Protect Our Winters, And Jobs

Most of us like a change in the weather every now and then. People in Dallas are probably feeling that way, after enduring 70 days over 100 degrees since July 4--perhaps a little winter wouldn't be bad down there.

But thanks to climate change, we are likely looking at a little less winter--or at least less wintery conditions--and more heat. That's not good news for the people who make their living off of winter. For example, over 600,000 jobs are supported by the snow sports industry nationwide, which generates $8.8 billion in federal and state tax revenue.

That’s why some of the most famous winter athletes are in Washington today to tell Congress about the impacts climate change is already having on their livelihoods, and the potentially greater threat it will pose in the near future. Oh yeah, and to tell Congress for once to do something, in this case allow the Environmental Protection Agency to do its job and clean up air pollution, including the junk that causes climate change.

Those athletes include internationally known snowboarders Jeremy Jones and Olympian Gretchen Bleiler, along with world champion extreme skier Chris Davenport. Their organization is called Protect Our Winters (POW).

In a letter to Congress released today, the group notes:

As representatives of 21 million skiers and snowboarders in the $66 billion snow sports industry, we are determined to protect our mountain economies, our sport, and the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Americans from the effects of climate change. We must ensure that vibrant, prosperous winters endure for generations to come, and therefore support protecting one of America’s greatest assets - a stable climate - and strongly oppose all Congressional efforts to undermine EPA’s authority to set carbon pollution standards.

Every major scientific body from every nation, including our own National Academy of Sciences, has spoken unequivocally on the realities and implications of climate change. 2010 was the warmest year on record, and every decade is now warmer than the last. Extreme weather has become the norm. In our work, we’ve witnessed first-hand climate impacts on our mountains, from reduced snowpack and melting glaciers to dying alpine forests and shorter winter seasons. There is no debate. Climate change is already happening and we’re seeing it every day.

A recent study by the US Geological Survey found that unusual trends in the snowpack in the Rocky Mountains are likely linked to levels of carbon pollution, and concludes that snowpack declines in the region during the last 30 years are "unusual" when compared with previous centuries. The study backs research that the USGS said estimates that as much as 60 percent of the snowpack declines in the late 20th century are because of carbon pollution, which is linked to higher global temperature averages.

That could strain cities whose water supplies are tied to mountain snowpack. Runoff from snow that accumulates at high altitude accounts for 60 to 80 percent of the annual water supply for more than 70 million people in the West, the U.S. Geological Survey says.

Sure there have been and will continue to be extreme snowfall seasons like the one we’ve just experienced in parts of the country, particularly in California and the Northwest. More extreme weather events having been taking place, as you’ve probably noticed, and will continue to in the future. That’s one of the impacts of a warming climate.

But general trends in many parts of the US point to snow melting earlier. That means shorter ski seasons, fewer dollars and fewer jobs.

POW’s letter to Congress goes on to add:

Economies from Maine to California, including resorts, hotels, restaurants, shops and thousands of other small businesses all rely on winter sports to maintain their vibrancy and welfare.

In the Rocky Mountain region alone, snow sports recreation contributes $11 billion to their local economy, which includes $2 billion in federal and state tax revenue. Without a stable climate, the economies of mountain communities everywhere and our valued lifestyle will be gone, not just for us, but for our children. Winter, as we know it, is on borrowed time.