Normally when Andrew Putnam goes scuba diving, he’d be watching tropical fish weave their way in and out of the nooks and crannies of colorful coral reefs. He might notice a few sharks in the distance, too.
Tuesday was different, though.
Two days before he’ll tee off in the first round of the Barracuda Championship, Putnam was diving in the cool waters of nearby Lake Tahoe. The setting was nothing short of spectacular. The water was clear, and the visibility couldn’t have been better.
But Putnam was picking up trash. And the avid conservationist and outdoorsman calls it “by far the most interesting dive I’ve ever done.”
Putnam was working with a group called Clean Up The Lake in an effort to bring awareness to the importance of protecting the environment. Underwater clean-up of the east shore is complete, and the work continues thanks to a $100,000 donation from Tahoe Blue Vodka, 135 Tahoe Fund donors and grants from groups like the Nevada Division of State Lands License Plate Program, Tahoe Mountain Resorts Foundation, Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation and Martis Fund.
Putnam says what he found at the bottom of the lake was “eye-opening.” There were beer cans and soda cans – some that were 40- or 50-years old judging from the various shapes and designs. The divers found an anchor and some old tires, as well as different kinds of fishing tackle.
And in a sad sign of the times, Putnam even found some COVID masks.When the dive was over, Putnam was exhausted, but the winner of the 2018 Barracuda Championship called the experience “rewarding” because he felt like he’d made a difference.
“I've always been a big believer in going and seeing and doing things that you're maybe not aware of that are happening,” Putnam says. “And in terms of sustainability going in and looking at seeing the trash and the impact that's having on this lake definitely helped me gain a new perspective. …
“I’m glad I did it and glad I could be part of it all and feel like this experience will help change me and change how I consume and use obviously cans and plastics and being more responsible to dispose of them correctly or not using them at all.”
But Putnam, who has a business degree in economics from Pepperdine, has thoughts on the broader issues of sustainability, conservation and climate change that go beyond clean air and water and recycling and coexisting with nature.
He says trying to solve the climate crisis from an economic system of inflation is not unlike getting stuck in a revolving door. Our money isn’t worth as much tomorrow as it was today and at the same time, technology has made things cheaper and cheaper, so we consume more and produce more – hence the abundance of goods we have today.
With inflation, Putnam says, people aren’t as incentivized to save for the future. That’s where he thinks a decentralized currency like Bitcoin could be an answer since it’s deflationary, which increases buying power over time and as a result, encourages people to save in the present.
“Having a degree in economics and playing a sport that I'm outdoors, enjoying nature, I think it's a combination of the two that kind of led me to have my eyes opened and want to be a part of the conversation around this,” says Putnam, who is an avid reader of books on finance.
Reducing water consumption, as so many golf courses are making an effort to do, obviously is a huge help. Recycling and driving electric cars are making a difference, too. But Putnam is trying to reimagine the future and figure out a way to stop the “constant treadmill of growth.”
He feels finding the right economic model will be the key to fostering sustainability and solving climate change.
“I'm not saying that Bitcoin is the end all, be all or the answer,” he says. “I think it's just opened up a lot of people's minds to think outside the current system, the current box, especially when it comes to sustainability and climate change.
“I think everyone can agree that we kind of have to go down a different path than we've been going on the last 50, 60 years to make this planet sustainable for my kids and grandkids.”
While golf is his first love, Putnam grew up in the Pacific Northwest and enjoys basically any outdoor activity. As a kid he went hunting with his father and grandfather. He and his wife Tawny, who now live in Washington, enjoy hiking, and he recently got a mountain bike.
Their adventures have taken the couple all over the world, including the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in southwestern Uganda, home to about 400 of endangered silverback gorillas – which sadly, is about half the world’s population. They were sitting completely still, just as their guides had cautioned them, when one of the animals decided to check Putnam out.
The imposing gorilla passed close enough that his weathered hand grazed Putnam’s foot.
“They had a couple of babies who are playing around in the trees,” he recalls. “Then of course you’ve got the big silverback who is kind of the leader and who's keeping an eye on you, making sure you're not threatening any family or anything.
“That was really, really, really special.”
Putnam also saw giraffes and lions in their natural habitat on that trip several years ago. In fact, one lion – who was about 150 yards away – roared so loudly he remembers that the sound “rattled our rib cages.” And when the group got between a mother elephant and her baby, she began to flop her ears and charge and “you quickly realize how small you are,” he says.
Putnam wants those experiences to be available for his two children and his grandkids. He knows that if conservationists hadn’t start protecting the silverback gorillas 50 or 60 years ago, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see them.
That’s why he’s trying to think outside the box – and why he hopes to bring attention to sustainability and conquering climate change.
“It's all interconnected,” Putnam says. “I love ideas and I love to continually learn. And so, it's all connected for me – whether it’s picking up trash in Reno in the lake or going to see silverback gorillas and Bitcoin. As random as it is it’s all part of the same story for me.
“It's fun to kind of keep learning.”