Swimming for shore

Todd Tanner Conservation Hawks climate change hunting angling

Todd Tanner (right) and Tim Romano chase steelhead on a remote British Columbia river

Swimming for shore

By Todd Tanner, president of Conservation Hawks

Back on January 2, 2014, I was standing waist deep in the middle of Montana’s Missouri river, casting my fly rod under dark gray skies as the winter wind howled. While the river water was cold, maybe 33 or 34 degrees, I was dressed for the conditions and the fishing was actually pretty good. In fact, life was good. Then, out of nowhere, a chunk of ice about the size of a high school basketball court worked itself free from an upstream island, floated downstream and hit me from behind.

That huge hunk of ice pushed me out into a deep channel and I had no choice but to swim for shore, more than 100 yards away, as my waders and pack slowly filled and the frigid water stole my strength. I survived, obviously, but it was touch and go for a while. I went under a couple of times, and the only thing that kept me going was the thought that my son Kian, who was eight years old at the time, needed his dad. I kept thinking that I didn’t want him to go through life without his father.

It’s funny, but until that moment I don’t think I’d ever realized what a powerful motivation our children can be. Without Kian—without visions of my young son helping me push through the hypothermia—I honestly don’t think I’d be here today.

Whether or not you’re an angler, I’m pretty sure there’s one thing that you and I have in common. In fact, I suspect every member of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and everyone who works on climate change, shares this trait.

We care, deeply, about something.

Maybe it’s our kids or our grandkids. Maybe it’s our siblings, or our parents, or a favorite aunt or uncle. Maybe it’s our friends, or colleagues, or co-workers, or people in general. Maybe it’s the magnificent landscapes that grace America, or our desire to share a livable world with future generations, or a deep spiritual connection with everything around us. Maybe it’s as simple as the concept of stewardship, or the desire to do our part; to hold up our end. Whatever the reason, though, we all have something beyond ourselves—in some cases, something greater than ourselves—that drives us to get involved, to make a difference, to take a stand against a problem so large and so overwhelming that it, too, threatens to steal our strength and leave us floundering and helpless.

My job—a job supported by family, friends and colleagues, and also by some of the top companies in the outdoor world—is to help educate and engage America’s 37 million sportsmen and women on climate change. Just think about what 37 million Americans could do on climate if they were focused and committed; if they realized how much was at stake; if they were willing to get off the sidelines and get in the game.

And now think about this. Nobody gave me that job. Nobody asked me to do it. Nobody put up a description on a website or advertised it on monster.com or asked for my resume. I simply grew tired of waiting for all the people who were smarter, or more talented, or more experienced to show up and take control. Like many of you, the realization slowly dawned on me that the cavalry was never coming over the hill. It was on me. It was on us. Either we do it ourselves—either we convince our fellow Americans to put a price on carbon and dramatically cut our emissions—or it’s not going to happen at all.

Which, when you think about, means that most of us have come to the exact same realization that I arrived at when that ice hit me from behind and pushed me into the deep, frigid Missouri river. Nobody will save us. There is no “white knight” riding to the rescue. Either we address climate change while there’s still time, or we suffer the consequences. It’s that simple.

I won’t ever ask you to do my job for me. But what I will do—and what I’m proud to do—is thank you for working with Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Seriously, thank you. When you talk to your friends, your family and your co-workers about climate change, you’re making a huge difference. When you write letters to the editor of the local newspaper, or talk about climate on social media, you’re moving the needle. When you call your representative or walk into your senator’s office to discuss climate change, you’re laying the foundation for a livable future. And that’s not just a livable future for you, or for me, but also for our kids and grandkids and for entire generations of Americans yet to be born.

When I was trying to swim across the Missouri that cold, windy January day, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. In fact, I didn’t think I would. I’m incredibly lucky I survived. But there’s an important lesson in there; a truth that I want to share.

When we’re up against the wall, with nothing more than a glimmer of hope to hold on to, it is still possible to prevail. Never forget that fact—and please keep working for the future our children deserve.

Todd Tanner is a lifelong hunter and angler, an accomplished outdoor writer, and the president of Conservation Hawks. Be sure to watch Todd, along with Yvon Chouinard, Craig Mathews, Tim Romano and Steve Hemkens, in the short climate and angling film COLD WATERS.