Readers of GreenSportsBlog are well aware that winter sports have taken a lead role in the climate change fight. From hockey to skiing, snowboarding to speed skating, administrators and players alike are well aware of the all too real threat climate change poses to their sports. In fact, we deemed the NHL’s December announcement of a carbon-neutral 2014-15 season as being “the most important green sports initiative ever”. Now, Gina McCarthy, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Administrator, has joined the fight at the intersection of Green and (Winter) Sports.
Gina McCarthy, the Administrator (aka head honcho) of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a tough job: She has to push President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to a public that, in the main, has been largely apathetic about the fight against climate change. Perhaps the plan’s signature initiative is a set of tough proposed rules to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. That move has been challenged in court by the big coal companies and their (mainly) Republican allies in Congress. Said Congressional Republicans (with some rare exceptions) loathe the EPA about as much as they loathe Mr. Obama. A hardened fighter herself, Ms. McCarthy has a challenging 23 rounds, er, months left in her bout, er, term to maximize the impact of the President’s Climate Action Plan against determined foes.
With that long battle in mind, GreenSportsBlog was heartened to see that McCarthy had time and bandwidth to lend her voice to the climate change fight being waged by members of the winter sports community. Last month, she ventured out to Aspen, CO and the Winter X Games to speak about the about the rapidly changing climate and its effects on skiers and snowboarders, among other winter sports practitioners. At the same time, Ms. McCarthy co-authored an Op-Ed about climate change with Gretchen Bleiler, an Olympic silver medalist snowboarder (2006, Torino) and a member of the Board of Directors of Protect Our Winters (POW), a non-profit whose mission is “to engage and mobilize the winter sports community to lead the fight against climate change.”
Bleiler’s and McCarthy’s piece links POW’s voice supporting an immediate and strong fight against climate change to Obama’s Climate Action Plan. Key learnings from the Op-Ed include:
- Projections are that, if we fail to act on climate, by 2100 the climate of Aspen could resemble the current climate of Amarillo, TX, not the best place for skiing and snowboarding.
- In Aspen, it’s now not unusual to see rain in January, something never seen even a few decades ago. Winter sports seasons are growing shorter.
- There’s a huge potential economic impact if we fail to act: Snow-based recreation alone contributes $67 billion annually, supporting over 900,000 jobs.
- Aspen business leaders, along with POW, certainly get the simple truth: Lack of consistent snow means that tourist-dependent economies in the mountain west, as well as the northeast, are at risk.
Now, it wouldn’t be a GreenSportsBlog post without a few beats on “Fan Engagement” drum. There are some fan-based initiatives highlighted on the POW website, including 2013’s “Hot Planet, Cool Athletes”, sponsored by North Face and Clif. It would have been great to see programs like these mentioned in the piece. Then again, perhaps the engagement programs are not active currently–a problem if true. We will say it again–fans are the Holy Grail of the Green-Sports intersection. Winter sports should not waste any opportunity to get them involved.
EPA Adminstrator Gina McCarthy (l) and Olympic Snowboarder and Protect Our Winters Board Member Gretchen Bleiler (r) in Aspen, CO at the 2015 Winter X Games in January. (Photo credit: Eric Vance for Powder Magazine)
Still, this was a timely and important Op-Ed (to read it in its entirety, click here.) And, when you read the summary of the Obama Climate Action Plan, the relevance of its 3 main tenets to the winter sports industry become crystal clear:
- Cut the carbon pollution fueling climate change (that’s where the new rules on coal plants come in). Do this and industries like winter sports have a chance to exist in recognizable form for our kids and grandkids.
- Prepare for impacts we can’t avoid. The winter sports industry must be in the process of planning adaptation strategies assuming consistently warmer, shorter winters. What those strategies and tactics turn out to be is an open question, at least as of now.
- Lead the world in the global climate fight. Not only the US winter sports industry is at risk from the ravages of climate change. In fact, a 2014 study from the University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) showed that only 10 of the previous 19 Winter Olympic host cities would be reliable hosts by 2080.
Continued public pressure from the winter sports world, groups like POW, and yes, fans, can only help EPA begin to achieve the vision of the Climate Action Plan.
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