Editor’s note: This series follows a yearlong, global project to document disappearing snow in the Northern Hemisphere. We’ll be interviewing meteorologists, scientists, skiers, farmers, and anyone who knows anything about snow along the way. The coverage started in Portland, Oregon, on a trans-Rockies road trip, and will continue across the U.S. and Europe.
Protect Our Winters (POW) celebrated a monumental milestone Tuesday as President Obama announced a long-awaited, three-pronged plan to fight global warming. The initiative includes cutting carbon at power plants, funding renewable energy technology, and fortifying America against extreme weather events. The announcement comes on the heels of a flurry of action by POW—that released an expansive study on the impact of low snow years on the U.S. economy. POW also hand-delivered a letter to the White House earlier in the spring, signed by 75 winter sports athletes, asking for a plan to cut greenhouse gases.
“Mountain communities worry about what smaller snowpacks will mean for tourism,” Obama said in his announcement, “and then, families at the bottom of the mountains wonder what it will mean for their drinking water.”
The President plans to circumvent a stalled Congress and enact the plan through executive powers. The authority the scheme hinges on refers to a lawsuit the Aspen Skiing Company helped bring attention to in 2007. Even more relevant to the skiing community, Obama cited in his speech the Climate Declaration that 108 ski resorts and other businesses signed last spring—and which POW board member and Aspen Skiing Company VP of Sustainability Auden Schendler flew to Washington D.C. to release. In April, POW founder Jeremy Jones was given a “Champions of Change” award by Obama at the White House. Included in the announcement was Obama’s plan to strike down the Keystone XL pipeline if it would “significantly” worsen climate change.
“Hearing the President mention the changing snowpack and the climate change’s threat to the economic survival of our mountain communities validated what we’ve been working towards since 2007,” Chris Steinkamp, executive director of Protect Our Winters, said in a statement. Protect our Winters is calling on people to show support by going to IWillAct.us.
Forest fires and drought have been the latest ramifications of a low snowpack throughout the West. With 20-percent less spring snow in the Rockies and more than half of the U.S. in a drought, wildfires have threatened many mountain communities. Several in Colorado have been threatened this month, claiming two lives and many homes. Last week, more than 500 firefighters tried to keep fires away from the Wolf Creek Ski Area. The fact that in some regions 80 to 90 percent of the trees have been killed by spruce beetles—which have become an epidemic as the temperatures rise—has added fuel to the fire.
Conservatives, like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), immediately slammed the proposal as a “war on America,” pointing out that the U.S. burns only one billion of the eight billion tons of coal the world burns. In financial disclosure statements from 2009 and 2010, Manchin made more than $2 million in the coal industry. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson claimed that “there is no scientific consensus on the degree to which we can stop or slow climate change no matter what the president says.”
On Tuesday, Obama addressed these detractors. “The problem with all these tired excuses for inaction is that it’s a fundamental lack of faith in American business and American ingenuity,” he said. “You know, these critics seem to think that when we ask our businesses to innovate and reduce pollution and lead, they can’t or they won’t do it. But in America, we know that’s not true.”