I climbed a mountain on a sunshine-blue day last week. A giant lake sprawled to the edge of the sky, where a rim of mountains divided the air from the water. Views like this make me grateful to be a skier.
Many don’t have this connection to nature. Later on the skintrack, my ski partner expressed disbelief that someone she had worked with all winter long had never driven 10 minutes down the road to see the lake. Not even once. Her coworker had moved from Jamaica to work in the kitchen at a ski resort. Their priority was logging hours for a paycheck. If someone never experiences the outdoors, I thought, then how could they know why it needs protecting? It was a reminder that I live in an echo chamber.
As skiers, we interact with the world differently. We see things most people never even realize they are missing—a viewpoint from up high, for example, or the symptoms of climate change. The fight to save snow demands we share our views and empirical knowledge of climate change with the rest of the world. We must do more than change lightbulbs, recycle, and carpool to work. Now is the time to speak up, loudly. The People's Climate March on Saturday—in Washington, D.C., and cities across the country—is a start, and comes on the 100th day of President Donald Trump's administration.
The stakes have never been so high. Elizabeth Kolbert writes in The New Yorker: "A White House characterized by flaming incompetence has nevertheless managed to do one thing effectively: It has trashed years' worth of work to protect the planet."
Did you notice the extreme variances in temperature this winter? In December, I landed in Colorado to temperatures two degrees below zero. In January, a freak storm snowed a foot in downtown Portland, leaving an apocalyptic trail of stranded cars on the highway. In February, a downpour of rain shut down Sun Valley Ski Resort for two days and elevated avalanche danger to extreme. Emergency responders called homes to recommend residents stay indoors for fear of wetslides crashing into the roads. One week later, high pressure settled in throughout the West and temperatures soared as high as 15 degrees above average in Utah.
The loss of snow is an economic story, says Protect Our Winters Executive Director Chris Steinkamp. "When it doesn't snow, or the ski resort can't open, and tourists don't show up—it's not just that we can't ski. The entire town feels it," he said. "People in our sport need to understand there is a lot of money at stake when it doesn't snow. And it's not money in the industry—it's money in our pockets." Recreation in the outdoors generates $887 billion in consumer spending annually, according to a report recently published by the Outdoor Industry Association. The industry creates 7.6 million jobs, and supplies the federal government with $65.3 billion in tax revenue. As we all know, this industry is vulnerable to the preservation of our natural environments—which requires lowering fossil fuel emissions.
It has traditionally been difficult to pinpoint extreme weather events to climate change; however, scientists are now able to start making those explicit connections. A report titled “Influence of Anthropogenic Climate Change on Planetary Wave Resonance and Extreme Weather Events,” published in March, takes note of recent heat waves in Europe and Pakistan and droughts in Texas and California. The report states that "more complex mechanisms may be involved" with the generation of such extremes in weather, including “changes in soil-moisture, changing tropical Pacific sea surface temperature, and the potential impact of rapid Arctic warming.”
This winter is already on track to be one of the warmest, with averages just shy of the warmest year on record: 2016. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average temperature last year across the planet—on land and ocean—was 1.69 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the 20th century average. It was the third year in a row that a new record had been set. All 16 years of the 21st century rank among the 17 warmest years on record.
Protect Our Winters has dispatched skiers to Washington, D.C., and 15 cities across the U.S., Canada, and Europe to represent the skiing community at the marches.
"We want to show solidarity in the outdoor sports,” said Steinkamp. “We're a front-line community, not unlike farmers, and we need to be sure to show up. We need to let the administration know that this is not OK. We need to be front and center to heighten that visibility. We need the administration to listen to public opinion."
But the crux of this weekend's demonstration will arrive on Sunday when the world wakes up to the collective thought: Now what? One suggestion: Become an activist, pick up the phone, and call your lawmaker.
"If you call your senator and this guy is a climate denier, say the science is settled and say: 'If you want my vote you need to stand for climate action.' If your senator is someone who supports [climate action], call them and thank them," said Steinkamp. "It can be a two-second conversation. I am a constituent. I want you to take climate change seriously. And I want you to support climate change policy."
For more, download the Action Kit from the Climate Reality Project and help them build momentum for solutions to climate change.