While delegations from around the world gathered in Sochi to compete in the Olympics, Yale’s “Team Climate” traveled to the games to raise awareness about climate change.
Five students from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies spent nine days in Sochi to help spread the stories of how climate change is affecting winter sports. Team Climate partnered with 16 Olympians, and encouraged media outlets to write about issues related to climate change and publish athletes’ stories about climate and the games.
“The winter sports industry is full of people that really care about what climate change is doing to our world,” Kaylee Weil ’12 FES ’14 said. “More than that, these athletes have first hand experiences with climate change which is something that most of us can’t say. These athletes go back to the same glacier and they actually see that it recedes.”
Weil said Team Climate carried out a successful awareness campaign because of their engagements with a diverse set of media outlets and partnerships. Of the 16 athlete partners, six published opinion articles about the effects of climate change at the Sochi games in newspapers including The Guardian, Boston Globe, and USA Today.
The article in USA Today from Feb. 12 about climate change and the Olympics featured three of the partner athletes, and quoted Team Climate team member Diana Madson FES ’14.
While in Sochi, Team Climate used social media platforms, including Twitter and others, to raise awareness about their mission. Team Climate also partnered with the communications firm Climate Nexus to increase visibility of their efforts. It was this relationship that lead to the retweet from Organizing for Action, Barack Obama’s grass-roots organization. The team sent press releases and personal tweets to over 200 journalists, Madson said.
The group made a particular effort to reach out to sports writers, as their audience had less exposure to climate change issues, Weil said.
Tom Owens FES ’14 said a highlight of the trip was Team Climate’s feature on the Australia Today talk show.
“Our big goal was to get the climate change discussion integrated and coming up as part of the winter Olympics story,” Madson said. “For the human interest stories, we wanted to infuse the climate change discussions.”
Media passes for the Games were issued before Team Climate formed, so the group attended the events as spectators and approached reporters afterwards, Madson said. Meeting reporters in person added legitimacy and credibility to the awareness campaign, she said, adding that Team Climate was interviewed by several media organizations, passed out fliers, and spoke with hundreds of climate and sports reporters.
Although not having media accreditation seemed like a challenge, Weil said the fact they were a student group rather than a traditional media outlet made Team Climate more approachable.
A 2014 study from University of Waterloo predicts that the climate in Sochi will not be suitable to future winter Olympics.
“With the unusually warm weather in Sochi receiving national attention across much of the U.S., the table was set for them to increase awareness of the implications of a warmer planet for winter Olympics in coming years,” said Bud Ward, the editor of Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media who advised Team Climate on media relations.
The project had been underway for about a year according to Madson. The trip started as a project for FES Professor Gordon Geballe’s International Organization and Conference course.
“Climate change is a global topic that needs all our attention,” Geballe said.“I compliment the students for working hard to promote communication without polarization.”
In April, Team Climate will host an event and reception in mid-April featuring a panel of Olympians including former hockey player Mike Richter ’09 and skeleton racer Kyle Tress.
The other members of Team Climate are Taylor Rees FES ’14 and Bo Uuganbayar ’12 FES ’14.
Correction: Feb. 28
A previous version of this article misstated the number of op-eds published. It also ommitted the year Bo Uuganbayar ’12 FES ’14 Yale College class year.