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.