By Andrea Alban-Davies, Rye Garden Club Conservation Committee
I love the Winter Olympics, especially the enchanting snowscapes that fill the screen during televised outdoor events. It’s hard, though, as an enthusiastic follower of the events – and a weekend skier myself – to wholeheartedly revel in the athleticism and beauty and happiness. Because, for me, there’s a tinge of sadness to each of the events, just as there is to each ski day. There’s the undeniable question hanging over our snow-induced joy: How much longer can this last?
Skiers, boarders, and jumpers have watched the weather closely since the dawn of winter sports, but it’s no possible for them to ignore the elephant in the room. Every rainy February day in the Rockies demands the question: How widespread can most of these sports remain with our planet warming up at an unprecedented clip? As average global temperatures rise, not only do we have to wonder how many possible host locations will exist (many prior Winter Olympic cities will soon be too warm to host the event again), but we also have to wonder where the future athletes will come from. According to one reputable publication, some ski locations in the U.S. are forecast to see seasons 50% shorter by 2050 and 80% shorter by 2090.
At a recent Garden Club meeting, the principal founder of C-Change Conversations walked us through the plain, scientific, (and deeply terrifying) facts about how the deluge of greenhouse gases mankind has released into the atmosphere has already affected us, and some of the future scenarios that exist for us even if we cut emissions to zero tomorrow.
Climate change and global warming have always been part of the planet’s geological history, but never as fast as this man-made version that we’ve created; never so fast that we can see the change from generation to generation. Needless to say, rapid, man-made climate change has far greater humanitarian and economic implications than the loss of winter sports, but it’s a loss nonetheless. And it’s one that’s easy for every friend of winter to connect to, and be motivated by. Potential catastrophic refugee crises seem very remote and difficult to imagine. A 65-degree January afternoon in the Catskills? *Not so much. Can we live without snow? Of course we can, but wouldn’t we prefer to live with it?
The cold, hard facts – just like the prospect of snowless winters – can lead us to two very different conclusions. The first, and easiest, is that nothing we do matters. That what we face is an impossible task; with so much damage already done, so many unwilling to make tough personal choices, and so few national politicians with the will to mitigate future damage. But I prefer the other possible conclusion: that everything we do matters, that as we stand peering over a precipice, every single act taken or foregone matters.
*With climate data, it’s important to focus on the averages rather than short-lived cold snaps or heat waves; and the averages say it all: steadily rising temperatures over the past few decades, and the last three years as the warmest on NOAA record.