This article originally appeared as an online column on DenverPost.com and was written by Jeremy Jones and Gretchen Bleiler
Once again, winter is here. Since we were kids, the holiday season has signaled the start of the most exciting part of the year. As professional snowboarders, it means gearing up for a long event season, but it also means reengaging in the sport that is our identity and our passion.
And we're not alone. More than 12 million winter sports enthusiasts will visit the mountains this season in the U.S. They're buying new gear and making travel plans, booking hotels and eating out. Their 59 million skier visits pump $6 billion dollars annually into the communities we call home.
Yet this year, our eager anticipation has been tempered by the uneasy feeling that winter, as we know it, is on borrowed time. Even though the world's scientific community has spoken unequivocally on the realities and implications of climate change, America's political leadership has failed us. With the most recent mid-term elections, needed climate change legislation is likely dead. And without broad policy action by the U.S. government, the joys of winter may become a thing of the past.
This isn't blind speculation: at least two mountain communities — Aspen and Park City — have commissioned third party scientific studies of what the future looks like on a warmed planet. The results were dire: temperature wise, by 2100, you can click and drag Aspen to Amarillo, Texas. Spring snowmelt arrives in the Lake Tahoe area two and a half weeks earlier now than it did in 1961 and the past decade is already the warmest on record. Every decade is now warmer than the last, and extreme weather events have become the norm. There is no debate. Climate change is already happening in our mountains and we're seeing it firsthand.
And climate change won't just change the physical qualities of our mountain towns, it will change their economies too. Truckee, Aspen, Park City, and Telluride: these are climate dependent communities, built on the revenue that winter brings.
And yet, despite hopeful sounds coming out of Cancun, our politicians will fail to show any kind of true leadership. Newly elected members of congress have said as much.
But why, in the face of clear threat, have our leaders lost their ability to govern? Foremost, it's money. The oil and gas lobby spent over $175 million last year - ExxonMobil spent $27.4 million alone, more than what the entire environmental lobby spends annually. It's not a fair fight: we're being outspent by the special interests who'd prefer to confuse the science and jeopardize the future in lieu of corporate profit.
And Congress listens - as many as half of the new congresspeople deny that climate change is real, fearful that they will lose the next election if they take a stand on the most vital issue of our generation, the most pressing crisis of our time.
So it's up to us now. Even though winter is the busiest time of year, we realized long ago that climate activism is as high a priority as training, since without a stable climate, the economies of mountain communities everywhere and our valued lifestyle will be gone, not just for us, but for our children.
Today, the only way we'll drive real change is by mobilizing together. Twelve million strong, we can counterbalance the monied fossil fuel interests now in charge and send a clear, cohesive message to Washington that supporting clean energy is smart, elect-able politics.
We need to flood the in-boxes of our congresspeople and senators, supporting those who believe in clean energy and letting the rest know that anything less is absolutely unacceptable. And on a local level, we need to send a message to our utilities that we don't want dirty power. They'll listen, especially if we simultaneously become more efficient and decrease our demand, in our homes and local businesses.
To make this happen, we both support Protect Our Winters (protectourwinters.org), an international movement of snowsports enthusiasts fighting climate change. We both believe that if we're not continually taking on new challenges, we won't achieve our full potential. Solving climate change is the ultimate challenge - please join us in this fight.
Jeremy Jones is an eight-time Big Mountain Snowboarder of the Year and regarded as one of the top freeriders in the world. Gretchen Bleiler is the 2006 Olympic Silver Medalist and has won Gold Medals at the X Games in 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2010. EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an online-only column and has not been edited.
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