Guest opinion: Witnessing the effects of climate change
As a child, I dreamed of skiing in the Olympics. I was raised in the small, historic mountain town of Crested Butte. On snowy winter mornings my family would load up our green ’69 Chevy Blazer and head off to ski races in towns like Vail, Steamboat and Aspen. My older brother and I would race, my mother would coach, and my father would make chili for the team. With limited resources, a scrappy ski club and a gas-guzzling old Chevy, we conquered the Rocky Mountains.
Once out of Colorado, I realized it would take everything I had to climb to the next level. It was going to take more than my father’s chili and the camaraderie of a group of ragtag 12-year-olds to ski onto the world stage. At 18 years old I won the World Junior Championships, and in the spring of 1991 it was my honor to be named to the U.S. Ski Team along with my brother, Chris. The 12 years I spent on the U.S. Ski Team I traveled and competed extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe. It was through these travels that I first developed a sense of our warming world.
I spent my childhood watching ski races on television and pictured a winter wonderland with sportscaster Tim Ryan broadcasting the race in a flurry of snowflakes. To my disappointment I frequently found myself racing on a ribbon of snow flanked by grass and dirt. That was the beginning of my awareness of climate change and the consequences of the industrial revolution.
Fast forward to 2015. I find myself a spectator cheering on Ted Ligety, Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Schiffrin at the World Alpine Championships in Vail. I’m in a T-shirt on a balmy 60-degree day in February, and I can’t help but be concerned about climate change and the future of skiing.
Fortunately, there are still reasons to be optimistic. As an Olympian, a father and part of the Aspen mountain community, I am happy to celebrate the second birthday of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. This plan has led to key advancements, including the Clean Power Plan. As the largest step ever taken on climate change, the Clean Power Plan will cut carbon pollution by 30 percent by 2030. It accomplishes this by reducing emissions from power plants — the largest single source of climate-changing carbon pollution, responsible for 40 percent of our emissions.
That’s good news for our future. There is nothing that I love more than looking over my shoulder and seeing my two daughters chasing me down the mountain. A special bond is created when you ski with your family, creating memories that will last a lifetime.
But unless we reduce emissions, we are on track to raise temperatures enough to end skiing and snowboarding by the end of this century, according to IPCC projections. Despite all the troubles we’ve seen so far, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. 2015 is an exciting year. World leaders at the United Nations are meeting this December in Paris to finally create an international agreement on climate change. Now that we have a president who is fighting climate change and thanks to the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. can lead.
Now, I’m still pretty hopeful that I’ll be able to walk out my back door and ski here in Colorado until I’m in my 90s, like Klaus Obermeyer. As to what that skiing will look like and how long the ski season will be is another story altogether. I worry that my children won’t be able to count on snow November through April when they’re my age.
For the sake of our communities, our children and our livelihoods, we need a gold medal at the Paris climate talks. More than a competition over who can cut the most pollution the fastest, it is an opportunity for us to come together. The future of skiing and snowboarding depends on it. And it’s going to take more than a killer batch of Dad’s chili to win this one.
Casey Puckett is an Olympic ski racer as well as an ambassador for Snowriders International.
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