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Famed climber Alex Honnold shines light on 'unfair' conditions faced by large Indigenous community: 'Putting power back into the right hands'

"It's another example of the communities most affected by climate change."

"It's another example of the communities most affected by climate change."

Photo Credit: Honnold Foundation

Renowned professional rock climber Alex Honnold is known for transforming thought into meaningful action. Now, he's using his platform to shine a light on "unfair" conditions that have left thousands of members of the Navajo Nation without electricity. 

The Honnold Foundation, established in 2012 with the goal of building a better, more equitable future, has been partnering with an Indigenous-led organization aimed at providing solar power solutions to Navajo and Hopi communities. 

"Over the years, we've been supporting other organizations that do similar sorts of work, and one in particular right now is called Native Renewables," Honnold told The Cool Down. "The Navajo Nation surprisingly has something like 10,000 people living without access to power." (Honnold's estimate may be modest, as Brett Isaac, founder and executive chairman of the organization Navajo Power, told ABC News in April that the figure is around 15,000 homes without access to power.)

According to the Honnold Foundation's official website, "Communities within the Navajo and Hopi nations have some of the best solar resources."

Despite this, a lack of access to power persists. 

In addition to being inequitable, this can be life-threatening during extreme weather events, like heat waves, which have become more frequent and intense as a result of a warming planet, primarily caused by pollution from dirty fuels like gas, coal, and oil.  

"It's another example of the communities most affected by climate change," added Honnold, who highlighted how the comfort of other communities has come at the expense of tribal nations and lands. 


"But basically like they've been, you know, extractive industries sort of exploiting the lands," the "Free Solo" climber explained to TCD, going on to detail a story about the now-defunct Navajo Generating Station. "This giant coal power plant, which … has recently been shuttered, but basically producing pollution on their lands and then power lines running over their lands to service communities and other places, but then they don't have access to power. And you're like, that's crazy and really unfair."

Coal is the dirtiest and most deadly fuel around. According to the University of Oxford's Our World in Data analysis, air pollution from coal is linked to at least 25 premature deaths per one terawatt-hour of electricity. Solar, on the other hand, is the safest energy source. 

The Honnold Foundation first partnered with Native Renewables back in 2021, when six homes received off-grid photovoltaic systems so they could begin harvesting non-polluting, low-cost energy from the sun. The foundation also developed a grant to provide four Hopi and Navajo solar technicians paid career development. 

The following year, it renewed its partnership to continue supporting Native Renewables' mission of empowering Native communities through solar solutions and education. 

Overall, the Honnold Foundation's collaborative work with community-based organizations has helped make a meaningful difference in more than two dozen countries. 

According to its 2023 Impact Report, as many as 204 communities now have access to electricity for the first time, improving their access to healthcare. Meanwhile, 64,000 beneficiaries in 125 communities are helping to protect more than 500,000 acres of land.  

"I just love supporting projects where it's so clearly win-win. It was, like, the job-training aspect. People in the community learn how to do the work, learn the skills, you know, basically provide power for their community and then save their community tons of money," Honnold told TCD. "... When you support something like Native Renewables, you're kind of like, OK, well, this is putting power back into the right hands."

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