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No Snow, No Olympics

Climate Change A Critical Part Of The Conversation

Gov. John Hickenlooper and MayorMichael B. Hancock are seemingly in hot pursuit of bringing the Winter Olympics to Colorado. There is certainly heated debate about this issue, as there was in 1972 when Denver backed out of the 1976 games.

Regardless how each of us may feel about the games coming to the state, we do need snow and cold for the games to be viable.

Climate change is threatening Colorado winters. This year alone, 99 percent of Colorado is in a drought. At the time of this writing, the state was at 62 percent of its average precipitation. Recent studies show that of 21 cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics, nearly half of them won’t be cold enough to host the games by mid-century.

A publication from the University of Waterloo found that average temperatures during the Olympics have increased from around 33 degrees Fahrenheit before 1960, to a current average of 46 degrees Fahrenheit.

By 2050, many ski resorts in the United States are expected to see the length of their season cut in half. By 2090 ski seasons will be reduced in duration by a whopping 80 percent, according to research published last year in the journal Global Environmental Change. Cities are now stockpiling snow in order to have enough of the white stuff for cold weather events. During the 2014 Sochi Olympics, organizers reserved 450,000 cubic meters of snow up at altitude in order to have the needed amount for the games.

In a recent interview with New York Times climate reporter Kendra Pierre-Louis, cross country skier and Olympic hopeful Jesse Diggins noted that it is getting more difficult to be able to ski on real snow. Many resorts have been making snow, which makes the runs icier and more dangerous for athletes. Diggins noted that real snow is softer and it’s not as hard when you fall.

Clearly it is the real snowfall that provides the best skiing conditions. Snowmaking requires energy consumption and disruption of ecosystems like tundras and streams. Fifteen of the 16 hottest years on record occurred in this century.

Beyond the Olympics, shorter seasons and scarce snow has also taken its toll in other ways. From 1999 to 2010, low snowfall cost ski resorts and companies an estimated $1 billion in potential revenue and at least 13,000 American jobs.

In collaboration with the Climate Reality Project, the initiative, I AM PRO SNOW, is working on a campaign, called 100 Percent Committed, to help stop climate change. The campaign focuses on working with communities to shift to 100 percent clean and renewable energy. Organizers are working with towns to dump dirty fossil fuels that are driving climate change. The initiative recognizes that our seasons and snow is at stake as well as our way of life.

Vail Resorts recently committed to zero emissions by 2030, zero waste to landfill by 2030 and zero net operating impact to forests and habitat. The company’s commitment includes purchasing 100 percent renewable energy and investing in programs such as tree planting to offset the use of other types of energy.

“As a growing global company so deeply connected to the outdoors, we are making a commitment to address our most pressing global environmental challenge and protect our local communities and natural resources,” said Rob Katz, chairman and chief executive officer of Vail Resorts.

Katz isn’t the only one to recognize that the industry may not continue to exist unless measures are taken to combat climate change.

“Even if the whole ski industry did this, it would not solve the climate problem,” Aspen Skiing Company Vice President of Sustainability Auden Schendler has noted.

This is where our elected officials (and those running for office) need to commit to fixing the biggest issue facing humanity. These cannot be empty promises.

Many businesses and individuals are leading the way on these efforts and while our elected officials are investing energy in bringing the Olympics to Colorado they need to invest as much energy in saving our Colorado winters.

We are long overdue for both the State of Colorado and the City of Denver to make a commitment to 100 percent renewable energy. One of our biggest economic drivers depends on all of us stopping climate change.

Tracey MacDermott is chair of the board of Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. Active in the registered neighborhood organization for many years, MacDermott was the 2012 recipient of the Dr. J. Carlton Babbs Award for Community Service. In January she received the INC Neighborhood Star Award for 2017, for her advocacy on behalf of Park Hill. She was trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2017.

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