Climate Action

Passion for winter sports can help fight climate change, organizers say

A snowboarding contestant takes a jump during a competition in Beijing, China, January 17, 2016. REUTERS/China Daily ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA.  - GF20000098599

'Hendriks said the number of ski resorts in the Alps with reliable snow supplies had dropped to 176 from 193 a decade ago.' Image: REUTERS/China Daily

Ellen Wulfhorst
Writer, Thomson Reuters Foundation
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Skiing, ice hockey and outdoor skating are all affected by climate change, but can also be a resource to fight back.

Fans and players of winter sports from skiing to hockey could be marshalled in efforts to fight climate change, from election campaigning to calculating the impact of global warming on ice-skating ponds, organizers said on Wednesday.

Skiing, ice hockey and outdoor skating are all affected by climate change, but can also be a resource to fight back, said organizers of efforts to deploy sports in the battle against global warming at a meeting in New York.

The United Nations hosted a climate action summit this week at the behest of Secretary-General António Guterres to launch more ambitious ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut waste and move to renewable energy sources.

The countless sports fans around the world could be a force in combating global warming, said Geert Hendriks, head of Sport and Sustainability International, a Swiss-based nonprofit group.

"It is important that we use sport to talk about climate action," he said.

"Our beautiful sports, whether it's skiing, or hockey or speed skating, are at risk ... but also we have massive opportunities to use the power of sports to advance all these conversations."

Hendriks said the number of ski resorts in the Alps with reliable snow supplies had dropped to 176 from 193 a decade ago.

"I don't have to tell you what's going to happen if that keeps going. The Alps will no longer be a ski resort," he said.

The warning came as authorities in the Alps closed roads and evacuated some huts over fears a section of a glacier on Europe's highest mountain, Mont Blanc, could collapse. Hundreds of thousands of people flock to the area every year to ski or snowboard.

In the United States, sports tourism adds some $20 billion to the annual economy.

But the length of the snow season in the American West has declined 34 days since the early 1980s, according to scientific research.

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The climate advocacy group Protect Our Winters, based in the western state of Colorado, aims to involve skiers, snowboarders, climbers, runners and other athletes in state politics around the country, said Winston Binch, a board member.

"That group of people can have a disproportionate impact on elections," Binch said. "It's about getting climate deniers out of office. It's about passing bills. It's about getting people elected."

The outdoor sports industry creates so much revenue and so many jobs that it can wield a message, he said.

"When you make the pitch about jobs and economic impact, more people listen."

On a local scale, a project called Rink Watch has enlisted amateur ice skaters, mostly in Canada, to report where and when they play on outdoor rinks and ponds, said Omar Mitchell, vice president for sustainability at the National Hockey League.

The data is compiled to measure changes to the ice that could be attributable to global warming.

"It's empowering people who may not be environmentalists to say, 'You know what? I care about where I play. I care about the communities where I play,'" Mitchell said.

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Related topics:
Climate ActionIndustries in DepthSustainable DevelopmentNature and Biodiversity
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