How Climate Change Is Endangering Winter Olympic Sports

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Jan. 25 2022, Published 11:45 a.m. ET

Winter Olympic Sports Global Warming
Source: Getty Images

Climate change and rising global temperatures threaten a number of things on planet Earth, from public health to biodiversity loss to hotter winters in traditionally cold climates. And as global heating continues to get worse, in the near future, we could find ourselves without anywhere cold and snowy enough to host humanity’s favorite winter event: the Winter Olympics.

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Despite said rising global temperatures and the raging coronavirus pandemic, the 2022 Winter Olympics are still set to kick off in Beijing, China on Feb. 4. That said, here’s what you need to know about how climate change has already made winter sports more dangerous, and how it will likely threaten future Winter Olympic Games.

Winter Olympic Sports Climate Change
Source: Getty Images
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Climate change and rising global temperatures are making winter sports unsafe.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo, University of Arkansas, and University of Innsbruck recently published a study in the journal Current Issues in Tourism, analyzing how climate change will affect winter sports, specifically the Winter Olympics. To conduct the study, the scientists started out by surveying 339 professional athletes and coaches, hailing from 20 different countries, about what constitutes “fair and safe conditions” for snow sports, such as skiing and snowboarding.

They then compared their answers with weather data collected in Winter Olympic host cities over the past five decades, and found that unfair and unsafe conditions have become a more frequent occurrence over the past 50 years. And, unsurprisingly, if we continue taking care of the planet at the current rate (read: not enough), there’s a high likelihood that winter sport conditions will only get worse, and leave only one “reliable” host city between now and the year 2100.

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Even if we do manage to lower our emissions by 2030 to the levels as stated in the Paris Climate Agreement, it would not be enough; in fact, the researchers concluded that the chance of worsening winter sport conditions “increases under all future climate change scenarios.” (By all, they mean the four scenarios they mapped out in the study: narrow and low snow, wet snow, unacceptable temperatures, and rain.)

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“No sport can escape the impacts of a changing climate,” lead author Daniel Scott told The Guardian. “Achieving the Paris Agreement targets is critical to save snow sports as we know it and ensure there are places across the world to host the Winter Olympics.”

The only way we can ensure safe conditions for winter sport athletes over the next few decades is if we reduce emissions as laid out in the Paris Accord — and then some. The study spoke to athletes who are worried about how the climate crisis will continue to affect their careers, and many of them want the winter sports community to do more in the realm of climate action.

And fortunately, there are some people already working on this.

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How to protect winter sports from the effects of global warming:

An organization called Protect Our Winters is a community of athletes, scientists, and more who are working to pass legislation to protect winter climates from climate change.

You can check out the Protect Our Winters' website for ways to get involved or to donate to the cause.

With millions of people from all over the world planning to tune into the 2022 Games, now is the perfect time for the International Olympic Committee to use some of this year’s Olympic airtime to educate viewers about these issues, and encourage them to support legislation that will fight climate change. If we don’t, children who dream of becoming professional skiers and snowboarders may choose to take up other sports instead.

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