The science is settled. The Earth is not flat, and mankind is heating up the atmosphere, driving extreme changes in global climates.
If you love snow sports, you should be concerned. If you love life as we know it, you should take action.
While last week’s snowfall brought some relief to local skiers, ski-area operators, our tourism industry and the parched land, total snowfall is significantly down this winter. Snowfall is major source of water that eventually fills — or doesn’t fill — our reservoirs, saturates soils and recharges aquifers. So the lack of snow bodes ill for farmers, wildlife, recreational activities from rafting to fishing, and eventually what comes out of your house tap.
In fact, the ominous trends are showing massive wildfires threatening to permanently alter the compositions of tree types in our forests, loss of water for agriculture and urban uses, rising oceans drowning islands and low coastal zones, economic and society-level disruption, extremes in weather from heat waves, and massive tornadoes, polar vortices and dust storms.
The loss of snow for skiing seems almost trivial.
But with the joy that comes from floating over a field of powder or carving a clean high-speed turn on packed snow is important to some 65 million people worldwide and the local economies they support, and is reflective of the larger processes at work.
Am I crying wolf? People forget that in the end, the wolf did arrive.
In a new book by veteran ski journalist Porter Fox, DEEP: The Story of Skiing and the Future of Snow, he reports, “The snowpack in British Columbia has declined by half overall and the ski season in some regions is four to five months shorter than it was 50 years ago. Eastern Canada is even warmer … Computer models show the Northeast ski season shrinking to less than 100 days by 2039. Under other models, the mean snow depth for the Rocky Mountains is predicted to drop to zero by 2100.”
In the Alps, where “temperatures are rising three times faster than the global average,” he notes, the infrastructures of the high alpine (refuges, chairlifts, antennas, etc.) are built on permafrost and without reinforcements are likely to crumble as permafrost melts.
The past two Winter Olympics have both been marred by poor snow conditions, with events postponed, modified or simply held despite the difficulties posed by soft or inadequate snow. The Sochi Games saw a petition created and circulated by athletes calling for reduced carbon emissions and increasing clean energy technologies. The athletes teamed up with the nonprofit group Protect Our Winters, launched by snowboarder Jeremy Jones in 2007.
In support of the petition, U.S. snowboard competitor Alex Deibold said, “I want my kids and their kids to be able to enjoy the outdoors the same way I did.”
However, a study released in January by Canada’s University of Waterloo found that only 11 of the previous 19 cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics will probably be cold enough to host the games in 2050, and only six will be viable in 2100.
Another organization seeking to stem rising temperatures, tides and impacts to the snowpack is I Am Pro Snow, part of the Climate Reality Project led by Al Gore.
He recently said in Ski Magazine, “We all need snow but right now, snow needs us … If you want to save winter — and the winter sports you love — you need to tell your elected officials that you care about this issue and that you will hold them accountable if they don’t take action.”
Of course, the climate change deniers are still out there. In a campaign modeled after “Big Tobacco’s” decades-long drive to suppress efforts to curb smoking and evidence that smoking is dangerous, “Big Energy” is funding scientists to interject some level of uncertainty into the debate. Even if they concede global climates are shifting and extreme weather events are becoming more common, they state it is just part of the Earth’s natural cycles.
However, if you chart the release of carbon and other greenhouse gases by man, as well as the rise in global temperatures over the past century, the correlation is obvious. Some 90 million tons of carbon — from burning oil, natural gas and coal — are released daily into the world’s atmosphere. This has led to nine of the 10 hottest years on record in the past 12 years. Climate change is already happening, and it has entered our daily lives.
If deniers won’t take the word of the vast majority of scientists, research organizations around the world, long-term studies and simply looking around them to see which way the wind blows, perhaps the conclusions of the global insurance industry and the U.S. Department of Defense might suggest a reappraisal of the situation. Insurance companies are planning for a world wracked by climate convulsions, and the U.S. Department of Justice has classified climate change as a national security risk.
Frankly, the situation looks extremely grim. The energy industry — the most powerful and wealthy industry on Earth — will do everything it can to block, confuse, stall and undermine any and all efforts to effect change. And the clock is ticking.
The heating process already at work will continue to alter climates even if all fossil fuel burning ended tomorrow. The window on averting disaster is closing. Loss of snow sports might end up being just a minor bump on the downward course of humanity. But the world without snow would be a much diminished home.
Daniel Gibson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.