I don’t know if you’re the same as some of us here in Activ8 Solar Energies, but we’ve found the Winter Olympics as some great late night TV viewing. All though we sometimes complain about the weather here in Ireland, it’s never quite cold enough to allow us to become Winter Olympics ready. Nonetheless, we watch in awe and the speed and fearlessness that some of the events showcase. We also find ourselves following some of the subplots surrounding the games, renewable energy within the setup being one, but also how climate change is affecting not only this Winter Olympics but also future iterations of the games.
Irish jet-setters generally hit the slopes of Europe for their snow expeditions, rather than the slopes of South Korea. Greenhouse gases emitted since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution has so far warmed the world by roughly 1ºC, on average. But the effect has been greater in the ever popular Alps, which has warmed by about 2ºC. Here you will find the Marmolada glacier and with the intensity of these effects mostly in the summer months, the Marmolada glacier is melting and at an alarming rate. Forget the summer for a second, the effects of global warming has also started to have profound effects on winter months and the winter-sports industry as a result.
Daniel Scott of the University of Waterloo, Robert Steiger of the University of Innsbruck, and others, have looked at this future warming in the context of the cities chosen to host the Winter Olympics, from Chamonix in 1924 to Pyeongchang in South Korea currently hosting the event and Beijing in 2022. Even if emissions are cut to meet the target of the Paris climate agreement of 2015, only 13 of the 21 host cities look certain to be cold enough to host snow-sports at all in the 2050s.
The biggest argument against such figures can be the one-off storms, large snowfalls. This is part of the climate change argument also with more extreme weather events happening from time to time as delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year found out with a large snowfall. But the long-term trends are sobering.
In 2007 the OECD, a rich-world think-tank, sounded the alarm. It projected that, of 666 Alpine ski resorts, roughly 40% would no longer get enough snow to operate a 100-day season (a rule of thumb for making money) if the region warmed by another 2°C. Roughly 70% might go if it warmed by 4°C. The German Alps were especially vulnerable. In North America, projections suggest that resorts close to the western seaboard, especially in California, face a ruinous loss of skiing days. Skiing in Australia looks all but doomed.
So while we sit and watch and wonder at the spectacle of it all, we can all make a difference. We might not be able to land the quadruple cork 1980 trick or whatever the man on the TV called it, but we can do our bit for the Winter Olympics starting in our own home by making it more environmentally friendly.