An Interview with Alex Honnold about the Honnold Foundation.
Editor: Thank you for your time, Alex. We wanted to speak with you about the work the Foundation has been doing.
What was your motivation for starting the Honnold Foundation in 2012? Was there a specific incident that made you want to address the environmental and sustainability issues at hand through your foundation?
Alex Honnold: There was no specific incident - it was more like a long road towards wanting to do something more useful in the world. I've been lucky enough to travel quite a bit through my climbing and as I saw more of the world I began to realize just how privileged I am and how comfortable our first world lifestyles are. That, combined with a 3 year environmental nonfiction reading kick I've been on, encouraged me to find some way to try to help.
The Foundation is very much a work in progress searching for the best ways to make a positive impact. So far it's been great, and I'm proud of what we've done and what we've learned, but there's an almost limitless amount of work to be done in the world.
Editor: The Honnold Foundation garnered a lot of praise in the spring of this year (2014) when you joined forces with Elephant Energy and went into the Kayenta Region (part of the Navajo Nation) and made a an enormous difference in the quality of the lives of the residents there. Alex, you and Cedar Wright took a hands-on approach to a big problem in that area and installed solar lights on some of the hogans.
One of the hogans that received solar lights was the home of Bessie Wilson, an elderly Navajo woman. According to her statement: “My home was way, way, way out, toward the Grand Canyon. It burned down nearly two years ago. We just moved in here because we had no place else to go. I think we both felt a little more civilized with these lights because we could just go in and flip on the light, and I was able to have enough light over my cooking stove to prepare the food, even if we came home late in the evenings.”
How did it feel to make someone’s life permanently easier and much safer?
Alex Honnold: It's a great feeling to know that someone's life has been materially improved because of our trip down there. But to be honest, what we helped Elephant Energy do in the Navajo Nation is just a tiny drop in the bucket. There are still thousands of Navajo with no access to power, and hundreds of millions of people throughout the rest of the world. As satisfying as it is to help light up someone's home, there's so much more to be done.
But it was a great feeling to see the lit up hogans. . .hopefully we can help with more projects like that in the future.
Editor: You may have read this NPR article about the first solar-powered bike path in the world:
With the advent of climbing gyms popping up around the world, young climbers can practice climbing in the gyms before they venture out onto real rock. The gyms are extremely well lit and can accommodate many. In the interest of having a low impact on the environment, how do you feel about the idea of climbing gyms employing the use of solar panels to provide lighting for the entire gym? Or even the lighting in the parking lot outside in the evenings?
Alex Honnold: That's an interesting article, though I took more from the comments than from the article itself. The article is about an interesting experiment - an opportunity to one day gain energy from common infrastructure. Many of the comments immediately jumped on the cost as impractical and defended fossil fuels as the only economic way to power the modern world.
And that's just not true anymore. The cost of solar and wind has dropped enough in the last few years that it's cost competitive in much of the world, particularly the developing world. Putting solar on a business is no longer about being green and trying to save the planet, now it's just plain common sense. It saves money and earns a decent return, in addition to providing cleaner air.
Basically, I hugely support any transition away from our current energy model. Hopefully not just climbing gyms, but every home and business will be providing their own energy soon enough.
Editor: As opposed to the average person, most climbers spend a majority of their time in the midst of nature, and one may say that this fact alone may make climbers more aware of, or concerned about what is happening to our planet. While not every climber may have an electric car, or a solar paneled home, as time goes by both may become more affordable, enabling any person to live a life that has a low impact on the environment. Your thoughts?
Alex Honnold: Haha, I should have read this question before answering the last. I feel very strongly that this is indeed a vision of the future. Relatively clean transit powered by the sun on your own home. Obviously it won't be an option for everyone [shaded roof, apartments, basement living, whatever], but it will certainly help us down a path towards a cleaner future.
One of the nonprofits that I've been supporting through the Honnold Foundation is Grid Alternatives (gridalternatives.org), who's mission is to "make solar power and solar jobs accessible to those that need them most." That's one of the great things about clean energy, it can help lift up the poor by freeing them from utility bills.
I think in a lot of ways that's a more important story than talking about environmentalists maintaining their current lifestyle but no longer feeling guilty about their carbon emissions [which is basically what I'm doing by supporting all these programs - trying to maintain my travel-heavy lifestyle but offsetting it with good works].
Anyway, I'm looking forward to a cleaner, quieter future. Solar power and electric cars. I can't wait.
Editor: I recently talked to Ken Yager, an icon in the climbing world who is also a steward for the protection of our fragile environment. He talked to me about how our national parks, particularly Yosemite National Park, had to deal with the cleaning up of so much trash and refuse every year, and how Yosemite Facelift was formed and is called into action to help with the enormous clean-up effort.
What are your thoughts on his efforts to keep Yosemite clean and pristine?
Wouldn’t this be a great idea for other national parks to incorporate?
Alex Honnold: I'm good friends with Ken and really respect what he's doing to keep Yosemite clean. It's also a great way for the climbing community to do something positive for the park, which is good for relations in general. But I think even more important than cleaning the park up is to not make it dirty in the first place.
Yosemite stopped selling plastic water bottles a while back. I think moves like that - trying to break free from a culture of disposability and waste - are maybe more important overall.
It's great to keep Yosemite, and really all national parks clean. But when we pick up trash in the park, where does it go? A landfill? And where does that go? It still on the earth, and in the case of plastics virtually forever. Even better than cleaning up the parks would be to have less packaging and less waste.
But it's good to start with what we can, and it's great that Ken has done so much through the Facelift.
Editor: Thank you for your time, Alex. Your foundation is making people’s lives easier, and creating awareness about living a low impact life and we thank you and all those involved for that. We’ll be looking to your foundation for information as well as inspiration.
Alex Honnold: Thanks, I appreciate the opportunity to ramble about these kinds of topics. So much more fun to think and write about than climbing! So much more important in the world.
Interview conducted by Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
Editor of the Facebook page: 'An Interview With'.
Editor-in-Chief of ClimbSkiBoulderMagazine.com
Interview © Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
All images © of the designated photographer and used with Maury's written permission.