F&ESers on the Ground: Sochi Style

F&ESers on the Ground: Sochi Style

Hello from Sochi! For the past 10 days, I’ve been in Russia working on an F&ES project with four other amazing graduate students, teammates, and friends. I’m here with Diana Madson, Taylor Rees, Bo Uuganbayar, and Tom Owens. You might remember this story from Bo’s blog post back in November, Winter is Coming to Westeros. For a quick recap, we all took a class together last semester, International Organizations & Conferences, and developed an amazing project idea to partner with Olympians to bring the climate change conversation to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Since September, the five of us have been working to do just that. We’ve been interviewing athletes, writing blog posts, connecting with mainstream media, and crafting a narrative to best deliver this story. From this, the idea of Team Climate materialized.

We traveled to Sochi to use the Winter Olympics to raise awareness about climate change on one of the biggest stages in the winter world. What we found is that people really care. I just did a quick Google news search for “climate change winter Olympics” and in the last 24 hours alone, there have been over three dozen articles written on the subject (including two specifically about us! – one in Scientific American and one in the New Haven Register).

It’s not just the media talking. Athletes are talking. Spectators are talking. Climate scientists are talking. And with all of this talking going on, it’s been amazing to be on the ground to get the story. Our team is completely immersed in an issue that’s unfolding day by day. The weather in Sochi has been getting steadily warmer all week, peaking at a balmy 64 degrees today. It’s not only the story of the hour and the story of the day here. It’s the story of the Games.

On Tuesday, I was walking through the Coastal Cluster on my way to a curling event. It was HOT. I had on a dress and couldn’t bear to wear my jacket, so I was holding it and my scarf in hand as I walked through the park. I was milling about beside the Olympic rings, waiting in line to get the uber-tourist picture taken, and a photographer from the TT News Agency in Sweden stopped me to ask if he could take my picture for a story on Sochi’s warm winter weather his station was running. A few minutes later, as I walked to a food cart to buy a bottle of water, a different photographer from the Associated Press stopped me to ask the exact same thing. He politely stalked me for about five minutes, snapping pictures here and there, and then thanked me and went on his way. That story ran the next day, showing 23 pictures that depicted the balmy weather at the winter games (I’m #4!).

It’s all around us, and our team feels so fortunate to get to be on the ground having the conversation and strengthening the dialogue about climate change. After the Women’s Snowboarding Slopestyle competition, Team Climate stuck around for about an hour and a half after it ended in order to talk to athletes and media. Obviously, the media’s first priority after an event is to cover the results of that event, but while they’re waiting, or as they’re packing up, we have a great opportunity to talk with them about our project and hear what they have to say. For example, we brought up our project to two gentlemen, Deputy Editor of Whitelines Magazine and a BBC correspondent, and they introduced us to Jamie Nicholls, Great Britain’s sixth place finisher in the men’s snowboard slopestyle finals. He was jazzed on Jenny Jones’s third-place finish in the women’s competition, and had a lot to say about climate change. Bo and Diana got to do an interview with him right there at the base of Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. That day, we also spoke with media outlets, including NBC, USA Today, and International Business Times, among others.

We’ve noticed that after we bridge that initial gap where the media person says “I’m so busy running to this or that and have no time for you” and we politely but firmly explain that we have a real story to tell, backed by strong scientific facts and rife with pertinent quotes by Olympic athletes, they listen. There’s been a strong response to our project and we’ve able to make on-the-ground connections that we follow up with later that evening via emails and phone calls.

At this point, I think I’ve blathered on for quite a while. Thanks for reading about our project! It’s been an incredible experience and it’s not over yet. Though we head back to New Haven soon, the Games continue until February 23. We’ll still be plugging away (probably in Kroon G15… it’s starting to feel like home!), reaching out to athletes and media, and following the story closely. If you want to know more, follow us on Twitter @TeamClimate, or like our Facebook page to get the up-to-date information. We’ll see you back in the Have soon!