Two-time World Championship skier Chris Davenport skis most days of the year. He’s travelled around the world and knows mountains as perhaps few people do. But Davenport has noticed something troubling lately: he can’t count on good snow anymore.
Climate researcher Elizabeth A. Burakowski says that winters in the Northeast US are now nearly 3 degrees (F) warmer than they were in 1970. By the end of the century, temperatures are expected to warm an additional 4-10 degrees.
That’s worrying the winter sports community. In May 2013, over 100 ski resorts signed a letter calling on Congress to pass climate legislation. Their $12 billion industry, they said, is in grave danger if nothing is done to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Many smaller resorts without the resources to produce their own snow have already folded.
In October 2013, a separate group of professional snowboarders and skiers also emphasized the urgency of the problem when they met with lawmakers in DC to express their support of the EPA’s new carbon pollution standards.
According to the organizers, Protect Our Winters, “Snow-based recreation in the United States is estimated to support over 600,000 jobs… Without a stable climate, our industry, our jobs, the economies of mountain communities everywhere and the valued lifestyle of winter will be gone.”
Craig Harnett, Senior Executive Vice President and CFO of the NHL, agrees: “Hockey’s relationship to climate is unique. Our players learn to skate on frozen lakes. For this sport’s tradition to continue we need to address the threats of climate change.”
The NHL is taking action. With the help of EarthShare member the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), they are set to become the first professional sports association to issue an environmental sustainability report.
But it’s not just winter sports advocates that raising their voices about climate change.
In November, the leadership of the major US sports leagues: the NFL, the NHL, MLB, the NBA and the Olympic Committee testified before Congress about the impacts that climate change will have on their athletes, facilities, and fans.
Washington Nationals’ star pitcher Stephen Strasburg famously went to the showers after just three innings during a game in 2012 as temperatures approached 120 degrees in Atlanta where he was playing. It turned out to be the hottest day in Atlanta’s recorded history.
Heat stroke is a concern for the organizers of the Tour de France too. Cyclists who take on this grueling course could be putting their lives at risk as temperatures rise in southern France. Heat stroke kills cells and causes hemorrhaging throughout the body.
While professional athletes have medics and trainers on hand to monitor their health, many school and amateur teams don’t have the resources to address heat stroke risk.
There are other effects: sea level rise threatens sports arenas like the beloved Fenway Park in Boston, San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, and Safeco Field in Seattle, among others. Warmer winters are also providing the ideal conditions for swarms of pests which occasionally descend on baseball games.
EarthShare members are working with the sports community to address these risks. NRDC’s program Greening the Games has been helping professional sports teams speak out and make sustainable changes for nearly ten years.
The results of their work are impressive: Of the 126 professional sports teams in the five major professional North American leagues, 38 teams have shifted to renewable energy for at least some of their operations, and 68 have energy efficiency programs. Teams are also educating their fans about environmental issues, running recycling and composting programs, and saving water.
The National Wildlife Federation and the Izaak Walton League of America are working with outdoor sports enthusiasts to make a difference too. The latter joined a coalition of hunters and anglers in May 2013 to ask President Obama to follow through with climate action promises. Warming waters are a serious threat to fisheries and big game are migrating as temperatures rise.
Sports have the unique ability to inspire and bring people from diverse backgrounds together for a common goal. What might be possible if the full potential of this spirit could be harnessed for our biggest global challenge: climate change?
As Porter Fox, author of the book DEEP: The Story of Skiing and the Future of Snow has said: “This is way bigger than skiing. Yes, we want to save skiing. But we want skiers, literally, to help save the world.”