Do You Care if our Grandchildren Ski?
“Perhaps you notice how the denial is so often the preface to the justification.”
-Christopher Hitchens, author
“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
-Donald Trump, President of the United States
“I have been described as the grandfather of climate change. In fact, I am just a grandfather and I do not want my grandchildren to say that grandpa understood what was happening but didn’t make it clear.”
James Hansen, leading climate scientist and author of “Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last chance to Save Humanity
“Skiers did not create climate change, but we are among a few populations who will be hit by it hardest. It’s time to stand up and save our snow. Forget about fear. Get serious about advocacy and put candidates into office who will do the right thing and lead us into a cold, snowy future.”
Porter Fox, author
If you, esteemed reader, are among those who share Donald Trump’s values and purposeful (and, perhaps, real) ignorance in denying human caused global climate change, please read no further. Turn on your TV to Fox News or your radio to Rush Limbaugh, relax and enjoy the show. My intention here is not to insult or offend those who have been politely and clearly alerted to read no further, but, rather, to encourage everyone (including skiers) to, among other things personal, civic and environmental, getseriousabout advocacy. There is no time for relaxation in the face of our last chance. The show is getting less and less enjoyable and by the time our grandchildren reach our ages it will be a shit show for skiers/mountaineers and a worse one for those less privileged.
In the spirit of James Hansen, to be clear, the current and coming climate catastrophe is caused entirely by humans and can only be averted or even softened by them; but while Porter Fox is mostly correct skiers did and do contribute to climate change. We, fellow skiers, are complicit and the onlyway to start saving humanity (as well as the rest of Earth’s biota) is by getting serious about advocacy and putting candidates into office who will do the right thing and lead us into a cold, snowy future. Don’t let your grandkids have to say that grandpa and grandma understood what was happening but didn’t care enough to make it clear and did nothing about it. Lao Tzu said it best: “From caring comes courage,” and many years later Mahatma Gandhi said, “A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.”
Skiing has always seemed to me a metaphor for larger aspects of life, including cowardice and bravery, courage and love, care and greed; and the industry of skiing, as well as many of its citizen practitioners, have been reluctant advocates of seriously and effectively addressing climate change. Every life-long skier old enough to be a parent has noted decreased snowfall and shorter winters since their own childhood. Everywhere in American ski country winters are shorter and warmer than they were 50 years ago, and every skier old enough to be a grandparent has changed skiing habits and patterns because of it. Every skier my age (80) or more (and several years less) realizes that skiing isn’t quite the disaster it is going to become without action, but it is certainly more and more an artificial snow show. When I was a boy I had the good fortune to live at Lake Tahoe, including the winter of 1951-52, (which recorded the second highest Sierra snowfall since records have been kept) when more than 65 feet of snow fell on nearby Donner Summit. Since then the amount of precipitation falling on the Sierra and elsewhere has dropped about 1.2% a year and more and more of that precipitation is falling as rain rather than snow. Porter Fox points out that “By 2050, snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is projected to decrease 40 to 70 percent. If we do not slow or stop burning fossil fuels, we will be looking at brown mountain ranges all winter long as soon as 80 years from now.” The artificiality of man-made snow is in some ways in the short view good for the business and practice of lift-serviced skiing: among other things, so long as it continues to be cold enough it is controlled by man without relying on nature, is more manageable and can be groomed into surfaces smooth enough that an 80 year old experienced skier as well as first year skiers can more easily be enticed to buy a lift ticket and slide upon it. But artificial snow is part of the problem of global warming, sort of like putting an infected band aid on a self-inflicted open wound and then again stabbing the wound through the infected band aid with a dirty knife. Over the last 200 years mankind has slowly crippled nature’s natural processes by releasing CO2 and other air pollutants and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and creating the Greenhouse Effect. The process of making artificial snow contributes to the Greenhouse Effect and adds to global warming, as, of course, does all the automobile and airplane miles each of us travels to our favorite mountain and its retreating snowpack. In many places, before too long it will not be cold enough to consistently rely on even artificial snow.
Every skier is part of the problem and, if there proves to be one, part of the solution. Since the United States has only 4.6% of the world population and is 2ndhighest (next to China with a population 4 times that of America) contributor of greenhouse gases which cause global warming, each individual American has a larger responsibility (and burden) than citizens of other countries to be an advocate for a cold, snowy future for all the Earth’s inhabitants including our skiing (or not skiing) grandchildren. Any solution starts with the individual but it does not end there. Each of us can alleviate the ongoing destruction of Earth’s atmosphere and environment in many ways, starting with becoming educated. If one is uneducated or confused about the matter, a good place to start is Union of Concerned Scientists at https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming#.W6PW-vZMFPYwhere it is made clear (by the finest scientific minds) that global warming is real, that it is entirely caused by mankind and was not created by or for China, though that country is the leading contributor to greenhouse gases. The individual effort matters, but as skier citizens of America—the only nation on earth to reject the Paris Agreement on climate change, which Trump falsely and treacherously described as “…an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries.”—we need to become advocates for making America a good citizen of the nations of the world instead of the moronic, soulless, ethically challenged MAGA pro-fossil leadership/oil/gas/coal corporate directed imperialist mercenary the U.S. government has officially declared itself to be and which the rest of the world has duly noted. The individual matters, but unless the ideology, policies and practices of the U.S. government changes drastically the individual will not matter enough. As individual skiers we can begin with the world of skiing and we need to vote, march, protect, protest, read science and push on corporate leadership to ensure THOSE entities are pushing on government. Writer Porter Fox had an article published 2 years ago in about the many ski industry leaders who give money to climate change deniers in the U.S. government. They include Vail Resorts, Alta Ski Area, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Mammoth Mountain, Alterra Resorts (which owns Squaw Valley, Mammoth, Sunday River and Sugarloaf, Deer Valley and Solitude) as well as the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA). NSAA issues an annual report on ‘Sustainable Slopes’ subtitled “Keep Winter Cool” and its charter states, “In order to continue to offer quality recreational experiences that complement the natural and aesthetic qualities that draw these visitors to the mountains, the National Ski Area Association (NSAA) and its member resorts have committed to improving environmental performance in ski area operations and management.” A worthy commitment but, since several of the member resorts are those donating money to climate change deniers in the U.S. government it calls into question their definition of the word ‘commitment’ among other obvious questions. Last year KSL teamed up with Henry Crown and Company (HCC), which owns Aspen Skiing Company, to acquire Intrawest Resorts Holdings and Mammoth Resorts. This company is called Squaw Valley Ski Holdings (SVSH) which consists of 12 ski resorts with, according to KSL’s website, “… approximately six million skier visits, 20,000 skiable acres and significant land available for real estate development, as well as Canadian Mountain Holidays, the world’s leading heli-ski operator.” The Aspen Skiing Company, still owned by HCC but not part of SVHS, is a minority bright light in the U.S. ski industry by intentionally and effectively being serious about doing the right thing and leading us into a cold, snowy future. Check here: https://www.aspensnowmass.com/we-are-different/take-action
Some backcountry skiers and riders do not use ski resort facilities and perhaps do not think of the ski industry as representing them or their values and interests. Whatever the merits of this mindset, in reality the ski industry is the public face of skiing in the halls and offices and bars and restaurants and, most important, lobbying donations given to members of Congress who are deniers of human caused global warming. James Inhofe, Oklahoma Senator and Chair of the Senate Committee on environment and Public Works, has a slightly different perspective than Donald Trump on the ‘hoax’ of a global warming conspiracy theory, saying, “Because ‘God’s still up there’, the ‘arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.’” Giving money to climate change deniers in the U.S. government who share Trump and Inofe’s denials of reality (for whatever stated reasons—God ‘up there’ or China ‘over there’ or head up ‘somewhere’) is supporting killing the very snow that we, fellow skiers, depend on as our foundation, revere and make the tracks of life upon.
To state the obvious, no obscenity adequately describes giving the money that skiers pay in order to ski to people who call any reality that interferes with the short-term bottom line a hoax, people whose actions indicate they do not care a snowflake in hell whether our grandchildren ski or, even, survive.
Personally, I care.
If so, forget about fear, embrace the prerogative of the brave and learn to love getting serious about advocacy. The fate of life on Earth and the skiing possibilities of our grandchildren, depend on it. It’s that simple, human caused global warming is real and the money the ski industry gives to climate change deniers in the U.S. government is your and my public face, fellow skiers. Is that the face you want the government and the world to see, skier friends? If not, then take whatever steps are necessary to stop the ski industry from giving money to climate change deniers in the government and, even more important, vote and work to get out the vote and elect who will recognize the coming (and already evident) climate disaster and not avoid the real work by calling it a ‘hoax.’
While the loss of the incredible if not always acknowledged luxury and privilege of being able to ski one or one hundred days a year is miniscule in the larger scope of the coming climate catastrophe, it is our way of life and what we know and love. Snow is the foundation of that life, knowledge and love. In all things, when the foundation collapses everything it supports quickly follows. It must beacknowledged that it might already be too late, that humanity has not cared enough soon enough to avoid the catastrophe we have brought upon Earth and all its inhabitants, but fighting the good fight to do the right thing in what might be a losing battle has many advantages over resignation, despair and surrender.
Auden Schendler is the driving force and Vice President of Sustainability for the Aspen Skiing Company’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, avert the coming climate catastrophe and allow our grandchildren to ski. In a NY Times October op-ed Schendler wrote, “Historically, we’ve tackled the biggest challenge — that of meaning, and the question of how to live a life — through the concept of “practice,” in the form of religion, cultural tradition or disciplines like yoga or martial arts. Given the stark facts, this approach might be the most useful. Practice has value independent of outcome; it’s a way of life, not a job with a clear payoff. A joyful habit. The right way to live.
There should be no shortage of motivation. Solving climate change presents humanity with the opportunity to save civilization from collapse and create aspects of what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called ‘the beloved community.’ The work would endow our lives with some of the oldest and most numinous aspirations of humankind: leading a good life; treating our neighbors well; imbuing our short existence with timeless ideas like grace, dignity, respect, tolerance and love. The climate struggle embodies the essence of what it means to be human, which is that we strive for the divine.
Everyone reading this has a practice of skiing (and other practices of moving over and through snow, but the author is a skier) that has given meaning to and helped answer the question of how to live a life. More, the rewards of skiing and other practices of moving over snow….”are so compelling, so nurturing and so natural a piece of the human soul that we can’t help but do it.” All we have to do is extend the practice to solving climate change.
What better practice of life could there be than to strive for the divine? What better gift could we leave our grandchildren than their own cold, snowy futures?