Category Archives: Climate Change

The Ghost of Winters Past

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Tweeted @Vailmtn Resort on January 25th.

Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows’ Facebook page professed on January 24th, “Over 7 feet of snow in 5 days leads to a whole lot of powder. The skies will be clearing up this week, so don’t miss bluebird days and all-time conditions.”

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@Jacksonhole Mountain Resort posts pow shots on Instagram.

Whistlerblackcomb.com simply states “20+ FEET OF SNOW & COUNTING”.

While I sit overseas in rainy England, jealously scrolling through endless Instagram posts of friends slashing through chest deep powder I can’t help but wonder if the stoke for this epic snow year is overshadowing the fact that 2016 was globally the warmest year ever. Are we forgetting that in 2013 only 109 inches of snow fell over an entire year in Mammoth Mountain (this season it had already snowed more than that by January 4th)? Are we forgetting that Mount Hood’s Palmer Snowfield melted almost entirely in 2015 forcing Timberline Lodge Ski Resort to close over a month early? Are we forgetting that earlier this season the Beaver Creek Birds of Prey and Lake Louise World Cup races had to be cancelled due to lack of snow? But most importantly are we forgetting what this climate change trend means for the future of our sport?

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NASA‘s image of temperature warming trends from 1880 to 2016 including 23 record warm years.

Research has shown that, unsurprisingly, skiers perception of climate change risks are much higher in warmer winters and much lower in colder, snowier winters. Our confidence in and reliance on resorts’ snowmaking abilities amplifies our denial in climate change and decouples the ski industry from the natural snowfall. The winter tourism industry is aware of the financial risks posed by poor seasons yet continues to contradict long-term sustainable business and environmental management to optimize short-term trail conditions and shareholder profits.

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First day lift lines at Arapahoe Basin CO. A-Basin is known for it’s early start date and late end to the season but this wouldn’t be possible without snow guns, which you can see working hard to create a snow cloud and what is known as the white ribbon of death down the center of an otherwise green run (image source angrysnowboarder.com).

News of an earlier opening date, a warm spell mid-January snow gunned over or a harder base lasting further into spring all excite us but snowmaking has long been known to be incredibly harmful to the environment (and the budget). 1 hectare of snow cover requires up to 1.5 million liters of water and up to 27000 kWh of energy. Artificial snow using imported water diverts the natural flow of the water basin and brings in foreign elements while the snowmelt of manmade snow melts much slower, all damaging fragile alpine habitats.

Powder Magazine recently came out with an article showing ski industry executives including Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort President Jerry Blann and owner Jay Kemmerer and Mammoth Mountain CEO Rusty Gregory supporting and donating large sums of money to climate change denying congressional candidates who are actively fighting greenhouse gas and CO2 regulation legislation. If these political decisions that are made in light of rising ticket prices with worsening conditions confuse anyone, you are not alone. Auden Schendler, Aspen Skiing Company’s vice president of environmental sustainability says “Right now, supporting these guys is like we’re saying: ‘Hey, we’ll give you money, just as long as you can guarantee you’ll destroy our livelihood.’”

The costs, already exorbitant (Australia invested $82 million USD in snowmaking infrastructure, Tyrol Austria spent 55 million Euros while resorts in Switzerland reported that each kilometer of a ski run cost 650,000 Euros on average to cover with artificial snow), to maintain snow conditions amplify the fact that this tactic cannot be sustained, environmentally or economically.

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A helicopter bringing in a load of snow to help cover the track of the famous Hahnenkamm Downhill in Kitzbuhel Austria in 2007. Venues are hesitant to cancel races as they bring in money, but these types of conditions are increasingly common across the World Cup circuit. (Source New York Times/Kerstin Joensson)

Multi-resort passes such as the Mountain Collective, Epic Pass and the MAX pass have been popping up for exactly this reason. Localized weather variance with climate change has increased risks in snow supply and demand from skiers at each ski resort. However by diversifying geographically, resorts can ensure passes are bought and skiers have the option to follow the snow wherever it may fall.

Ski resort corporations may be marketing, selling, politicking and scattering their way around climate change, but we as skiers (and consumers) are eagerly eating this all up. We play along as we post photos of powder days past on Instagram when resorts are closed, watch ski films showing endless snowcapped peaks not questioning the increasingly remote locations and rave of epic January mountain bike rides when things go real south. We forget our role in the cause of climate change but more importantly in the solution.

As the first downhill races of the season were being cancelled due to lack of snow some athletes like Steven Nyman felt “it brings to light the whole climate issue, which I believe is the real deal.”, but others were less certain of the link to climate change. Dustin Cook, a Canadian Alpine Ski Team member told the Toronto Sun “I look at the term climate change, and I think that’s definitely affecting things, but also it’s just early in the year… I just don’t buy that it’s too warm.” US Mens Head Coach Sasha Rearick said “I’m bummed FIS (International Ski Federation) didn’t have more confidence in the snowmaking to pull this thing off last minute.” None of the news articles from various papers covering the cancelled events showed pictures of the grassy slopes instead pictures from previous years and different races accompanied the articles.

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The Denver Post cites lack of snow as reason for cancelling the Birds of Prey race but shows a snowy picture from last years race.

Research on skier behaviour shows that nearly all skiers, particularly experts and die-hards are willing to travel upwards of 2 hours farther (70 percent would travel to another region) and pay 10 percent more for reliable snow conditions. No one in the study indicated they would stop skiing!

We won’t stop skiing and are willing to adapt, but can we change our behaviour and that of our resorts enough to ensure we don’t create a situation that forces us to stop?

Some people are trying to do just that. Films like Salomon’s Guilt Trip; A Climate Change Film with a Skiing Problem (watch here), books like Porter Fox’s DEEP; The Story of Skiing and the Future of Snow and organizations like Protect Our Winters (POW), Outdoor Industry Association and SHIFT are all starting a positive conversation of not just how climate change impacts us, but how we impact the environment and our responsibility as skiers to act. As skiers we have to think about how our actions are contributing to this conversation. Whether it’s through writing news articles, posting photos to Instragram or choosing which ski resorts to support our words and actions must align with and push our industry to meet our collective goal of a snow filled future.

We have to continue the climate change conversation, remembering the rainy days of the past and fearing snowless days of the future, as we shred the epic winter of today.

 

 

Love Christmas. Hate Climate Change. Will Climate Change corrupt Christmas?

Alas! The season to be jolly Fa la la, la la la, la la is coming to an end. It is time to pack away our fantastically gaudy Christmas jumpers adorned with outlandish images of happy snowmen and dancing polar bears, our glittery reindeer antlers and eccentric penguin socks.  

The tackier the better!!
The tackier the better!!

 

But will there always be good cheer and great tidings? Climate change is now jeopardizing many of the iconic symbols of our December celebration. (Please note, this is no way is related to the birth of baby Jesus, no religious connotations here!)

On Christmas Eve 2015 (somewhat fittingly), the IUCN changed the Rangifer tarandus – aka Dasher, Dancer, Prancer etc. –  conservation status from “least concern” to “vulnerable”, skipping over the “near threatened” category. A 40% plummet in their population over 25 years was primarily due to warmer climates bringing in more rain than snow.  This rain freezes on the ground creating an ice sheet up to 5 cm thick. Rudolph often cannot penetrate this ice-crust to reach his diet of grasses and herbs underneath and expels large amounts of energy attempting to; contributing towards reduced survival rates of Santa’s sleigh pulling ungulates.

“Vixen! Comet! Let’s trick Father Christmas and pretend to be Christmas trees” "Ok, Blitzen"
“Vixen! Comet! Let’s trick Father Christmas and pretend to be Christmas trees” “Ok, Blitzen”

 

Not only does climate change melt dreams of a white Christmas, research published in the journal of Forest Ecology and Management reveals that our Christmas trees could suffer too (dependant on tree origin). The iconic Norwegian Spruce will become increasingly vulnerable due to reduced snowpacks to the Boreal forests during winter, which can limit shoot growth in the following spring.

Could this get any worse?!

Yes

A generous dollop of cranberry sauce completes the Christmas lunch.  However, cranberries are not compatible with extreme weathers brought about by climate change; heat waves and frosts & floods cause rotting and yield cuts respectfully. In 2012 in Massachusetts an early spring coupled with extreme heat, resulted in a drop of 23 million pounds in cranberry production; enough to leave a bitter taste in one’s mouth.

“All I want for Christmas is yo-… FOOOOD!!!”
“All I want for Christmas is yo-… FOOOOD!!!”

What’s more, polar bears have long been the face of the climate change movement.  Listed as a threatened species since 2008, there are only 20,000 to 25,000 estimated to be living in the wild.  Scientists warn that rising temperatures in the Arctic could reduce the polar bear population by a third over the next few decades. Of course, the loss of ice also threatens our other favourite charismatic species often pictured on our Christmas cards; penguins, artic fox and seals.

Christmas cards for one and all!
Christmas cards to all those relatives we didn’t even know existed!

And finally, the great man himself. Father Christmas.  Earth’s northern pole is drifting rapidly eastward, and scientists blame climate change. The rate of shift of the magnetic pole is on the increase and it seemed that in the past decade it had moved a distance close to the distance it moved in the past century.  With the wandering magnetic pole and ice sheet melting, our fantasies of him reading our Christmas letters by the fire in a log cabin on the North Pole, could be lost within the century.

“Penny, Martin, Dana – Good list! Paul, however is on the naughty list!”
“Penny, Martin, Dana – Good list! Paul, however is on the naughty list!”

Whilst discussing such a sombre topic you may have noticed the images of this blog maintain humour and positivity; there’s no shocking pictures of reindeers starving nor graphs to map the extent of sea ice loss in the arctic. Partly because it is the season of good cheer, but also this is done to engage with our emotions.  Sometimes, it is much easier to feel compelled to act upon something which we see and know and hold fondness towards, rather than see the negative images shown in the news.   This blog will not discuss how we as individuals can mitigate the effects of climate change- there are plenty of articles which do that, rather this blog hopes for people to understand that we cannot take everyday happenings (or in this case, annual celebrations) for granted.

Do we ourselves bear some responsibility for climate change affecting Christmas? Maintaining our traditional usage of inordinate amounts of sellotape, ribbons and associated paraphernalia, we contribute directly, to non-degradable pollution in our terrestrial and marine environments. Maybe we need to re-think our traditions and stop creating an annual slap in the face for our planet.

And to President elect Trump and his army of climate change sceptics, it’s not only Christmas that is affected – our summer’s day fish and chips take away is in jeopardy too.

 

Sophie is an MSc student in Biodiversity, Conservation, and Management. She is particularly enticed by arts & the environment, science communication and conservation governance, and often likes to tweet about these things @sophierpierce

 

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But they smell so good – are real Christmas trees a problem?

Christmas trees are everywhere

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, it is nearly impossible to ignore the decorations that pop up everywhere around the holidays. Shops, city streets and homes spend the month of December decked out with lights, garlands, and most prominently, Christmas trees. Compared to the blatant consumerism of the holiday season, Christmas trees seem so harmless and wholesome. Who doesn’t love the warm glow of the lights and of course that evergreen smell.

The Christmas tree industry is huge – over $2 billion was spent on real and fake trees in just the USA last year. In Canada that number is smaller, but ever rising – sales of fresh trees grew by over 20% in the last two years. Any industry this large has the potential for huge environmental impacts. Are real Christmas trees an environmental problem? And are fake trees any better? For consumers hoping to make conscientious decisions, it can be hard to find the kind of information that will put these questions to rest.

In writing this post I hope to dissect some facts about the tree industry, to weigh real trees against fake in terms of negative environmental impact, and to suggest ways for those of us who couldn’t feel festive without a tree to make more informed decisions. Continue reading But they smell so good – are real Christmas trees a problem?

Designing the reefs for the future

Of the world’s ecosystems, coral reefs are expected to be the first to experience the repercussions of a changing climate. As images show, coral reefs are already under severe stress by a swiftly heating planet. Corals only thrive in very specific environmental conditions, and when temperature rises by just a little, the coral expels its symbiotic algae partner who provide its nourishment – a process called bleaching. Without its symbiotic algae, the coral turns white and simply starves. Worldwide, mass-bleaching events have been increasingly destructive over the years, hitting an all-time high in the current year, in which high water temperatures killed 67% of corals of the northern part of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. As climate change continues, oceanic waters across the globe are expected to further warm, suggesting a bleak (and bleach) future for coral reefs.

As a response, a group of coral reef scientists from Hawaii and Australia came up with a controversial plan to save coral reefs from their foredoomed destiny. They aim to create heat-resistant corals that can thrive in warmer water. By steering their evolutionary pathway into a desired direction, these scientists effectively prepare corals for climate change.

Continue reading Designing the reefs for the future

Uncertain Environmental Future After U.S. Election

The election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States sent shockwaves around the world. Many questions remain surrounding his presidency and the policies a Trump administration will seek to enact. Throughout the campaign, Trump avoided setting clear positions on policy and remained vague with the few details he did provide. Because Trump has never served in public office, he lacks a voting record making it very difficult to determine his likely positions. This leaves the question, what does this mean for the environment? Specifically, what does this mean for conservation and efforts to curb climate change? Continue reading Uncertain Environmental Future After U.S. Election

The Living Planet Report 2016 – Impacts of the Anthropocene? The ugly, the bad and the good

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future
Niels Bohr, Nobel Prize winning physicist

Recently WWF published its famous ‘Living Planet Report 2016. Risk and resilience in a new era‘ showing  an alarming reality of the state of the planet and what the future holds if concrete actions are not implemented NOW.

Hear it from Marco Lambertini – Director General WWF International

The Living Planet Index (LPI) showed that from 1970 to 2012 (little over 40 years!) vertebrate population abundance has declined in average 58% (more than half!). The Terrestrial, Freshwater, and Marine LPI showed that populations have declined by 38%, 81% and 36% respectively, between the same period of time.

For any person these numbers surely pose an alarming reality of the pressures humans have put on the planet. Are we seeing on this report the crude impacts of the so called ‘Anthropocene’?

Continue reading The Living Planet Report 2016 – Impacts of the Anthropocene? The ugly, the bad and the good

Is eating red meat sustainable?

Understanding the effects of our Diets

Before moving to the UK, I had never really asked myself whether my diet was sustainable. I had always tried to eat healthy, but for personal reasons. However, upon learning that different types of food were linked to different volumes of carbon footprints, I realised that my eating habits were having a direct impact on climate change."Fruits and Vegetables laid out on a table" by USDA is licensed under CC BY 2.0 Continue reading Is eating red meat sustainable?

Why the past matters: megafaunal extinctions, excretions and global nutrient depletions

The paper, “Global nutrient transport in a world of giants”, published just this August, has exciting implications for ecology and conservation. I would argue that the findings of this research and related work provide 1) historical support for a trait and ecosystem process based approach to conservation, 2) support for the potential benefits of rewilding, and 3) insight into possible solutions for dealing with phosphorus depletion. Continue reading Why the past matters: megafaunal extinctions, excretions and global nutrient depletions