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.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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