Climate Change is Remaking Winter

By Christine Sanders, Blue Engine Message & Media

The planet is getting warmer. I can feel it, you can feel it, and the winter tourism industry can definitely feel it. At 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit, last year marked the hottest year on record in the United States, edging out the previous record by one degree. Climate change is causing shorter winters and less snow, putting intense pressure on ski resorts and small businesses in the winter tourism industry that rely on snow to stay in business and employ thousands of Americans. Consider: This is a problem that’ll take more than zinc oxide to fix.

Last December the Natural Resources Defense Council published a report, “Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States,” outlining the ways in which the winter tourism economy is being hit hard by the impacts of climate change. According to the NRDC, 211,900 thousand people are employed nationally by the ski and snowmobile industries, which contribute $7 billion in labor income with $12.2 billion in value added to the economy. Those workers deliver $1.4 billion in revenue to state governments and $1.7 billion in revenue to the federal government annually. In Pennsylvania alone, during the 2009-2010 season, more than $690 million in value was added to the economy. However, experts are warning that if climate change continues at the same rate, “only four out of 14 major ski resorts will remain profitable by 2100 under a higher-emissions scenario.” (Mote et al. (2005) Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 86: 39-49)

Climate change deniers argue that the recession is the reason Americans aren’t hitting the slopes. Truth is there just isn’t enough snow, and the winters are getting shorter due to the carbon pollution that’s being emitted into the air and fueling climate change. According to the EPA, existing power plants are responsible for adding more than 2.3 billion tons of carbon and other toxic pollutants into the air each year. In the past, Washington has done nothing to stop it, even though 54 percent of Americans believe climate change is caused by human activities and 88 percent of Americans want the US to make an effort “to reduce global warming even if it has economic costs.”

The Obama Administration is taking a step in that direction, with the President reiterating his “obligation” to future generations to address climate change during his inaugural speech. Representative Henry Waxman (D-California) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) recently announced a bi-cameral task force to work with House and Senate leaders on climate change policies. However, the true test of this administration will be if they’re able to withstand pressure from the big polluters who want to delay or block clean air standards, and if they actually take action to finalize the clean air standards that will lessen the impacts of climate change. First on their agenda should be the finalization of the industrial carbon pollution standard for new power plants, and the development of an industrial carbon pollution standard for existing power plants. These two simple acts will drastically reduce the amount of carbon pollution emitted into our air and lessen extreme weather impacts. That will enable the thousands of Americans who depend on the winter tourism industry to continue to make a living, protect public health, and help solidify the President’s climate change legacy.

6 Responses to Climate Change is Remaking Winter

  1. John Hollenberg says:

    “211,900 thousand people” is the majority of people in the United States–that number may be a tad high.

  2. BRONCO BAMA says:

    John, there are 350,000,000 people in the USA.

  3. Jack Burton says:

    Warmer winters have really cut into the tourism industry in Northern Minnesota. We used to have a premier dog sled race every winter that was becoming one of the nations bigger races, attracting world class mushers. This race is now defunct. Why? After countless winters where there was no snow ,or so little that the race simply could not be run, everyone just gave up. Mushers started staying away and soon it just became a waste of time.
    The snowmobile season once was Dec through April. Now it is a month here or a month there whenever we get snow that sticks for a week or more. Hotels and motels that used to be packed every weekend are no mostly empty till summer holidays kick off. Our two major ski resorts have lost several months of season and only stay open on the runs that have artificial snow machines. And this snow is second rate compared to fresh powder every few days like in the past.
    I used to cross country ski well into April every year, now I just sold the skis and gave it up. I bought my young daughter skis some years back, we got in one good year together and then just never had the snow to get out in. This in a climate that was formerly very snowy and winter temps were frequently in the -10 to -35F range. When I was young, we had one entire January where the temps never passed 0 degrees F. Now any day below 0 degrees F is a major event. The changes have been dramatic. The 90’s turned the climate here all around, the 2000’s have just reinforced this trend to where winters are just a couple months of cold and a little snow, with frequent thaws, even in Jan-Feb.
    Lake Superior once froze every winter, it has been over 20 years since ice formed out on open water. When I was a kid, we hiked 20 miles out onto the ice in Jan, and I saw ice cover in May one year!

  4. Ken Barrows says:

    Of all the effects of climate change, its effect on the skiing industry is just about the most inconsequential.

  5. Chris says:

    Bama I think you missed the point.
    “211,900 thousand” is equal to 211.9 million.

  6. JJ says:

    Want to reduce vehicle carbon emissions significantly, overnight and do it for next to nothing?? Reduce our National freeway speed limit to 60mph max 50 states!! It’s proven cheap, instant, fair, saves oil and lives!

    Read any/all mpg forum on planet earth, MOST will tell you their vehicles mpg drops like a rock above 60mph!! That means emissions are spiking! We don’t don’t want to be wrong about global warming if it’s true-and we don’t know it’s true, but making easy decisions like this should be a no brainer! We’d all still be driving close to 70 mph anyhow and vehicles are getting smaller every day-safer! What’s our hurry-the economy will be slow for decades now-another no brainer!