Team Climate & the 2014 Winter Olympics

Yale University’s Team Climate is joining forces with Olympians to bring a climate change dialogue to the 2014 Winter Olympics. Winter sports athletes are firsthand witnesses to climate change. From year to year, they are seeing their cherished mountain landscapes transformed with less snowfall and melting glaciers. They are watching as global leaders fail to act on this urgent crisis. Without intervention, the winter sports industry will melt away with the snow. Olympians are ready to share their personal experiences with climate change. They are asking global leaders to take action.


Climate Change Is Transforming Mountain Landscapes

According the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.”

In the Northern Hemisphere, the last thirty years were warmer than any other of the last 1,400 years.

Snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased in March and April by 1.6% per decade and in June by 11.7% per decade for the last thirty years.

Winter temperatures are projected to rise 4 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit before the end of the century.
Warmer winters will lead to shifts in precipitation from snow to rain, a shorter snow season, and decrease snow cover area.

In the West, snow depths could decline by 25 to 100 percent.

In the Northeast, the length of the snow season will be cut in half.


Climate Change Is Devastating the Winter Sports Economy

Compared to the catastrophic impacts that climate change will have around the globe, less snow for the ski industry may seem trivial. However the economic impact of low-snow years can devastate the winter tourism that many of these communities depend on.

During the 2009/10 season over 23 million people engaged in winter sports in the U.S. totaling to 59.8 million skier and snowboarder visits and 14.5 million snowmobile trips. This generated $12.2 billion in economic value to the U.S. economy based on local spending. Additionally, purchases of snow sports apparel, equipment and accessories generated over $2 billion.

Winter sports support 211,900 U.S. jobs. This amounts to $7 billion in salaries, wages, and benefits and $3.1 billion in local, state and federal taxes.

Over the last decade, the ski industry has lost $1.07 billion in aggregated revenue between low and high snow fall years. The corresponding employment impact is a loss of between 13,000 to 27,000 jobs.

Scientists predict that more than half of the 103 ski resorts in the Northeast are at risk of not being able to maintain a 100-day season by 2039.


Climate Change Compromises the Future of Winter Olympics

University of Waterloo report “The Future of the Winter Olympics in a Warming Climate” shows that:

Olympic sites, such as Squaw Valley (USA), Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany), Vancouver (Canada) and Sochi (Russia) would no longer have climates suitable to reliably host the Games by the middle of the 21st century.

The average February daytime temperature at the Winter Olympics locations have steadily increased over the past three decades: from 0.4°C at Games held in the 1920-50s, to 3.1°C in Games during the 1960-90s, and 7.8°C in Games held in the 21st century.

In the past few Olympics, energy-intensive equipment like snow machines and refrigerators have become standard tools for weather risk management.

Even if global greenhouse gas emissions are held in check, the best case scenario would still only make ten out of the past nineteen host locations climatically viable to host a future Olympics.