Rising Temperatures Imperil Winter Sports Industry
By Celia Gurney
It's hard to imagine feeling a purer joy than American snowboarder Chloe Kim as she flings herself into a 1080, but Olympic athletes aren't the only ones who love winter sports. In the winter of 2015 and 2016, more than 20 million people took part in downhill skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling in the U.S.
But, there are no winter sports without winter weather, and humans are on track to warm winter into oblivion. Rising temperatures are melting snow, giving winter athletes fewer places to train and compete, according to a new report from climate advocacy group Protect Our Winters. The report found that climate change also threatens to rob the winter sports industries of billions of dollars in revenue.
"Winter is warming. Snow is declining. And that trend hits our communities in the wallet," said Auden Schendler, a Protect Our Winters board member. "It's a story that's playing out all over the U.S. this very season." Over the last century, average December through February temperatures have risen by more than 2 degrees F in the Lower 48. The extra heat has hastened snow melt and caused more precipitation to fall as rain instead of snow.
Diminished snowpack is bad for ski resorts, as well as the hotels, restaurants and sporting goods stores that depend on winter sports to turn a profit. The Protect Our Winters report found that a low snow year can cost the economy more than $1 billion and upwards of 17,000 jobs, compared to the average year.
Scientists have chronicled the many ways that climate change is reshaping American winters. In short, the snow's not doing so hot—or rather, it's doing too hot. Here are the highlights from the research:
- Less area is covered by snow. On average, the portion of North America covered in snow has shrunk by an area roughly the size of California since the early 1970s.
- There is less water stored in the snowpack. The amount of water stored in snowpack declined across much of the western United States between 1950 and 1999, and scientists attribute about half of the observed decline to human-caused climate change.
- Snowlines are receding. The snowline is the elevation at which precipitation begins to fall as snow instead of rain. Like many hairlines, snowlines have been receding over time. Scientists observed that warming temperatures pushed the northern Sierra snowline uphill by as much as 1,500 feet in recent years. Now, daytrippers itching for a snowball fight have to drive further uphill.
- Less precipitation is coming down as snow. An analysis of reports from California weather stations located between 2,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level found that snow now makes up a smaller share of total precipitation than it did in the past.
- The "freeze season'" is shorter. The U.S. freeze season—defined as the time between the first freeze in the fall to the last freeze in the spring—was more than a month shorter in 2016 than it was in 1916.
Climate change isn't just taking a toll on skiing and snowboarding. In Minnesota, ponds aren't freezing as consistently as they used to, threatening outdoor hockey. Alaska's Iditarod moved its starting line further north in 2015 due to record-warm temperatures.
Around the world, winter sports are struggling to keep up with climate change. In Bolivia, the retreat of the Chacaltaya glacier forced a popular ski resort to close in 2009. Last year in Canada—where winter temperatures have risen more than 4.5 degrees F since 1950—a leading summer ski camp closed due to declining snowpack. In Switzerland, snow season now starts later and ends earlier than it did in decades past, and businesses are struggling to keep up.
"I've spoken to people in Switzerland who are losing their jobs because winter's going away," cross-country skier Jessie Diggins told The New York Times. "Over the last 10 years, it has been hard to ski on real snow. Over the last three years, most venues have been exclusively on man-made snow."
Athletes and spectators worry how climate change will impact the Winter Olympics. By 2050, nine former host cities may not be reliably cold enough to host the Games—including Sochi and Vancouver. Already, many athletes are having to travel increasingly long distances to find suitable conditions, often to different continents, as longtime training grounds wither in the heat.
"I can see a huge difference," French skier Ben Cavet told the Associated Press, describing his usual summer training site. "Up on the glacier, now there's this huge cliff, you know like a big rock, that you couldn't even see before."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
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