Alaska Olympian testifies on climate change in D.C., faces criticism over past tweets from senator.

Gus Schumacher, the cross-country skier from Anchorage, appeared as a witness during a Senate Budget Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Gus Schumacher, the Olympic cross-country skier from Anchorage, nervously entered his inaugural congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., fully aware that he might become a target.

Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, extended an invitation to Schumacher to testify last week. This invitation was part of a series of over a dozen hearings that aimed to shed light on the detrimental effects of climate change on the country’s economy.

Schumacher, accompanied by a flyfishing outfitter and an official from an outdoor gear company, participated in a discussion regarding the effects of global warming on the outdoor recreation industry, which is valued at $1.1 trillion.

Whitehouse had been cautioned about the potential for the committee’s Republican members to ask probing questions. Mitt Romney, one of them, had previously criticized Whitehouse’s emphasis on climate change as being more like “Barbie” than Oppenheimer. He believed that although the issue was important, the budget committee should prioritize federal spending.

During the hearing’s commencement, Whitehouse wasted no time in highlighting the consequences of climate change. He emphasized the disruption it has caused to activities like duck hunting and recreational fishing, as well as the significant damage inflicted on infrastructure at Yellowstone National Park. In addition, he criticized his Republican colleagues for undermining the seriousness of the warnings pertaining to the climate emergency.

During the hearing, the witnesses were given the opportunity to share their testimony. Schumacher, in particular, identified himself not only as a professional athlete but also as a concerned citizen who is deeply troubled by the impact of climate change on our environment and the activities we hold dear. His main point was that winter sports and the environment have been significantly altered due to climate change, and it is imperative for society to prioritize investments in renewable energy, sustainable land management practices, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s when everything started to go wrong.

Having spent three years working closely with Protect Our Winters, an organization dedicated to advocating for athletes and climate change, Schumacher was well aware of the criticism he was likely to face from skeptical senators. As a professional ski racer, he understood that his frequent travel for training camps and competitions across the globe had a significant carbon footprint.

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Gus Schumacher can be seen racing in Minneapolis in February, as captured in a photo by Nathaniel Herz for FasterSkier.

Instead, John Kennedy, the second-term Republican U.S. senator from Louisiana, delivered a full-on broadside to him.

Kennedy chose not to delve into the substantial questions surrounding the impact of climate change on cross-country skiing or the challenges that Alaska’s oil-dependent economy faces when it comes to reducing the use of fossil fuels. Instead, he focused on scrutinizing Schumacher’s social media accounts and testing his knowledge on climate economics and science.

During a phone interview on Friday, Schumacher reflected on the incident, stating that the intention behind it was simply to disrupt the hearing. He expressed feeling caught off guard and acknowledged that this was exactly what the perpetrator had aimed for.

Kennedy asked Schumacher a series of questions. He wanted to know if Schumacher was representing the Democrats or the Republicans at the hearing. Kennedy also asked about carbon dioxide and whether Schumacher wanted to abolish it.

The interviewer referred to a tweet made on August 27, 2020, and asked, “You think we ought to abolish the police?”

Schumacher, an independent registered voter, presented his testimony without mentioning carbon neutral goals, atmospheric composition, or police abolition. He emphasized that his purpose was to represent outdoor enthusiasts across America. He clarified that he did not advocate for the abolition of carbon dioxide, as it is a gas. Additionally, he stated that his previous tweets were not relevant to the current discussion.

During the hearing, there was a moment where Schumacher stumbled on a question regarding carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He mistakenly stated that it is a “huge part” of our atmosphere, when in reality, it only accounts for about 0.04%. Senator Kennedy promptly pointed out this discrepancy. However, Schumacher explained that this specific information was not part of his high school education nor included in the preparation conducted with Protect Our Winters prior to the hearing.

Schumacher admitted that they were not given any information about the CO2 molecule or the specific figures regarding the measures to combat climate change.

Kennedy, who received $343,000 in contributions from the oil and gas industry in the two years leading up to his re-election in 2022, took to his senatorial social media accounts to mock Schumacher’s responses in a video. This video was shared with his 1.5 million followers.

Conservative news outlets and activists quickly seized on their exchange, which was also shared by an Instagram account. A video snippet of the interaction was posted with the caption: “Senator John Kennedy DESTROYS Lib with simple question!”

Since Wednesday, Schumacher has been inundated with an overwhelming number of “truly hateful” messages through his website. Additionally, he has received a torrent of negative comments on his Instagram account. Despite this, his family and friends have rallied to his defense, outnumbering those who are criticizing him.

One message advised, “It would be best if you stuck with skiing. It seems like there isn’t much going on in your brain, so it’s best to keep your mouth shut.” Another message sarcastically suggested, “If you really want to reduce CO2 emissions on Earth, why don’t you stop breathing? That would be a big help for all of us!”

Schumacher received two messages after the hearing.

Kennedy’s office did not provide a response when asked for comment. A spokeswoman for Whitehouse and the budget committee chose not to comment either.

Despite facing an overwhelming amount of negativity, Schumacher remains undeterred in his climate advocacy efforts. He is currently back in Alaska, but the attacks he has faced will not hinder his commitment to the cause.

“I won’t let them get to me,” he declared confidently. “I take great joy in discussing my observations both domestically and internationally. It only fuels my determination to keep doing it.”

After the hearing, Protect Our Winters, the advocacy group Schumacher works with, responded to Kennedy’s questioning on social media. They explained that Schumacher and their representatives traveled to Washington because last year was recorded as the hottest ever.

During their trip to the Capitol, Protect Our Winters mentioned that they received a positive response from most people, except for one senator, referring to Kennedy.

The post criticized the senator for diverting attention from the issue at hand by bringing up irrelevant and outdated social media posts. It emphasized that the athletes are not claiming to be scientists, but they are experienced in observing the changes in the environments they have been recreating in for their whole lives. The post emphasized the importance of their stories.

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