Climbing and the Environment

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 _hs_ 19 Sep 2019


I have a couple of questions on climbing and the environment. Hugely appreciative if anyone cares to chime in! The questions below, and the background to why I'm asking, below them.

1) Do you care about the environment, meaning issues like climate change and biodiversity loss?

2a) If you do, does that affect how you practice climbing? Meaning, modes of travel, carbon offsets, buying less gear, and overall thinking and acting upon issues such as chalk usage, vegetation removal, consideration of crag flora and fauna in general, etc.? Please feel free to even share tips on low impact climbing if you wish!

2b) If you don't think that environmental issues are relevant in climbing, why do you think that?

Background: I'm finishing my PhD on media representations of climbing, gender, and the environment, and in relation to that, I've started thinking about possible postdoc projects. I've often come across climbers saying that they care about the environment,and enjoy being out in nature, etc. However, there isn't a huge amount of research done to elaborate on those sentiments. So, I'm trying to think whether this would be a useful research direction, and wanted to sound off with the grassroots community.

I realize this is a long post and a big ask but if anyone wants to take the time to answer, big thanks in advance!


Harri Salovaara

University of Jyväskylä, Finland

Climber since 2005ish

OP _hs_ 20 Sep 2019
In reply to _hs_:

Apologies for the bump. Perhaps this Off Belay forum was not the best choice where to post this but none of the other forum options seemed good, either. But, if anyone's interested, this question has generated a good discussion over at Mountain Project:

 john arran 20 Sep 2019
In reply to _hs_:

I think this forum would have been a good choice were it not for the many other current and recent threads on climbing and environmental concerns. Unfortunately, for me at least, the wording of your questions isn't as engaging as it might be, which perhaps explains why people are engaging with other environmental threads instead.

OP _hs_ 20 Sep 2019
In reply to john arran:

Thanks John! I actually tried to find current threads on the topic here but didn't, hence this new one. If you can guide me to better threads, I'd love to read them. Cheers!

 john arran 20 Sep 2019
In reply to _hs_:

'Better' is not what I was trying to convey, but right now there are at least two threads on the planned strike for environmental awareness:
Both seem to have generated a reasonably active response.

ps. Thank you for taking my constructive criticism in the manner intended

traceyphillips 20 Sep 2019
In reply to _hs_:

Just here to help boost engagement haha!

 Jon Stewart 20 Sep 2019
In reply to _hs_:

> 1) Do you care about the environment, meaning issues like climate change and biodiversity loss?

Yes, but maybe a bit less the people around me. I don't have kids and have a generally pessimistic outlook on the utter meaninglessness of the cosmos and life within it, so if the planet were suddenly to erupt into a ball of flames, I wouldn't really be that bothered. That said, there is an argument to say that consciousness *is* something of cosmic significance so maybe it's worth erring on the side of caution when it comes to the destruction of planet earth.

I take the view that if you *do* care about the future, then you simply must care about climate change. Because it will make the world a lot shitter than it is now, and my god, that's pretty shit. The situation at the moment looks a lot to me like the parents of the human family have got absolutely shitfaced, trashed the family home and left it for the kids to clean up all the piles of shit and sick and tipped-over ashtrays, broken beer bottles, used johnnies on the rug, etc. They have a right to be pissed off.

As for biodiversity loss, I'm not nearly as bothered by that as climate change. It seems like a terrible act of cosmic vandalism to destroy species the way we are wont to do, but looking philosophically, it's hard to see why that's important. Causing suffering is bad for obvious reasons, so if a world with fewer species also has less suffering, I'd go down that path rather than saving the cute and cuddly creatures. I prefer the idea of a planet with all its rich species and whatnot intact, but I think it's basically just an aesthetic preference.

> 2a) If you do, does that affect how you practice climbing? 

I only go on one foreign (plane) trip a year. I then pat myself on the back for my "low carbon lifestyle" but actually, I only want to go on one foreign trip a year. I prefer climbing in the UK (but not in winter).

When it comes to use of the diesel van, then frankly, I drive it wherever I want to go, and most of the time it's just me in it. So no browny points there, but I do feel a bit guilty about it, which I suppose is a start.

I don't like buying stuff, so I don't continually buy more gear and more clothes and all that crap. But mainly it's just because I don't want to - I don't restrict a desire to consume more shite for environmental reasons.

> 2b) If you don't think that environmental issues are relevant in climbing, why do you think that?

I don't really think that the chalk/flora issue is important. We only climb on a tiny fraction of the available rock - that which is the cleanest and steepest stuff. If it's got a lot of stuff living on it, we don't want to climb it anyway, because it's not clean and steep. I think on balance the fun we get out of climbing is worth the removal of vegetation and habitat on the crags, because there's plenty more where that came from. If we'd stripped away all the habitat, that would be a very different matter, but we don't - we sacrifice little patches of rock where the best routes are. And where there is a specific ecological issue like a rare plant or nesting bird, someone puts up a sign to say "no climbing due to rare plants or birds or something" and we respect it.

In short, when it comes to the impact of climbing on the environment at this micro-level, I think there are rather bigger fish to fry - the issue of the state of the world we're leaving for future generations at the global level.

 Xharlie 20 Sep 2019
In reply to _hs_:

Climbing and the environment. Skiing and the environment. Windsurfing and the environment. I have similar opinions on all of these.

Firstly, I think that gear is a complete non-issue because gear isn't disposable or single-use. Sure, it's all made out of stuff that is hardly "green" and the manufacturing is also not "green" but I try to buy really good stuff, look after it carefully and use it hard until it dies. I'm not buying new stuff every season just for fashion and I'm not buying crap just to look at it. (The carbon in my windsurf masts is well captured in my opinion.)

Consumables are perhaps a concern but, seriously, none of these sports have any high consumable consumption rate. I use a bag of chalk every few years. I need to toss my old fins and buy new ones but the old ones were 99% knackered by previous owners before I even bought the boards they came with and so they were already "recycled" in a way -- it's only through liberal use of elbow-grease and sandpaper that I've kept them useful for two seasons already. Skins don't wear out that quickly and what's the environmental impact of a ski grind, buff and wax once a season?

Climbing shoes are probably the worst "consumable" of all and I try to get mine resoled at least once in their life cycle. I normally have a pair of good outdoor shoes for sends, old-but-good shoes for outdoor adventure climbing and tries and nearly-knackered shoes for in the hall. Shoes filter down this hierarchy and, by the time they're not even good for the boulder hall, they've been properly used to death. I'm not happy with the life-span of climbing shoes but I try to mitigate the problem as much as possible.

And NONE of my sports involve bottled water, pre-packaged dehydrated meals or single-serving sachets of energy-gunk. I actively loath those.

The biggest impact must be driving. Climbing without driving is awkward but more possible than ski-touring. Windsurfing without driving is basically impossible -- bike trailer arrangements do happen but, frankly, they're not really practical for most people.

But when I'm on a surfing trip, I drive to the spot and leave the car standing for a week -- or use it only for very short hauls from the camp-site to the rigging lawn. Similar for skiing: one long slog to the village and then standing or short hops from the house to the start of the trail. Certainly, I drive less on holiday than I do for work during the work week.

Plus, when I'm on a skiing, climbing or surfing trip, I'm not sat at my desk drinking shite coffee out of corporate-issue aluminium nespresso pods, eating food out of single-use packaging, or ordering cruft off Amazon to afford a distraction from the shitness of work life etc.

As far as impact on the environment is concerned, I try to be as stealthy as possible. That is, I leave only footprints and take only photographs and whatever. I try not to destroy the flora or the rock when I'm climbing and, unlike some, I don't go trying to launch my windsurfer in protected areas where birds may be nesting or other wildlife sanctuary exists. Similarly, I ALWAYS observe crag bans related to bird nesting seasons, bats etc. And I have no respect for anyone who ignores these.

I have often wondered about the impact of skiing but surely ski touring is even less impact than hiking because you're only eroding snow and that will melt in the spring, anyway? (I ski in resorts, too, but only because they're already there. I am strongly against building more of them or enlarging them -- enough lifts exist, already -- and I loath fake snow, which even sucks to ski on. (I'll take a rest day over a fake-snow day, any day of the year!))

Contrast climbing, ski touring and windsurfing to other sports that I enjoy, however. What about tennis? I must go through buckets of balls per year -- far more, by weight, than climbing shoes. And only a few of them find uses after tennis. (Top uses for old tennis balls: dogs, friends with kids, "greek" beach tennis, foot arch self-massage (aka. sneaky under-the-desk toy for bored programmers), and shoving under windsurf foot-straps to preserve their shape in transit. Also: cluttering up basements.)

Clay court tennis also requires liberal use of water on the court, settling the dust before each use -- hardly a problem in Germany but it must be wasteful in other places in the world.

In conclusion, I do not consider any of my favourite sports to be really harmful, relatively speaking. Sure, optimisations could be made but there's a hell of a lot more that could be done, first, for greater impact. Killing the aluminium Nespresso pod, for example!

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