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Kelly Henderson’s Blog

Warm Weather in Sochi Highlights Olympians Urgent Call to Tackle Climate Change

Kelly Henderson

Posted February 20, 2014

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If you have been watching any coverage of the Sochi Winter Olympics so far, you’ve probably noticed how some varying weather conditions have caused disruption to the flow of the games. Not surprisingly, all Olympic games tend to face challenges each year due to unpredictable weather patterns, but when the weather becomes enough of an issue to delay the start of an event or even cause athletes to withdraw because the conditions have become too dangerous, something has to change. Last week, the weather was so unseasonably warm in Sochi that some American Olympians felt the need to withdraw from the Slopestyle and Halfpipe events because the melting snow was causing potentially more dangerous conditions.

Sochi isn’t the first Winter Games to experience unusually warm temperatures. In fact, there appears to be a trend growing as many of the former host sites are becoming too warm to ever host again. Russia's Sochi, Canada's Vancouver, France's Chamonix, Japan's Nagano and California's Squaw Valley are each known as prime sites for cold-weather sports, and as breathtaking havens for sporting enthusiasts. But according to a new study, these winter wonderlands are now under threat from climate change and soon may no longer be cold enough to play host to the Winter Games. The study concludes that if global warming continues at its current rate, only 10 of the previous 19 Winter Olympics host cities will be cold enough to reliably host the Games in the 2050s. It also goes without saying that other potential future locations for the Olympiad and other winter sports events are also in jeopardy if something is not done to halt global warming.

FreestyleSkiing.jpgThe lack of a Winter Games will not only be of great disappointment to enthusiastic spectators, but more importantly to the athletes who have spent their entire lives passionately training and preparing for the chance to partake in the most prestigious athletic event known on earth. The concern has grown so great that several Olympians have started speaking out against the issue and demanding something be done to combat climate change that can be attributed to warmer winters. U.S. Olympic Snowboarder, Arielle Gold, recently wrote an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune on her concerns for the future of the winter sports industry. Gold explains her concern over the warming temperatures saying:

“Making and importing snow is a temporary solution. It does not solve the larger issue of warming winters. It’s also not viable in the long term, since manmade snow adds an additional expense to an already pricey pursuit. Climate change aside, how will the U.S.’s legacy of snowboarding continue if young people can’t afford to do it in the first place?”

U.S. Olympic Snowboard cross, Alex Deibold, shares similar concerns as Gold in his Boston Globe op-ed. He also dives deeper into how the winter sports industry as a whole is struggling and winter tourism business owners are finding it harder to make ends meet with the shorter, warmer winter seasons.

“I’m fortunate to get snowboard competitively, but the industry is bigger than just the athletes. It involves instructors, rental shops, and business owners trying to put food on the table for their families. Many are struggling to make a living. The Natural Resources Defense Council and POW released a report stating that, as a result of climate change, the country’s winter tourism industry lost roughly $1 billion and 27,000 jobs between 1999 and 2010.”

It’s not just a small handful of winter sports athletes who have started to speak out like Gold and Deibold have. On February 10th, 105 Olympians along with Protect Our Winters, an organization representing the winter sports community and the need to address climate change, released a statement calling on world leaders to take action on climate change and to prepare a commitment to a global agreement prior to the Paris climate talks in 2015. The 105 Olympians represent not only the United States but also Switzerland, Norway, Estonia, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy and Sweden. Callan Chythlook-Sifsof, Gretchen Bleiler, Danny Davis, Arielle Gold, Kikkan Randall, Kaitlyn Farrington, Chanelle Sladics, Kjersti Buaas, Nate Holland, Alex Deibold, and Andy Newell are all signers who represent POW’s Rider’s Alliance; a community of professional athletes committed to environmental leadership. Several of these athletes have even traveled to Washington, DC to advocate for stronger carbon standards that would help combat climate change. All of these athletes realize that the future of their passion is uncertain if action is not taken to stop global warming.

Kaitlyn Farrington.jpgWhile it’s too late to change the negative impacts warm weather is having on Sochi performances, it’s not too late to take action to prevent future Winter Games from having the same disastrous conditions, or possibly not happening at all. The 105 Olympians who signed on to the letter urging world leaders to take action on climate change by preparing a commitment to a global agreement prior to the 2015 climate talks in Paris have the right idea. It’s time to come together to solve the greatest issue ever to face the world.

As Gold says in her Salt Lake Tribune op-ed, “every four years, the world comes together to celebrate our athletes at the Olympics. Why don’t we put the same level of dedication and spirit into solving climate change?” 

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Ray Del ColleFeb 21 2014 04:55 PM

"If you want your kids to grow up with the same opportunities you had, the time for solving climate change is now."

GuthrumFeb 23 2014 09:12 AM

Warm weather in Sochi . Ok, how about in the US ? Record low temperatures, snow in 49 states, Great Lakes all frozen, record snows in southern states. 45 degrees was our normal cold. Now that is considered warm !! Many of us would gladly traded weather with Sochi.
"Scientists see mini ice age ahead" (HP)

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