Please join us in Washington DC next Wednesday night, 9/14 for this unique event with Jeremy Jones, Gretchen Bleiler, Chris Davenport and Auden Schendler. Open to the public!
I will be emceeing this event at the Capitol Wednesday. I lived in Colorado for 2 years — and skied 70 times! — when I worked with Amory Lovins in Old Snowmass.
The latest science says that we are losing our snow mass — and the primary cause is human emissions (see “USGS: Global Warming Drives Rockies Snowpack Loss Unrivaled in 800 Years, Threatens Western Water Supply“). And no, one snowy winter doesn’t change that, as USGS scientist and co-author Julio Betancourt explained, “The La Niña episode this year is an example with lots of snow in the north while severe drought afflicts the south. But, in the north, this year’s gains are only a small blip on a century-long snowpack decline.”
The lead author, USGS scientist Gregory Pederson, explained, “What we have seen in the last few decades may signal a fundamental shift from precipitation to temperature as the dominant influence on western snowpack.
What’s particularly worrisome is that we’ve seen these dramatic and harmful changes already — and we’ve only warmed about a degree Fahrenheit in the past half century. The problem for our children and grandchildren is that if we continue anywhere near our current greenhouse gas emissions pathway, we are on track to warm ten times times that this century (see M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F ). At the same time, the Southwest is drying out (see NCAR analysis warns we risk multiple, devastating global droughts even on moderate emissions path).
What follows is a guest post from Auden Schendler, Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company and a board member of Protect Our Winters.
Climate’s Unexpected Assault on the Ski Industry; and the Industry’s Necessary Response
Last month, just before Hurricane Irene pummeled the east coast, New Hampshire hosted a “Green Slopes” conference for ski resorts. A key takeaway point was that “Even if you could care less about the environment, making your ski area greener is good for the bottom line.” This is a good message and New Hampshire has been a leader in this sort of operational environmental improvement, crucial for the energy intensive ski business. The conference included discussion about “retrofitting inefficient fixtures in lodges, using recycled frying oil, installing solar panels and improving methods of recycling” as well as the impact of water withdrawal on micro-invertebrates and permits for trail cutting.
That was the news for last week. This week, the news was different. The Snow Industry Letter reported that as a result of Hurricane Irene:
“Many ski areas sustained damage due to the overflow of mountain streams, led by the partial collapse of Killington’s K1 Base Lodge. Nearly all are now wrestling with road closures surrounding the resorts, making access difficult or impossible. The ski area-associated villages of Wilmington (Mt Snow), Ludlow (Okemo), and Waitsfield (Sugarbush/Mad River Glen) were flooded, with many remaining inaccessible due to road closures. Damage reports and photos are also appearing out of Attitash, NH, Windham, NY and Sugarloaf, ME, among others.”
To the extent that the ski industry has worried about climate change at all, the concern has almost always focused on potential (and in Europe, real) loss of snow. In fact, that has been my concern in the past. And “environmental action” as defined by the industry has meant operational greening: retrofits and solar panels. But it’s becoming increasingly apparent that environmentalism in the ski industry, if we really mean it, means stopping climate change at its root. And the real climate threat to the ski industry is most likely to come in rather unexpected shapes and sizes: either, in the current case, through the massive infrastructure damage caused by superstorms, floods, fires and droughts (see http://tiny.cc/2rjnr) or from the economic impact of climate change on people’s lives, which will prevent them, and their communities, from even thinking about skiing. (See http://tiny.cc/q5ce4 and http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_18201745.)
The upshot of all this is the following point: if we ski resort operators care about environment and sustainability, the ski industry’s number one priority should not be operational greening, but to mobilize its substantial and high profile political and lobbying power, as well as its celebrity and huge reach, to create political action on climate change. This is the focus of organizations like www.protectourwinters.org, on whose board I serve, but it is not the lobbying focus of most snow sports related trade associations. That needs to change, because events in Vermont now show this really is an existential battle, and the time is now. The time is also ripe because there are many indications that public opinion and global government action is changing on climate (http://tiny.cc/6h31q). In the last few days MSNBC has pointed out, at least twice, that now is the time for a major address by Obama on climate science and the need for action. I would hope he’d mention the $6B snow sports industry, 16 million people strong, and at risk of washing away.
– Auden Schendler