A New Political Power Player Is Gearing Up for the 2020 Election: Patagonia

Founder Yvon Chouinard discusses his plan to oust “climate deniers” in a new interview

Patagonia Founder Yvon Chouinard
Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard photographed in 2005.
Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/Getty
By Alex Lauer / October 17, 2019 7:19 am

In a new wide-ranging interview with Fast Company, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard doesn’t mince words about climate change. He equates it to “World War III.” He says products can never be “sustainable,” that the best case scenario is “causing the least amount of harm possible.” For decades, he’s been using almost every tool at his disposal at Patagonia to decrease that harm — everything except direct political involvement. In 2020, that all changes.

“We’re keeping quiet in the primary election, but for the national presidential election, we’re going to be very, very active,” Chouinard told Fast Company, setting up Patagonia to be a new power player in the already contentious 2020 U.S. presidential election. “We’re going to spend a lot of money and basically say, vote the climate deniers out. Anyone who is a climate denier or even on the fence, vote them out because they are evil. They are out to destroy our planet, and we’re not going to stand for it.”

Chouinard doesn’t reveal how much the outdoor retailer will spend on the election, and he doesn’t explicitly call President Donald Trump a climate change denier, but he is undoubtedly including the president in that camp. Trump has previously called climate change a “hoax,” and as recently as August said he won’t sacrifice wealth for action on climate change (despite reports that the U.S. economy will see huge loses because of the crisis, making that argument void).

This push into the political sphere may seem like a radical move for a company that sells fleece vests, but it’s an expansion of a 2018 test case. During last year’s midterm elections, Patagonia endorsed political candidates for the first time, a move picked up by major outlets despite being relatively small in nature; only two Democratic U.S. Senate candidates were endorsed, Jacky Rosen in Nevada and incumbent Jon Tester in Montana. Both candidates were elected, and their respective camps, according to Chouinard, said “[Patagonia] made the difference.” 

“When we have that amount of power, let’s use it. Because the opposition is using it. You’ve got the Koch family and the fossil-fuel companies: They’re going to be influencing the elections. We’ve got to do the same thing,” said Chouinard. 

At the very least, Patagonia’s involvement will bring the global issue of climate change closer to the forefront of the 2020 election. The current political sphere has shown an unwillingness to tackle the topic, and that goes for Democrats as well as Republicans. While 10 Democratic presidential candidates participated in an unprecedented climate change town hall in September, it was because the Democratic National Committee denied an outright debate; and during Tuesday night’s Democratic primary debate not a single question was asked about the crisis.

Once the Democratic presidential nominee is chosen in July 2020, expect to hear much more from Patagonia and Chouinard.

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