Olympic Athletes Ask for Action on Climate Change

Those of us who understand the threat of climate change are cherishing this winter’s cold and snow because we know it won’t be very long before the earth is too warm for winters.

Olympic athletes (and the skiing industry) also know that and 105 of them – mostly from the US – signed a letter calling on world leaders to aggressively deal with climate change and prepare to commit to a global binding treaty at the Paris climate talks in 2015.

While we’re freezing in much of the US, it is currently 60 degrees F in Sochi, Russia in February. Alaska is also having a record-breaking warm winter.

Released by the nonprofit group, "Protect Our Winter," the statement’s central message is: "Recognize climate change by reducing emissions, embracing clean energy and preparing a commitment to a global agreement at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris 2015."

The letter is written by US Olympic ski team member, Andrew Newell and is titled, Olympian’s Call for Climate Action.

Ski Industry Olympian Andy Newell

Here is the letter:

Kicking and gliding on snow is my life.  From a very early age, the feeling of weightlessness and sliding across the snow has brought me true joy and a deep connection to nature.  I was too young to remember but fortunate enough to have a photo of my first time skiing in December 1985, at my grandparent’s house just outside of Philadelphia. I had just learned to walk, so I gave it a try with skis on the few inches of snow we had in the backyard.

This year, while preparing for my third Olympic games in Sochi I had to ask myself: what’s changed?  What has changed since that day in 1985 when I first experienced that thrill and came to love this sport?  Thankfully, much is the same except there is no escaping that the once-consistent winters that I saw as a young kid are no more, especially near my home in Vermont.

As a result of this heightened awareness of climate change, many of us who spend our lives in the snow are more aware of its effects and have changed our lifestyles to be respectful of the health of the environment. We recycle, we try to consume less,
we use our vote to try to influence policy.  We’re also using the platform we have as athletes to speak out in the media and to mobilize the winter sports community to join us.  We’re doing our best.

But what can be said about Washington? What can be said about governments all around the world? Where is the big legislation that can implement real change we need?

This is what prompted me to partner with Protect Our Winters and rally over one hundred fellow winter Olympians to present a letter to world leaders; "Recognize climate change by reducing emissions, embracing clean energy and preparing a commitment to a global agreement at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris 2015." Olympians from around the world, from every winter discipline have signed this letter, a sign of solidarity against climate change and a clear signal to world leaders that, as representatives of the 65 million member snow sports community, we need them to step up with real progress.

The urgency of this letter is not to be taken lightly since time is definitely something we do not have on our side.  This year alone, nearly half of the FIS cross country World Cup international competitions have taken place on artificial snow. Even last year in Sochi, several pre Olympic skiing and snowboarding events had to be canceled because of poor conditions, something that has been a consistent problem both in Central Europe and Scandinavia.  Snow conditions are becoming much more inconsistent, weather patterns more erratic, and what was once a topic for discussion is now reality and fact. Our climate is changing and we are losing our winters.

There is no doubt about it. As someone who spends my life in the mountains, I’m seeing the effects of climate change first-hand.  But a recent study by Daniel Scott put it in the context of the sport we’re all celebrating over the next two weeks.  With a rise in the average global temperature of more than 7 degrees Fahrenheit possible by 2100, there might not be that many host cities left in which to hold the Games. In fact, of the 19 cities which have already hosted the Winter Olympics, as few as 10 might be cold enough to host it by 2050, and only 6 by 2100.  As an Olympian, that’s a scary and sobering thought.

My home in Southern Vermont, like many low altitude areas, potentially has the bleakest future when it comes to snow. The image of a two-year-old boy experiencing his first backyard ski at Christmas, just like I once did, is becoming more and more rare.  Environmentalist and writer Porter Fox warns that without the typical December snowfalls of the past decades there is talk of nearly half the ski resorts in the Northeast having to close their doors within the next 30 years. The economic devastation for New England would be incredible, not to mention how snowless winters would affect our culture and our communities and the foundation on which our families are built.

The continued loss of snow is only the beginning, and unless changes can be made at a federal level, it will be more than our skiing that’s at stake. I’m not an environmental science major, I’m not a scientist, in fact I didn’t even go to college, but just like most Americans, I know that as the snow dwindles so does our water supply, our food, our health and our economy and unless our governments can stop letting politics get in the way of common sense we’re all in for some more sobering and painful environmental changes that will truly change the face of this planet.  It’s time to truly urge the leaders of this world to take action.

For the next two weeks, I’ll be in Sochi giving it my all on the ski course, just like thousands of Olympics athletes from around the world putting politics, religion, all of our differences aside to come together in the spirit of competition. Coming together for something that is bigger than one individual, or even one country.

Next year in Paris, world leaders will also have that chance.  Previous climate conferences have ended with nothing to show for it, but Paris needs to be different.  We can’t risk inaction any longer and we’re asking our world leaders to come together in the spirit of something bigger than just our individual goals.

On behalf of the more than 100 Olympians that have signed this letter, we’re urging you to act in Paris to set limits on global emissions and take meaningful steps forward in fighting climate change.  It can be done and let’s use the global stage of the Olympics as the call to action.

The ski industry is one of the first industries to visibly suffer from climate change as there’s less reliable snow in recent years. It foreshadows the impact that many industries will experience, such as tourism, hospitality and retail. Last year, 108 ski areas from across the US signed the Climate Declaration, urging Congress to address climate change.

Aspen Skiing Company has been addressing these issues for over a decade, including purchasing renewable energy.  

Protect Our Winters’s mission is to unite and actively engage the global snow sports community to lead the fight against climate change:

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