Olympians speak out on climate change as Sochi warms up
Climate change has made its way to the Olympics. Athletes are banding together to urge action, saying rising temperatures are putting winter sports in jeopardy.
More than 100 winter Olympians, led by Americans, have signed a petition urging world leaders to fight climate change as balmy weather creates slushy conditions at the Sochi Games.
“The once-consistent winters that I saw as a young kid are no more, especially near my home in Vermont,” U.S. cross country skier Andrew Newell, 30, says in a statement seeking support. At least 105 Olympians from 10 countries have signed on, including 85 Americans.
They’re asking countries to reduce heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions, embrace “clean energy” and prepare for a global agreement at the United Nations’ climate convention in Paris next year.
While athletes have campaigned for other causes in the past, this is the first Winter Olympics at which they’ve coalesced on climate change. They each have stories about how rising temperatures are affecting them.
“The fall training camps that I used to participate in when I was a student at Stratton Mountain School in Stratton, Vermont, are not really feasible any more due to lack of snow and warmer conditions,” says Alex Deibold, 27, a U.S. snowboarder . “I want my kids and their kids to be able to enjoy the outdoors the same way I did.”
He signed Newell’s petition — Olympic Athletes Against Climate Change — along with U.S. skier Kikkan Randall, U.S. snowboarders Danny Davis and Arielle Gold, Switzerland’s Bettina Gruber, Norway’s Astrid Jacobsen and Italian ski jumper Elena Runggaldier.
“Vancouver was a wake-up call,” says Chris Steinkamp, executive director of POW (Protect Our Winters), an advocacy group working with the athletes.. He notes how warm weather at the 2010 Olympics caused tons of extra snow to be trucked in and canceled most of the practice days on the halfpipe.
In Sochi, where temperatures have soared into the low 60s, a lack of snow has contributed to safety complaints that the halfpipe is too bumpy. Training for the men’s super-combined downhill was postponed a few days this week while women’s downhill training Tuesday was canceled.
Justin Reiter, a 33-year-old U.S. snowboarder who’s participating in his first Olympics, says he’s seen notable shifts caused at least partly by climate change, including the receding of the Tiefenbach Glacier in Austria’s Soelden ski area since 2002.
“The largest change I see every day is the pine beetle kill problem,” Reiter says, noting how the pine forests he remembers as a child in Colorado are largely gone because of a proliferation in mountain pine beetles that lay eggs under the bark. of the trees.
“I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel around the world chasing snow year-round now for the past 13 years,” says Gretchen Bleiler, 32, a U.S. snowboarder who won a silver medal in the halfpipe at the 2006 Olympics but stumbled on her final runs at the 2010 Games. “I have seen winter change all around the globe.” In Aspen, Colo., where she grew up, she says the “avalanche danger days” that kept her home from school as a kid are gone.
“It’s part of a larger trend,” says Diana Madson, a graduate student with Yale University’s Team Climate, a partnership between the Olympians and Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She says rising temperatures have reduced snow pack and shortened ski seasons, causing ski resorts and training facilities to lose revenue and jobs.
Anthony Watts, a skeptic of man-made global warming who writes the “Watts Up With That?” blog, says only a small share of Olympians — about 4% — signed Jewell’s petition. In a post, he says the athletes should hardly complain about lack of snow, because Sochi is “climatically not that great of a place for a winter Olympics.”
Only 11 of the previous 19 Winter Olympics host cities will be cold enough to reliably host the Games by mid-century and only six will be viable sites by 2100 if global warming projections prove accurate, according to a study last month by Canada’s University of Waterloo and Austria’s Management Center Innsbruck.
The study says cities that won’t be reliable hosts in coming decades include Vancouver, Russia’s Sochi, America’s Squaw Valley and Germany’s Garmisch-Partenkirchen. It says the average February daytime temperature of Winter Games locations has steadily increased – from 33 degrees Fahrenheiti in 1920-1959, to 38 degrees in 1960-1999 and 46 degrees since 2000.
“When it comes to winter sports, global warming has us skating on thin ice,” says Julian Boggs of Environment America, a group urging limits on carbon emissions from power plants. His group says continued increases in global emissions could make the balmy weather of the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games the “new normal.”
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