Unless we reduce carbon emissions, we are on track to raise temperatures enough to end skiing and snowboarding and lose much of what we love here in Washington and Oregon by the end of this century.
I GREW up in the snow and hills of western New York, dreaming of competing in the Olympics. My parents, both ski instructors, strapped my feet to skis almost as soon as I could walk. When the Winter Olympics came to Lake Placid, N.Y., I begged my parents to let me ski where the Olympic athletes had skied.
At 18, I was named to the U.S. Ski Team, and it was an honor to represent my country at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta. It opened up a new world to me, and I traveled and competed all over the globe — in total representing the United States in four Olympics over my 11-year career.
I was living my dream. I want other kids to have those dreams and to have the chance to make them come true.
When I was growing up, nobody was concerned about climate change. It hadn’t crossed the minds of anyone outside the scientific community, and we imagined that our beloved powder would last forever — nothing could destroy our slopes. After all, Upstate New York is one of the snowiest places in the United States — none of us had any fear that our way of life might soon become impossible.
Fast-forward to 2015: Looking up at Mount Hood, I see disturbing swathes of dirt where snow should be. The historic drought in the Northwest also left the Olympic Mountains with an unbelievably low snowpack — as low as 4 percent of normal this past winter.
The problems we’re seeing don’t end on the slopes: The lack of snow means less water downstream. Less snow and water mean higher likelihood of wildfires like the largest fires in Washington state’s history raging now. Less cold snowmelt flowing downstream is leading to spiking water temperatures in the Columbia River, causing a massive die-off of hundreds of thousands of migrating sockeye salmon. These are all scenarios that will become more common and more severe as climate change worsens.
So, we need to get moving. Unless we reduce emissions, we are on track to raise temperatures enough to end skiing and snowboarding and lose much of what we love here in Washington and Oregon by the end of this century, according to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projections. Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record have occurred in the last 15 years, and 2014 was the hottest year ever — with 2015 shaping up to be even hotter.
It’s time to act.
Fortunately, there are still reasons to be optimistic. As an Olympian, a father and part of the Hood River and Mount Hood communities, I was thrilled when President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency announced the Clean Power Plan this month. The plan is a huge deal — it is by far the biggest and most ambitious single action ever taken on climate change. It will cut carbon pollution in the United States by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 by reducing emissions at power plants — one of the largest sources of climate-changing pollution, responsible for roughly 40 percent of our emissions.
The groundbreaking clean-air standards are supported by millions of Americans and are vital for public health, preventing 90,000 asthma attacks in children as well as adult premature deaths. Each state decides how to go about cutting the emissions and attracting investment in clean power, which will hopefully bring in lots of new jobs as well as reduce energy costs.
The Clean Power Plan comes at a crucial time, giving the United States the authority it needs to lead at the United Nations climate summit this December in Paris. Thanks to the Clean Power Plan and action here at home, China and the United States formed a climate accord, and the European Union and others are coming forward leading up to the Paris summit with their own proposals to cut emissions.
For the sake of our communities, our children and our livelihoods, let’s celebrate the Clean Power Plan as states implement it over the next two years. And let’s preserve the wonderful world of winter sports and the outdoors for our children. This will take all of us to get the world across the finish line. The future of skiing and snowboarding, and our planet, depends on it.