Climate Change Cuts to the Heart of the Winter Olympics

BY ON February 16, 2018
Winter Olympics skier Lindsey Vonn

Lindsey Vonn carves a Giant Slalom turn.

It’s the heart of the winter here in the Northeast US, and it’s the time of year when the damp, chilly weather can make it feel like winter has no heart. Yet, my mood has been lifted by the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Beginning with the pageantry of the opening ceremonies with its unified parade of nations and record-setting 1,218 drones filling the night sky, the global event represents wintery peace, not the destruction of winter.

In reality, as one of the 20 million “active participants” in snow sports, I know winter is not what it used to be. The new reality of winter sports is climate disruption. And with disruption comes Olympic-sized global distress and destruction.

In a new study conducted by a multinational team of Canadian, Austrian and Chinese researchers, climate change is threatening the viability of the Winter Olympics. The study found:

“…if global emissions of greenhouse gases are not dramatically reduced, only eight of the 21 cities that have previously hosted the Winter Olympics will be cold enough to reliably host the Games by the end of this century.”

Yale Climate Connections shows us how the future of the Winter Olympics stacks up:

 

 

The elite winter athletes, who have dedicated their lives to their sport and compete globally, know winter sports regions are in dire trouble. Not only will there be fewer and fewer places to host the Olympic Winter Games, as the planet continues to warm, the athletes cite inconsistent conditions, making it more and more dangerous to compete.

There’s a word to describe how winter sports enthusiasts are feeling. It’s called “solastalgia.” I kid you not. According to a LA Times article titled, Every Olympic athlete in Pyeongchang should be vocal about climate change, solastalgia anxiety is the unease one feels during those warm, snowless winters. And, solastalgia is justified by the stats: NASA tells us 2017 was the second-warmest year on record, and it was one 17 of the 18 hottest years that have occurred since 2001.

Of Medals and Melting

When I testified in Denver in support of America’s Clean Power Plan with Olympic skier Liz McIntyre, she shared her climate concerns with the EPA. Liz had spent 20 years on the US Ski Team as a medalist and as a coach. She was involved in organizing energy-efficient and renewable energy co-op plans for her Colorado community. Liz commented that the reason she was advocating for a strong climate plan was because she “…had skied on a glacier in France that has now disappeared.” She stressed the importance of limiting carbon emissions from fossil-fuel burning power plants, the primary driver of global warming.

As I write this, we’re nearing the end of the first Olympic week. Celebrated downhill skier, Lindsey Vonn has yet to ski. Just three weeks ago, at the women’s World Cup speed races in the Austrian Alps, heavy rain and mild temperatures had made the ski course conditions too dangerous to ski. Lindsey told the Associated Press:

“It’s a difficult situation right now with the way the snow is and how they prepared the course. I’m not sure if we are going to be able to get the race off.”

Jessie Diggins, a cross-country skier on the American women’s team at the Winter Games is a climate action advocate. Jessie finds it harder to ski on man-made snow because it’s faster. Any skier can tell you real snow is soft and fluffy. Man-made snow is slick and icy. Fast skiing conditions are dangerous.

Whether you’re a skier or a breather, we all need to get involved in an Olympic effort to save winter. Just like Olympians push their physical limits, we need to push our politicians to come together to protect America’s Clean Power Plan, because, as Jessie says about her love of winter,

“It just breaks my heart because this is such a cool sport, and winter is so amazing and beautiful and I feel like we’re actually really at risk of losing it. And I don’t want my kids to grow up in a world where they’ve never experienced snow because we weren’t responsible enough.”

Photo: Gabriele Facciotti/Associated Press

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TOPICS: Activism, Carbon Pollution, Climate Change, Heat and Extreme Weather