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Climate Change Advocates Use Olympics to Advance Agenda

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Most people will be tuning into the Winter Olympics to watch the drama of the ice skating competition or the thrills of the luge. But some climate change believers are hoping the international competition will help advance their cause.

And although it is difficult for meteorologists to predict the weather even one week out, some scientists are using models they say can forecast the climate at the end of the 21st century.

“It’s no surprise for climate researchers that training for the Winter Olympics, and the games themselves, have run into trouble,” Yale Climate Connections reported on its website. “For sports contests that rely on snow and ice, a warmer global climate is no friend.”

The Yale article was inspired by a study released just ahead of the games opening this week in Pyeong Chang, South Korea by the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

“The study, featuring researchers from Canada, Austria and China, found that if global emissions of greenhouse gases are not dramatically reduced, only eight of the 21 cities that have previously hosted the Winter Olympics will be cold enough to reliably host the Games by the end of this century,” the Waterloo News reported.

“The world of winter sports is changing as the global climate continues to warm and elite winter athletes are witnessing the impacts of climate change at competition and summer training locations,” Daniel Scott, a professor of geography and environmental management at Waterloo, told the school’s media outlet.

“The climate in many traditional winter sports regions isn’t what it used to be, and fewer and fewer places will be able to host the Olympic Winter Games as global warming accelerates,” Scott said, adding that there is only so much that can be done to save the games from this climate change-induced fate.

“There are limits to what current weather risk management strategies can achieve,” Scott said, citing scientists’ prediction that the last Winter Olympics in 2014 in Sochi, Russia would have to cancel practices ahead of the games.

The Waterloo News reported:

If greenhouse gas emission reduction pledges to the Paris Climate Agreement are successfully achieved, only 12 of the 21 sites that have previously hosted Winter Olympics could still host the Games in the future. Previous hosts such as Squaw Valley in the U.S., Vancouver, Canada and Sochi in Russia would fall off the list.

Yale Climate Connections reported that climate change advocates met on the sidelines of the Olympics to discuss the challenges facing the games.

“At this year’s games, on February 7 and 8, scientists and educators are to meet for the first PyeongChang Forum on the Earth and its Citizens to discuss climate change and other environmental topics,” Yale reported. “Organizers hope the new event will create a valuable ongoing forum to discuss the globe’s environmental challenges and prospects for increased environmental sustainability.”

Yale also reported on other efforts to promote climate change as a threat to winter sports:

Protect Our Winters, an advocacy group based in Boulder, Colorado, and founded by snowboarder Jeremy Jones, works to raise awareness about the impact of climate change on winter sports and recreation. The group isn’t involved in any particular awareness campaign tied to this year’s Olympic Games, but it should be obvious to spectators that the warm weather is posing problems, says Lindsay Bourgoine, POW’s manager of advocacy and campaigns, in an interview with Yale Climate Connections.

“For me, it’s an ideal opportunity to really connect with a broader spectrum of people, and to bring them into the fold to think about the consequences in their own lifetimes and how they can take positive action,” Bourgoine said.

“Protect our Winters has advocated for carbon pricing policies around the country, and it’s brought professional winter athletes to meet with lawmakers in Washington, DC,” Yale reported.

The Waterloo News reported that cities might best think ahead if they want to host the winter games in the future.

“Climate change alters the geography of the Winter Olympic Games,” Robert Steiger of the University of Innsbruck in Austria, said. “The International Olympic Committee will have increasingly difficult decisions about where to award the Games, and for some regions interested in hosting a future Winter Olympics, the time to bid for the games might need to be sooner than later.”

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