Ski industry officially concerned
EAGLE COUNTY – In the early days of ski areas before snowmaking, business at Thanksgiving was always questionable. Now, there’s usually snow for sliding during Thanksgiving, giving ski area operators and the communities that depend upon skiing at least a four-month season. But if predicted consequences for global warming are accurate, the season will become shorter, making snowmaking more necessary and also more expensive. Ski areas, if not necessarily seeing the future so bleak, are now beginning to accept the warnings as legitimate. First in Aspen, then in California, and more recently nationally, ski industry operators have publicly registered their concerns.The ski industry, explains Geraldine Link, public affairs director for the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), adopted its position only after a broadened consensus had been achieved among scientists. What’s more remarkable about the ski industry – often questioned for its environmental practices – is that operators have indicated that they could be more than just victims of climate change. Through mostly small but concrete steps, many have acknowledged that they consider their reliance upon fossil fuels as being part of the problem.
That position has not gone unnoticed. Last year, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the co-sponsor of a bill that would be the first deliberate admission by the United States of the seriousness of the threat, noted the ski industry support. More than 70 ski area operators have now endorsed the bill, although hundreds of other operators have not. High and dry real estate Among those scientists with a bleak view is John Harte. A researcher and professor at the University of California at Berkeley, Harte has been spending his summers near Crested Butte since 1977. His cabin and office at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in the old mining town of Gothic are at about 9,500 feet in elevation. “It’s very difficult for me to believe that 40 years from now, or even 20 to 30 years, the ski industry is going to be any kind of healthy recreational industry,” he says. The drought of the last five years, he adds, is a likely preview of global warming. To such predictions, Vail Mountain chief operating officer Bill Jensen has a succinct reply: “Hogwash. I don’t believe that at all. People will be skiing in Colorado 50 to 100 years from now. I’ll let the jury decide about 200 years from now.”
Jensen readily admits to sufficient evidence of global warming to justify action. But evidence of peril to the ski industry in Colorado during coming decades falls short of compelling, he says. Cheap, easy travel /Climate alone is not the sole fall-out from global warming. If the world’s nations remain dependent upon fossil fuels, travel is likely to get more expensive. Destination ski resorts are based first of all on relatively cheap and easy travel permitted by the burning of fossil fuels. When the ski industry blossomed in the 1960s, it was premised on travel by jet planes. Jet planes, although improving rapidly in fuel efficiency, remain highly consumptive of fossil fuels.
So, weaning off of fossil fuels would mean less flying, which in turn could depress visits to Colorado’s destination resorts. Vail’s Jensen disagrees. While conceding we must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, he also firmly believes in man’s technical ingenuity. “I’m a big believer in technology,” he says. “The history of man, particularly during the last 200 years, is that technology has literally overcome every problem civilization has faced.” Susan Solomon, an atmospheric chemist from Boulder who achieved fame for her role in helping repair the ozone hole, is among those who warn against people looking to scientists for all the answers. “The scale we’re dealing with is just so massive that engineering solutions are just impossible,” she said recently at a lecture in Boulder. Like many scientists, she thinks the solution to global warming is instead found in the realm of public policy.
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