global climate change
It’s just a box of rain
I don’t know who put it there
Believe it if you need it
or leave it if you dare
Down here in southwest Colorado we have been suffering through a severe drought. In the arid west, this presents a seemingly endless cycle of cause and effect. Ski seasons start late and end early, the low snowpack results in an early and short runoff, farmers that depend on run off and rain water cannot grow as many crops, rivers run or are drained near dry in an early and hot summer, fires rage across once fertile mountainsides burning hundreds of thousands of acres. Then fall settles in and the snow comes late and short — and it starts all over again.
Beyond the ever-mounting and distressing environmental consequences, this cycle has a profound human and economic effect. Shortened ski seasons hurt our ski resorts and towns, contribute to poor backcountry conditions, and threaten our drinking water. Brief and low river runoffs kill the river recreation economy depended on by raft guides, outfitters and by communities through which recreational boaters provide a spark to local business. Farmers plant one less crop, hire one less hand, produce even less food for us all. And firefighters risk their lives trying to save towns who see no tourism dollars after tourists see the news of smoke, blackened hillsides and toothpick trees.
But for the past few weeks all of that has changed. It has been raining and it continues to rain. Not just an afternoon monsoon, but full days and early mornings of rain. Yesterday morning as I drove to work in a downpour, the DJ played “Box of Rain” by the Dead – no coincidence. That set me to thinking about my relationship with rain. I grew up in Colorado where even under the best of seasons it does not rain near as much as compared to other parts of the world. 300 days of sunshine? I’ll take it!
I lived in the Pacific Northwest for a decade where there are 20 or more terms for the different types of the stuff. I never got used to the incessant rain or its sudden and total absence in the summer months when you actually want it. I’ve spent summer months in deluge downpours in the brutal humidity of the Mid-Atlantic States. And I’ve traveled through the elderly mountains of the northeast where the rain fed forest grows so thick sunglasses are moot, even on the sunniest of days.
So as I drove through the Colorado rain I thought, it is here where I cherish the rain the most. It is a blessed event. The rain is the intermission in the three non-snow seasons (in truth, all seasons see snow here) that makes the unique attributes of spring, summer and fall so special. Finally, a monsoon season like we are supposed to have. A rain season where the San Juan Mountains vibrate when you look at them because they are so green, where the columbines look like they are on steroids, where mountain streams rage and where valley rivers turn brown with sediment from landslides. Even the high desert mesas retain their life – mesa verde, literally.
Every drop is valued. I did not feel this way in the Pacific Northwest where a week without rain produces comments bordering on panic. Or in the cold mists of Northern California. Or in the damp humid deluges of the mid Atlantic. Or within the thick Northeast forests where my eyes strain to see the sky.
Here, our normal non-drought, monsoon rainfall cycle is the bridge between the end and beginning of winter when the snow piles up and supplies the majority of our water. It is perfect. This is the place where rain and I exist together in true synchronicity.
Written by Gareth Martins, Director of Marketing, Osprey Packs
Alison Gannett is a World Champion Extreme Freeskier, founder of The Save Our Snow Foundation and an award-winning global cooling consultant who has spent her life dedicated to solutions for climate change.
While I’ve been working to save our snow from climate change for over 20 years, superstorm Sandy was still a huge wake up call for me. One of the biggest problems for us global warming geeks is that “it” was always happening to someone else, usually thousands of miles away in a third world country. My skiing travels certainly made it more real for me as glaciers and snowfields I had skied just a few years ago disappeared forever in just five years or so. But the impact of Sandy hit close to home, so to speak.
For years, arguments have passed back and forth regarding what “safe” amounts of carbon dioxide emissions that we could emit might be. A recommended 80 percent reduction by 2050 was often seen as the only sensible way to keep extreme weather at bay, save our snow, and keep low-lying countries above water. Yet this was often regarded as too extreme and unreasonable to reach. While at Copenhagen in 2009, I watched the U.S. delegates actually argue for a one percent reduction over 1990 levels, while most of the rest of the world argued about 80 percent not being sufficient. McKibben’s recent speaking tour, along with a demonstration of actual higher-than-projected-emissions, are now showing us on path for a 7-14 degree temperature increase. Considering a two degree increase is most likely to put many countries under water and most ski and snowboard resorts out of snow, we now need to really skip the baby steps and focus on real and meaningful reductions.
This all doesn’t have to mean doom and gloom and crawling into a cave – I’ve happily reduced my energy use and carbon footprint in half in the last several years – all while saving money and increasing my quality of life. We are able to do this, but it means that we have to get real with reductions and stop being so damn nice about it. Forget recycling and driving your Prius; What is your carbon footprint and can you cut it to three tons from 40? This is going to involve some hard choices for all of us. In 2001: I gave up heliskiing; in 2005: my snowmobile; and in 2010: my ski pass. Each one involved tears and temptation, yet in the end I believe I am happier and healthier.
All of this leads me to another report I read this week, this time from Protect Our Winters (POW) and the National Resources Defense Council. It’s called the Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States. So often, folks tell me that we can’t afford to implement changes in our lives due to the economy, yet (as this report shows) it is the very economy that will suffer the greatest in a world with super wacky weather such as droughts, floods or a combination thereof: super storms. Yet until now, no one has ever attempted to put a financial figure on the losses that the winter sports communities might incur, or the amount of jobs that might be lost. While skiing and snowmobiling contribute $12.2 billion dollars and 600,000 jobs to our national economy, the numbers from the state of Colorado alone are staggering; a $154 million in revenue could be lost due to the impacts of climate change.
“In order to protect winter – and the hundreds of thousands whose livelihoods depend upon a snow-filled season – we must act now to support policies that protect our climate, and in turn, our slopes,” wrote study authors Elizabeth Burakowski and Matthew Magnusson of the University of New Hampshire.