Ask Eartha: Uniting in defense of the outdoors
Dear Eartha, My friends and I are getting stoked for winter, but they’re not as concerned about climate change as I am. Why does it seem like I’m the only one worried about the future of our favorite sport?
You’ve got to love this time of year, when we all wait in anticipation for those first major snowstorms and the bliss of the season’s first turns. And yet, I’m right there with you. Lurking behind all the joy of sliding on snow is a feeling that maybe this winter wonderland won’t last forever.
Feeling hot, hot, hot
I’m not going to sugarcoat it: Climate change threatens winter and summer recreation. In case you missed it, a recent report by Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Climate Organization looked specifically at what the impacts of climate change will be in Summit County. If we do nothing, winters will get warmer. In fact, by 2050, nearly a quarter of our winter days could have high temperatures above freezing, compared with just 12% of winter days between 1970 and 1999.
Now, warmer winters may not seem like a big deal, especially for people like me who hate being cold. But take a moment to think about the snow we all love to ski and ride: blower pow. According to the meteorological experts at OpenSnow, the ideal temperatures for perfect powder are between zero and 10 degrees. So as winter warms, that means less opportunity for gnar-filled powder days and more opportunity for wet, heavy snow. That, my friends, is a crying shame.
It’s not just winter that’s heating up. Peak springtime runoff now occurs 15 to 30 days earlier than it did in the late 1970s. April snowpack has decreased between 20% and 60% at most monitoring sites across Colorado. Not only does that cut ski season short but it also affects river flows, which impacts both boating and angling. Of course, summers are getting hotter, too. Again, by 2050, more of our summer days will top out over 80 degrees. And warmer air holds more moisture, which means more evaporation from soils and dead trees, fueling the possibility for more intense wildfires.
Outdoor recreation is the bread and butter for our local economies, so what happens when we can’t enjoy the things we love to do outside? To use winter as an example, research from advocacy group Protect Our Winters found that in years with less than average snowfall fewer people ski and ride, which results in reduced revenue and job losses. Put simply, snow is white gold. When there’s less of it, our “skiconomies” suffer.
We’re all on team planet Earth
The good news is there are more than 50 million Americans that identify as skiers, snowboarders, climbers, runners, hikers and bikers. What if we all united in defense of the outdoors, regardless of our politics? Shouldn’t environmental protection and climate action be nonpartisan issues? Shouldn’t we all want clean air, clean water and a healthy environment?
The truth is that most of us do. Every year, the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication releases public opinion maps on climate change. It turns out the majority of Americans think climate change is happening, that it’s primarily caused by human activities and that it will harm future generations. So a key strategy for having these conversations with your friends is to find out what they care about and build from there. In this case, it sounds like a shared love of skiing is a good place to start. And for your own sanity, prioritize talking to friends who would actually be willing to engage in dialogue.
Conversations like these are what Jeremy Jones, professional snowboarder and founder of Protect Our Winters, sought out in his 2020 film, “Purple Mountains.” To bring this discussion to Summit County, Protect Our Winters and High Country Conservation Center are teaming up to show “Purple Mountains” at the Breckenridge Riverwalk Center at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19. Following the film there will be an in-person Q&A with Jones himself, so you can ask him how he’d recommend talking to your friends. Even better, bring your friends with you. Tickets are free but must be reserved online at HighCountryConservation.org. If the event sells out, you can find a link to rent the film at the same website.
“Ask Eartha Steward” is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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