climate ambition and getting them to legally commit to a 2045 target of Net-Zero. We were really stoked on that win and want to continue to up that ambition.

© WRKSHRT Video frame from 'Right to Roam'

 

Congrats! What other positive things are you seeing from your work with POW?

TSA have taken our Pledge, and of course Surfdome too, who helped us set it up. They’re more retail, but they have buying power. Surfdome has actually asked all the brands they work with to take the POW Pledge.

That’s cool to hear. 

Yeah, that’s awesome. They work with 1500 brands, and they want to start seeing the brands they buy from taking some sort of commitment that matches their own values. It’s that sort of power that really helps us along and is massively important. Burton donated their sales from Black Friday to us and have committed a lot of funding across all POW European chapters, which has been game-changing in actually setting up POW EU and helping us sustain the work that we’re doing, as well as increasing our capacity. Nidecker have also been great at giving financial support for POW EU. This is so important when we’re talking about small NGOs. We could be doing a lot more, but in order to do that, we need the funding so we can employ more people. Patagonia gives POW UK a lot of support, they’ve been flying this flag for a long time and are looked at as being leaders in this field. Their whole business mission is to save the Home Planet, you know?

Absolutely. What positives can you tell us about that are going on with the production side of snowboarding?

I’m not so clued up with board sustainability, so apologies if this is a bit off, but off the top of my head I know that Nidecker, Burton, Jones and Mervyn and Capita aren’t using, or are reducing, harmful toxins and fluorocarbons in their boards and are using lots of recycled materials. They’re using sustainable products in sustainable methods, and the sustainability managers are starting to share their knowledge and progress with each other and other brands.

This is definitely the sort of topic where ideas should be shared for everyone’s benefit, rather than hoarded for profit. Nice to hear that the snowboard community are doing good things.

Definitely. I’ve spoken about the snowboard community pretty positively so far, but I’ve got to say that in some respects it also needs to take a long hard look at itself and fucking grow up. We need to join the adult conversations that are happening around us. We’ve seen a few good diversity pieces coming out recently about race and gay rights, but some of the comment sections have just exploded, not in a good way. Reading them made me think that snowboarding has never felt so redundant. Where is it in the wider conversations? We get the scene that we make, and we have to be accountable for the community we foster and create. If we don’t own the good parts and the bad, if we don’t challenge misogyny, if we don’t challenge homophobia, if we don’t challenge climate denial, then what we’ll get is a racist, homophobic, narrow-minded, inward-looking scene. I think we need to get better at having these conversations around what I’ll call this ‘big stuff’. It’s up to us to make sure that our scene is doing what it can to become accessible, to become accommodating, to become champions for something that gives us so much. No one is going to come and save snowboarding for us, and if snowboarders can’t save it, then we’re absolutely fucked.

I’ve seen people arguing that snowboarding is their ‘escape’ and these larger issues should be kept out of it, what would you say in response to them?

Snowboarding is an escape for me too. I deal with heavy conversations about our planet being fucked up, but I don’t talk about this stuff all the time. I go and hang out with my friends or go splitboarding and just switch off. So if you say something ‘doesn’t belong in snowboarding because it’s my escape’, then I would challenge that point of view as a massively privileged standpoint. I would urge anyone who says that to think about what is actually triggering that reaction in them. What’s the big deal about making snowboarding more inclusive? Or caring about something like climate change that will ultimately be the end of snowboarding if we don’t get our arses into gear? If we sow those seeds into the foundation and don’t go out of our way to stand up for the climate or confront homophobia then those seeds will grow into something that isn’t forward-thinking, isn’t diverse and isn’t a progressive space. And I thought that’s what snowboarding was all about?

Clik here to find out more about the work being done by Protect Our Winters.

© WRKSHRT Video frame from 'Right to Roam'