NORTH CONWAY, NH — On the third day of Ted Cruz’s bus tour across New Hampshire, he made a stop at a general store in the small town of North Conway, a year-round resort village dominated by the skiers and snowboarders who frequent the White Mountains throughout the chilly winter months.
The economy of North Conway relies heavily on tourists visiting the town’s resorts, hotels, shops, and restaurants. But all of those industries depend on the will of nature — specifically, the snowfall, which has been less and less predictable in recent years as climate change worsens extreme weather.
In 20 years, we’ll see if the same kind of community exists around here. I’m not sure it will.
Sean Carney, a snowboard instructor at the King Pine resort who also farms in the summer, told ThinkProgress that climate change has hit North Conway hard. Last year, they saw months of record snowfall that caused much of the Northeast to grind to a halt. This year, thanks to an El Niño weather pattern super-charged by climate change, temperatures have been unusually warm.
“I see it first-hand here in the valley,” he said, stepping into a tourist shop to avoid the blustery winds. “We’re a very climate-dependent economy with skiing and tourism. This year has been a banner year for bad snow. The restaurants around here are feeling it with low numbers. The hotels are feeling it.”
A 2012 report by University of New Hampshire researchers found that New Hampshire loses 17 percent of its skier visits when there’s little snow compared to years when snowfall is plenty.
While perpetually low snowfall would be one problem, Carney said the unpredictability of weather patterns because of climate change is what really hurts the community.
“It’s not like it’s always going to be like this — last year we had too much snow,” he said. “It just seems like it’s an unpredictable weather system we’re in now where you can’t make a good business decision ahead of time like we used to. The numbers are all over the place.”
“In 20 years, we’ll see if the same kind of community exists around here,” he continued. “I’m not sure it will.”
Carney also teaches environmental science to middle schoolers and volunteers with NextGen Climate’s New Hampshire chapter. So when he saw that Cruz had scheduled a campaign stop down the street from his home, he decided to ask the candidate why he continues to deny climate science including a report from the Pentagon that found that climate change is an “urgent and growing threat.”
Cruz gave Carney his usual climate denying response.
“Any public policy should follow science and should follow evidence,” the GOP candidate said. “The problem with global warming is there are far too many politicians in Washington that pursue it as a political agenda, irrespective of the science. You ask why I don’t follow a study from the Pentagon? The Obama Pentagon is hopelessly politicized and partisan.”
When Carney pushed back, Cruz responded: “I’m not going to engage in a debate.”
Carney was not the only one to confront Cruz about climate change in New Hampshire on Tuesday. At the conclusion of an event in Rochester, NH later in the day, two volunteers with 350.org’s action arm dropped a banner which said Cruz has been “bought out by big oil.” They were quickly pushed out of the building, but not before a number of Cruz supporters yelled at them to “check the satellite data,” referring to Cruz’s debunked yet persistent line that satellite temperatures disprove climate change.
Griffin Sinclair-Wingate, one of the volunteers, told ThinkProgress that Cruz, like most of the Republican candidates, is beholden to the oil and gas industry. “He’s had $15 million given to his super PAC from the oil and gas industry,” he said. “He’s not only hurting the environment but he’s hurting people.”
Climate change has been a prominent issue at a number of candidates’ events across New Hampshire. Sinclair-Wingate has also approached Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and John Kasich.
Carney has also asked Martin O’Malley, Sanders, and Christie about climate change as they have made campaign stops in North Conway. He said he appreciates O’Malley’s goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, a proposal he calls “incredible.”
Climate change has affected many critical industries in New Hampshire, from winter sports to maple syrup production. A report from the Environment New Hampshire Research and Policy Center from last year detailed the effects on temperature, precipitation, finding that climate change has caused drought and crop failure throughout the state.