Gina and Gretchen

EPA Administrator and Aspen native Gretchen Bleiler in Aspen during last month’s X Games. PHOTO: Eric Vance

Editor’s Note: Last month, four different global temperature recordkeepers—the Japan Meteorological Agency, NASA, NOAA, and the Hadley Center in the U.K—reported that 2014 was the hottest year on record since global temperature recordkeeping began in 1891. This recent report notes that 2014 surpassed 2010 as the warmest year, with 10 of the warmest years occurring since 1997. After lobbying from Protect Our Winters (POW), the principal environmental voice in the snow industry, Gina McCarthy, the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, traveled to Aspen for the X Games to speak about the rapidly changing climate to skiers and snowboarders. In turn, McCarthy and snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler, a POW ambassador, co-wrote the following Op-Ed about how the climate is affecting our beloved sport.

It's official—2014 was the hottest year on record. And that's on track with the current trend: this past decade was the hottest on record, and each of the last three decades has been hotter than the one before. Our climate is changing, driving more extreme weather and supercharging risks to our health and our economy. From more frequent droughts and wildfires to more intense storms and floods, the harm dealt by climate impacts varies in communities nationwide, but none of us escapes the costs.

On Thursday [January 22, 2015], we spent time together at the X Games venue in Aspen, Colorado, where climate impacts hit home in a recreation and tourism reliant economy. We joined other pro athletes and competitors, recreation CEOs, and local businesses—who all face harmful climate impacts, and are calling for action.

Skiing, snowboarding, and winter recreation as we know it are threatened by climate change. If we fail to act on climate, in our kids' and grandkids' lifetimes, temperatures could rise 10 degrees and seas could rise 4 feet. In Aspen, it’s now not unusual to see rain in January, something we never saw even a few decades ago, and winter seasons are growing shorter. If we fail to act, in Aspen, our climate could resemble that of Amarillo, Texas, by 2100! Amarillo is lovely, but the skiing and snowboarding there is lousy.

And you don't have to be an X Games athlete to appreciate the risks. Outdoor recreation pumps hundreds of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy every year and accounts for millions of jobs. Snow-based recreation alone contributes $67 billion annually, supporting over 900,000 jobs. Shorter seasons or disappointing ski conditions mean fewer tourists, fewer businesses, and fewer jobs. 
Without a doubt, climate risks are economic risks. And when productive sectors of our economy like recreation and tourism take a hit from the pressures of a changing climate, so do the businesses that support them, and the families and livelihoods that depend on them. That's exactly the case in Aspen, where local business leaders shared with us how climate change impacts them. It's simple: with a lack of consistent snow, tourist-dependent economies are at risk. Winter tourism generates $12.2 billion annually, supports 212,000 jobs and $7 billion in salaries. So clearly, the most expensive thing we could do is to do nothing.

The U.S. snow sports community is 23 million strong, and understands climate risks. Protect Our Winters (POW) came together in 2007 to mobilize the winter sports community toward a common goal and voice for protecting and preserving our sports, lifestyles, economies and winter as we know it. As POW put it in a letter to President Obama in 2013 – "without a doubt, winter is in trouble." POW’s voice and message joins millions of others in communities and economies across the country who are bearing the burden of climate impacts.

Compelled by the urgent need for action, in June 2013, President Obama laid out a comprehensive national Climate Action Plan to cut the carbon pollution fueling climate change, prepare for impacts we can't avoid, and lead the world in our global climate fight.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a key role to play in President Obama's Plan by reducing carbon pollution from our largest source—power plants. EPA's action will bolster economic growth with sensible, state-specific carbon-cutting strategies that drive innovation, develop technology, create jobs, and grow our economy, especially in clean energy sectors like solar and wind power.

We have a responsibility to act on climate now, and although the Climate Action Plan is a significant, much needed start—we have a lot more to do. Let's accept our responsibility, and continue to commit to climate action—to protect public health, the economy, and the excitement of the winter sports we love, for generations to come.

Gina McCarthy is the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Gretchen Bleiler is the 2006 Olympic Silver Medalist in women's halfpipe and is a 5-time X Games Medalist.

To learn more about how climate change is changing our sport, read POWDER Features Editor Porter Fox’s book, called “DEEP: The Story of Skiing and Future of Snow.”