July 23, 2007 – Climate change threat worries snow enthusiast groups

Downhill skiing and snowmobiling pump more than $1 billion annually into Vermont’s economy, but the winter recreation season seems to be getting shorter and shorter.
Unusually late-breaking snows last winter caused a 40 percent drop in snowmobile trail passes, funds that the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers Inc. (VAST) counts on to groom more than 4,750 miles of groomed corridor snowmobile trails. For three decades, the nonprofit organization has maintained the statewide snowmobile trail system for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.
VAST Executive Director Bryant Watson was among those testifying before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in May about the effects of climate change on recreation.
“As I ultimately told the committee, I was not there as a scientist but as a 60-year resident of Vermont who has seen a significant climate change,” says Watson. “If we don’t address this issue, we’ll lose.”
Those with even a passing knowledge of current events have heard about Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth,” the upcoming 10th anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Live Earth concerts on July 7 and proclamations from municipalities and states about what they’re doing to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Although a preponderance of evidence supports the theory that Earth is getting warmer and that increased greenhouse emissions are to blame, a vocal minority continues to dismiss the science.
Regardless of the personal opinions about climate change, those in the winter recreation industries just want people to be able to get out in the snow and play.
Members of the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) have been at the forefront of this issue for several years. The trade association represents 326 alpine resorts that account for more than 90 percent of skier/snowboarder visits nationwide. Nearly 60 ski resorts in 21 states say they support efforts by the nonpartisan United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) that calls for federal legislation to mandate reductions of greenhouse gas emissions from major emitting sources. The cornerstone of the plan would be a cap-and-trade system to create a financial incentive to reduce emissions.
Founding members of USCAP include Alcoa, BP America, Caterpillar, Duke Energy, DuPont and General Electric. Those companies have been joined recently by Alcan, Boston Scientific, ConocoPhillips, Deere & Co., The Dow Chemical Co., General Motors Corp., Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, Shell and Siemens. USCAP member companies have total revenues of $1.7 trillion, a collective workforce of more than 2 million and operations in all 50 states. They also have a combined market capitalization of more than $1.9 trillion.
NSAA President Michael Berry also spoke during the Senate hearing in May, telling senators that NSAA adopted a policy on climate change in 2002. “At that time, climate change was the elephant under the carpet that needed to be addressed — and addressed directly,” Berry says.
The group’s climate change policy adopts a “reduce, educate, advocate” approach to fighting global warming, calling for ski resorts to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, educate guests and the public about the potential threat of climate change to winter recreation and advocate the need for policy-makers to act quickly and aggressively to curb GHG emissions.
The International Snowmobile Congress talked about the possibility of adopting a position on climate change, but no action was taken at the annual meeting, says Ed Klim, president of the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, one of the groups that participate in the congress. “I’m not sure it’s something we should take a position on, but we planted the seeds for discussion at the June meeting,” says Klim. “We’ll see whether it’s on the agenda next year.”
While some might debate whether greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming, there’s no question that the issue is taking center stage worldwide. The best-known effort to curb emissions is the Kyoto Protocol, negotiated in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997. The goal is to reduce global greenhouse emissions to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. However, compared with rising greenhouse gas levels predicted by 2010 without controls, the reduction actually represents a 29 percent cut.
A total of 169 countries have approved the treaty. The United States and Australia are the two largest industrialized nations that have not approved the accord. Many critics believe developing countries such as China and India should be included in the treaty, an issue the UN surely will address when negotiations on the successor to Kyoto begin later this year. The U.S. represents 4 percent of the world’s population but produces one-quarter of the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that scientists believe contribute to global warming. China is expected to pass the U.S. as the world’s top emitter of carbon dioxide sometime this year.
In early June, President Bush called for a summit of nations that emit the most greenhouse gases to set a long-term global strategy for reducing emissions after the expiration of Kyoto in 2012. The proposed summit would include China and India. Critics counter that Bush is trying to deflect criticism that the U.S. isn’t moving forward on the issue and that he’s trying to avoid taking any meaningful action during the remainder of his second term.
Cities and states across the country aren’t waiting around for the federal government to take action on global warming. The U.S. Conference of Mayors formed a partnership with ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in cities through outreach, education and technical assistance. More than 300 mayors representing one-sixth the U.S. population have signed. The U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which commits participating cities to strive to meet Kyoto targets in their own communities, urges state and federal governments to do the same and encourages Congress to pass bipartisan greenhouse gas reduction legislation, which would establish a national emissions trading system.
Additionally, the legislatures of Hawaii and New Jersey have joined California in passing laws specifying mandatory greenhouse gas reductions. Eleven other states have set greenhouse gas reduction targets either by legislation or by executive order. psb

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