Environmentalists unveiled their latest front in the climate-change war this week with a plea on behalf of the ski and snowmobile industry, a spectacle almost as jaw-dropping as a Shaun White’s double McTwist 1260.
First, environmentalists framed their argument on the premise that global warming will hurt the winter-sports industry, which may mark the first time that climate-changers have purported to give a hoot about either non-green jobs or the economy.
Equally stunning was the sudden embrace of winter sports, given that environmentalists have long clashed with the industry on everything from snowmobiles in national parks to the reintroduction of the lynx. Few Coloradans have forgotten that it was radicals from the Earth Liberation Front who in 1998 burned down a ski lodge and four ski lifts at Vail.
None of this deterred the Natural Resources Defense Council from teaming up with a University of New Hampshire researcher and a ski-industry representative to release Thursday a report outlining the risks posed by global warming to the winter-sports industry.
The report, “Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States,” posits that with less snow, fewer people will head to the mountains for winter activities, which would chill the $12.2 billion industry. It’s hard to argue with that logic, but it’s also hard to swallow the report’s confident forecast of a 4 to 10 percent increase in winter temperatures by the century’s end.
Even the report’s co-author, Elizabeth Burakowski of the University of New Hampshire, acknowledged during the press conference that “snowfall is notoriously difficult to model.” She noted that the 2011-12 winter, the fourth-warmest on record, was preceded in 2010-11 by a huge snow year.
Despite such recent unpredictability, the NRDC’s Antonia Herzog warned that the snow-tourism industry “needs to take its head out of the snow before it melts away.”
She advocated federal action to limit carbon emissions, which she insisted could be accomplished by administrative fiat and without the hassle of congressional input.
“The Environmental Protection Agency has the authority under the Clean Air Act to set carbon pollution standards for major polluters,” said Herzog. “Already the Obama administration has taken strong action on cutting carbon pollution from cars. Now we need to move into the biggest source of carbon pollution, which is power plants . . . We need to get that across the finish line, and we need to start setting standards for the big cajuna, the existing power plants out there.”
“And the president can do this. We don’t actually need to Congress and legislation immediately. The president has the authority to do this,” said Herzog. “We all, especially I would argue the snow-tourism industry, need to raise our voices together and call on President Obama to take action on climate now.”
The industry’s lone rep at the event was Auden Schindler, sustainability vice-president for the Aspen Skiing Company, which runs Snowmass/Aspen, who griped that ski executives have been slow to jump on the global-warming bandwagon.
“We all know if it doesn’t snow, there’s less revenue,” said Schindler. “The solution should be for the ski-industry leaders and trade-group leaders to get off their asses and move as if this were an existential threat to the business, which is what it is. So I’m hoping this report is going to drive radical change.”
For most of the industry, he said, “the response has been defensive, which is, ‘Hey the ski industry isn’t responsible for all these emissions, and the ski industry is just fine, by the way.’ Which is puzzling.”
Chris Steinkamp, executive director of the California-based group Protect Our Winters, said the idea to link the ski industry and climate change came after he brought a group of winter athletes to speak to Congress last year about global warming, only to learn that lawmakers were interested in the economic impact.
“We left with a clear mandate: If we were going to have any effect on climate change, the winter sports community needed to place a value on winter,” said Steinkamp.
That would explain the environmental movement’s sudden concern about jobs and winter sports. What he failed to mention was that the Obama administration’s proposed restrictions on carbon emissions would have a clear effect on another business: the fossil-fuels industry, led by coal, which has predicted the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, along with the rural communities that depend on them.
A word of warning to the ski and snowmobile industries: Beware of environmental groups that appear to care about the vitality of the winter-sports business, or any business. Once they’ve brought the fossil-fuel industry to its knees, it won’t be long before they’ll be back calling for the shuttering of ski runs, or banning snowmobiles. And this time, there won’t be any of those pesky coal-fired plants to distract them.