What’s in a name? There’s the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, for example, which says it works to “improve the experience and quality of life of outside enthusiasts everywhere.” Its 35 member organizations include the three major RV associations, each of which has a representative on the roundtable’s 19-member board of directors: the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), the RV Dealers Association (RVDA) and the RV Industry Association (RVIA). Outdoor recreation certainly sounds eco-friendly.
And then there’s the Outdoor Industry Association, which describes itself as “dedicated to industry-wide collaboration to achieve meaningful change in recreation and trade policy, sustainable business innovation and increasing outdoor participation.” Its approximately 1,200 members include familiar brands like Eddie Bauer, L.L. Bean and REI, but also the American Camping Association, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Arbor Day Foundation. Still, outdoor “industry” does sound exploitative, and not nearly as warm and fuzzy as a recreation roundtable.
So guess which one has been lobbying Congress to adopt the climate provisions of the reconciliation bill that is foundering on the shoals of Senator Joe Manchin’s objections? And guess which one has been completely mum on the subject, even though the bill would funnel billions of dollars into combating the effects of extreme weather on the “beloved lands and waters” it claims to treasure?
Despite the confusing similarity of names, the Outdoor Industry Association is just one of the roundtable’s 35 members – and of the 1,200 members claimed by the Outdoor Industry Association, not one is an RV manufacturer or supplier. Curiously, the association’s only RVing representative is Kampgrounds of America. But Leisure Systems Inc., owner of the Jellystone Park franchise, doesn’t belong. Neither do Airstream or Winnebago or Thor Industries, which claimed in 1980 that it had “embarked on a journey to connect people with nature.” Nor do Thetford or Camco, Dicor or Wilcor or Onan – all major manufacturers or suppliers to the RV industry.
It’s as though there were two distinct outdoor worlds – one populated by people and businesses that cherish clean air and water and embrace a “leave no trace” ethic, and one occupied by the RV industry in its various permutations that gives only lip service to environmental values.
So, ironically, while the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable ignores an overriding existential threat to its long-term interests, it’s the organization that embraces “industry” in its name that’s been ringing the alarm. Last month, the Outdoor Industry Association wrote to the Congressional leadership on both sides of the aisle to express “strong support for the significant and meaningful climate provisions” in the reconciliation bill. “Our companies, as well as those that make up our $788 billion outdoor industry and our 5.2 million employees, are at the front lines of the fight against climate change,” the letter observed, adding that “the federal government needs to do more if we are going to prevent the worst effects of climate change.”
This past week the association followed up with a press release urging “bold and immediate climate action from our government.” As explained by Lise Aangeenbrug, the association’s executive director, the reconciliation bill “offers a once-in-a-generation chance to enact meaningful provisions to address climate change and ensure the success of the outdoor industry and the American economy and protect the health of the planet.”
Meanwhile, as world leaders gather in Glasgow this weekend for the UN Climate Change Conference, a mute ARVC is making final preparations for a four-day national convention in Raleigh, North Carolina, that will kick off on Nov. 8. Of the several dozen workshops and panels that have been planned, not one addresses climate change or the way a growing number of campgrounds have been assaulted by drought, forest fires, flooding and hurricane-strength winds. The closest possible acknowledgment of what we are all experiencing is a session titled “Preparing Parks for Disasters in the Post Covid World,” which is to say, a session that seems to resign its participants to an inevitable outcome.
Not that this comes as a surprise. ARVC, it should be noted, still clings to a view of global climate change that dates back nearly a quarter of a century. Its 1998 policy on the subject contends that reducing greenhouse gas emissions would cripple the American public’s ability “to enjoy outdoor recreational opportunities,” that there is “considerable uncertainty surrounding the theories on climate change,” and therefore that the best course of action is to do nothing until all the evidence is in. Which, apparently, is the view that also dominates the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable.
On the other side of the industry-recreation divide, however, is a cutting-edge group within the Outdoor Industry Association called the Climate Action Corps, comprising dozens of the association’s members who have banded together under a pledge to become the world’s first climate positive industry by 2030. “Climate positive is a summit that very few companies are pursuing,” the group acknowledges. “Yet, if we don’t carve a new, bold path for our industry and others to follow, we will ultimately fail to protect the outdoor experience upon which we all depend.”
What’s in a name? For RVers who are in it for the enjoyment of nature, perhaps everything – but the industry group that most closely represents their interests has gone AWOL.