Year 3, Month 12, Day 30: No Two Alike!

The Aspen Times discusses the recent “winter is ending” conversation initiated by Rob Katz a few days back:

ASPEN — An opinion piece about climate change by the head of Vail Resorts has Aspen Skiing Co.’s point man on environmental issues scratching his head.

Rob Katz, chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts Inc., wrote an opinion piece on climate change that appeared Friday in The Denver Post.

Katz criticizes the efforts of some unnamed folks to use last winter’s lack of snow and this winter’s slow start as proof of global warming. The head of the country’s largest ski-resort operator said the ski industry must play its part in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions for the right reasons — to save the planet for future generations.

“When the effects of climate change really show up, no one will care about skiing at Aspen and Vail,” Katz wrote. “They will be rightly focused on the wildlife, natural habitat and people of our planet, about the sea levels, flooding and natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy.”

The opinion piece coincided with an advertisement Vail Resorts ran in The New York Times last week. The headline read, “The Climate HAS CHANGED.” It features shots of skiers and riders at the company’s various ski areas and trumpets the new snow they have received the prior week.

Auden Schendler, Aspen Skiing Co.’s vice president for sustainability, said Vail is playing with fire with the ad and sending a defeatist message with the opinion piece.

“The advertising piece struck me as taunting the gods. I’m not sure why they’d do that,” Schendler said. “I think it’s mocking the conversation” on climate change.

Everybody’s right. And Happy New Year. December 24:

For a seasonally-organized and essentially fashion-driven industry like a ski resort, it makes perfect sense to frame climate change in immediate terms. Winter sports enthusiasts are less likely to think in the long term, as advocated by Rob Katz in his recent op-ed, so making the case for an urgent response to the climate crisis may well be best accomplished by stating the obvious: no more skiing unless we act.

But Mr. Katz’ argument is just as powerful and just as correct. Our collective focus on the short term has been a major contributor to our present predicament. Our culture is fixated on instant consumer gratification, informed by hysterical news media on a 24-hour cycle of excitement and spectacle, and governed by politicians fixated on the next election cycle; only with a profound reorientation in our thinking towards multigenerational responsibility to the future can we accomplish the kind of thoughtful and reasoned planetary response demanded by an emergency of this magnitude.

Warren Senders


Year 3, Month 12, Day 29: The Sky Is A Hazy Shade Of Something Or Other

The Seattle Times speculates on the likely end of winter, with a “scientists are surprised” subhead.

One of the biggest surprises in the technical report on biodiversity and ecosystems is how much winter has already changed, said Bruce Stein, director of climate-change adaptation with the National Wildlife Federation, in a conference call this week.

“The bottom line is that these impacts aren’t just going to happen in 50 to 100 years; many of them are already here, and are only going to get worse over time,” Stein said. “There has already been more effect on winter than we thought, and that affects what happens in summer.”

In the Northwest, forests already show the effect of warmer winters in beetle-killed trees. The pests thrive without the killing cold. That, in turn, means summertime wildfires stoked with dead conifers.

In addition to changes in winter, the report noted many other effects of even small shifts in temperature. Among them, increased risk of extinction among animals that can’t move, or adapt quickly enough to outrun warming temperatures.

“We were surprised at the rate of movement of species in response to these changes in temperature,” Stein said. Shifts in species’ ranges is occurring about two to three times faster than previous estimates, with plants and animals shifting north in their home ranges about 10 miles a decade, and marine species moving even faster, as much as 27 to 30 miles north, seeking colder water.

There are exceptions of course, and winners, as well as losers. As the climate warms, some species are gaining whole new ground to colonize, while other animals are dying out.

Locally in the Northwest, barnacle and mussel beds already are declining in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, because of warming water in the intertidal zone, according to the report.

The timing of seasonal events in nature is also shifting, with animals migrating and nesting earlier caused by shorter, milder winters, including northern flickers in the Northwest.

The bottom line is change. Because of the amount of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere, no matter what is done now to affect human-caused global warming from the burning of fossil fuel, long term, the climate of the past will not be seen again.

“What we are seeing, ” Stein said, “is a new normal.”

Yesterday’s letter was actually triggered by this piece, but then I got disoriented, because I had two separate “oh-shit-winter-is-gone-forever” articles up in two different browser windows. Anyway. Sent December 23:

A phrase like “that’s surprising,” can mean different things depending on who’s saying it and where it’s being said — but when it’s scientists discussing environmental factors reinforcing one another and unpredictably worsening the effects of climate change, it’s almost certainly bad news. Predictability is the essence of science — but it’s also essential for planning and policy; when we cannot prepare for the future, we’re at its mercy.

One certainty: there’ll be more unpleasant surprises for climatologists — and the rest of us. Whether it’s disrupted agriculture, a collapsing oceanic food chain, or catastrophic weather events, the accelerating climate crisis isn’t waiting for us to catch up. If the “new normal” described by the National Wildlife Federation’s Bruce Stein is one where science, policy and preparation are constantly blindsided by events, it’s not just winter sports that are going to disappear, but the entire infrastructure of our civilization.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 12, Day 28: I Predict Nostalgia

The Denver Post has an Op-Ed from the head honcho at a major ski resort, who’s elected to come down on the right side of history:

One of my favorite times of year is right before the holidays, with the excitement and anticipation of the winter ski season.

However, it has become somewhat predictable that with the first sign of a lack of natural snow, climate change articles and stories start to appear. In many ways, it’s to be expected. It’s hard to understand how the weather changes the way it does and why things can look so different from year to year. Two years ago was one of the most “epic” seasons for snow in Colorado’s history. Last year was a tough season across the ski industry. This year has been a tough early season for Colorado, but it just finished snowing like crazy in both Tahoe and Colorado, with more on the way.

Count me in the category of someone who is very worried about climate change, but also someone who tries not to look at every weather pattern as “proof” of something. But, maybe more than anything, you can count me out of the group that says we need to address climate change to save skiing. I feel this way even though I run one of the biggest ski companies in the world. The impacts of climate change are a serious matter and rightly deserve our attention. At Vail Resorts, we are on a path to reduce our energy use by 20 percent over a 10-year period and have engaged in a number of substantial forest restoration projects — all of which help to contain the impacts of climate change.

Nobody really thinks it’s going to happen. I breathe this shit in all the time and I still don’t believe it emotionally. Except that I’m depressed, reasonably enough. Sent December 22:

When spoken inside a laboratory, “that’s surprising” can mean anything from “time to clean up the equipment” to “a Nobel prize is in my future.” But when we hear scientists saying it in the outside world, it should be cause for alarm. Science is built on predictability: a hypothesis that fails to forecast tomorrow’s results as well as explaining today’s is destined for the scrap-heap of history.

As the climate crisis metastasizes, the uncontrolled environmental factors will interact, leading to more unpleasant surprises for climatologists — and the rest of us. Rob Katz is justly more concerned about the planet’s future than about his ski resort’s next few decades; it’s not just the end of winter sports, but the cascading effects on hundreds of local, regional, and planetary ecologies that are going to make the coming century more difficult and dangerous than most of us are prepared to imagine.

Warren Senders