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Global Warming, Winter Sports and Jobs Headed Downhill: Report

Theo Spencer

Posted December 7, 2012 in Curbing Pollution, Solving Global Warming

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You like to do fun stuff outdoors in the Winter, right? So do I, and we’re not alone.

More than 23 million people participated in winter sporting activities in 2009/2010.  Clearly there are a lot of people who love to ski, snowboard, snowmobile do and other winter fun stuff.

But what does climate change have in store for winter sports enthusiasts?

Yesterday NRDC and Protect Our Winters released a report that analyzes recent snow conditions and projected impacts of climate change on skiing, snowboarding, and the snowmobile industry. The study looks at the significant economic size of the industry and what's at stake due to a changing climate.

The report finds that a bad snow season hits the economies of ¾ (38) of U.S. states--clearly showing that lower snow years result in fewer skier visits compared to higher snow years. That translates into money, and people’s livelihoods, jobs, and lifestyles.

Snow is “currency” in these 38 U.S. states: more specifically, $12.2 billion in 2009/2010. If that “currency” continues to be undermined by climate change, the industry –  manufacturers, resorts, hotels, grocery stores, restaurants, and bars – is in serious trouble. An estimated 211,900 jobs are either directly or indirectly supported by the industry, our study shows, and  snow-related economic activity resulted in $1.4 billion in state and local tax revenue and $1.7 billion at the federal level. 

The Bad News: It’s Getting Warmer

December 2011 through February 2012 was the fourth warmest winter on record since 1896, and the third lowest snow cover extent since 1966, when satellites began tracking snow cover. Winter temperatures are projected to warm an additional 4 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, with subsequent decreases in snow cover area, snowfall, and shorter snow season. Snow depths could decline in the west by 25 to 100 percent. The length of the snow season in the northeast will be cut in half.

Our report finds that if we have a season like last year, winter tourism employment is expected to drop by 6% to 13% (13,000 to 27,000 jobs) compared to a higher snowfall seasons. That will cost the US economy between $800 million and $1.9 billion.

A recent survey cited in our analysis found that 50 percent of responding ski areas in 2011 opened late and 48 percent closed early, with every region in the country experiencing a decrease in overall days of operation.  The snowmobiling industry -- one entirely reliant upon natural snow -- has had relatively flat registrations since 2000.

Additional, the study found that:

  • The largest changes in the estimated number of skier visits between high and low snowfall years between November 1999 – April 2010 (over one million fewer visits) occurred in:  Colorado (minus 7.7 percent), Washington  (minus 28 percent), Wisconsin (minus 36 percent), California (minus 4.7 percent), Utah (minus 14 percent), and Oregon (minus 31 percent).  The resulting difference in economic value added to these states’ economies ranged from minus $117 million to minus $38 million.
  • In the Eastern U.S., states with the largest  estimated changes in skier visits between low and high snowfall years were: Vermont (minus 9.5 percent), Pennsylvania (minus 12 percent), New Hampshire (minus 17 percent), and New York (minus 10 percent).  The resulting difference in economic value added to their state economy ranged from minus $51 million to minus $40 million.

 

 “Keep Winter Cool”

The good news is we can do something to curb global warming. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority under the Clean Air Act to set carbon pollution standards for major polluters.

The Obama Administration is doing it’s part, setting new standards that will cut carbon pollution from cars in half.  Now we need to move onto the biggest single source of our carbon pollution, power plants.  Again the good news is the EPA has already proposed a strong carbon pollution standard for new power plants.  We need to get that across the finish line quickly, and we need to get started setting standards for existing power plants. NRDC just released a report on how this can be done cost effectively.

And states are taking action too.

Not only will these actions help keep the fluffy stuff coming, addressing climate change will also build a stronger, healthier, clean energy economy and create jobs.

But we need more action to cut global warming pollution sooner. President Obama can do this. Civilian snow lovers, and all those in the winter tourism industry need to raise our voices together and call on the President to take action.

 

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About

Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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