Warming Climate Forecast for Future Winter Olympics

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, February 18, 2002 – The Alpine skiiers competing in the 2002 Winter Olympic Games are zooming downhill at the Snowbasin Ski Area over a firm base of snow 65 inches deep topped with packed powder.

But global warming threatens the success of future Winter Olympic Games, because snows will not occur reliably or pile up deeply enough to support them, according to the World Resources Institute.

Jonathan Lash, president of the Washington, DC based think tank, held a news conference in Salt Lake City today to warn the international athletes, coaches and officials gathered in Utah for the games of the consequences climate change may have for their sports.


WRI president Jonathan Lash (Photo courtesy UNEP)
“Global warming threatens future Winter Olympic Games because it is resulting in less snow, and shorter and warmer winters,” said Lash. “Just as Salt Lake has done, we urge potential host cities to seriously consider the consequences of global warming in planning future Winter Olympic Games.”

The news conference was sponsored jointly by the World Resources Institute (WRI), the Los Angeles based Earth Communications Office (ECO), and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's Environment Program. WRI is working in partnership with those organizations as well as Pacificorp/Utah Power, and the Coca-Cola Company to promote global warming awareness at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Studies by 2,500 of the world’s climate scientists, convened as the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), indicate that global warming is occurring now, and "that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities."

The warmest years this century have occurred since 1983. Surface temperatures are warmer this century than any other in the last 1,000 years, Lash pointed out.


Snowbasin Ski Resort (Photo courtesy Utah.com)
The most dramatic consequence of global warming to date is evident in the alpine regions of the world, where the best snows are often found near glaciers. But glaciers are melting at what Lash called "an alarming rate" all over the world. Climate scientists estimate that half of the alpine glaciers could disappear in the next 100 years. In the United States, Montana’s Glacier National Park, which had 150 glaciers in 1850, will have no glaciers by 2030.

The IPCC predicts that less reliable snow conditions will have an adverse impact on winter tourism in Europe. It forecasts that the snowline in the main Swiss-French Alps will rise and in Austria, where is the snowline is lower, several resorts would be left as green fields.

Studies by the U.S. Global Change Research Program project that the loss of 10 to 20 percent of ski season days may mean a loss of $42 to $84 million in New Hampshire alone.

The response of the ski industry has been to use snowmaking machines to produce what nature is no longer able to provide. But that might not be environmentally sustainable, said Dr. Nancy Kete, director of the World Resources Institute’s Climate, Energy, and Pollution Program..

“Snowmaking machines are gluttons for water, a resource that may be in short supply in the next 25 years," she said.

Emissions of six greenhouse gases are responsible for global warming, the most abundant of which is carbon dioxide from power plants and motor vehicles. These gases blanket the Earth, trapping the heat of the Sun close to the planet instead of permitting it to radiate back out into space at the rate it did before the Industrial Revolution.

Fossil fuel burning power plants are the single largest source of carbon dioxide — 40 percent of the U.S. total. Transportation accounts for over 30 percent of U.S. annual carbon dioxide emissions, so support for renewable energy generation and more fuel efficient cars and trucks, can slow global warming, WRI and ECO advise.

The next Winter Olympic Games will be held in 2006 in Torino, Italy. Switzerland, South Korea, and Austria plan to bid for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

Find out more about the impact of climate change on the Olympics online at: http://www.wri.org/olympics/resources.html