Olympians call for climate action amid warm temperatures in Sochi

Over 100 Olympians have signed a letter calling for international climate action. Creative Commons, Shawn Carpenter, 2010

Over 100 Olympians have signed a letter calling for international climate action. Creative Commons, Shawn Carpenter, 2010

More than a hundred Olympians are speaking up about the threat of climate change as the 2014 Olympics continue to be disrupted by warm temperatures.

This year’s Winter Olympics are taking on a summer feel as temperatures soared to 13° C (61° F) on Monday. Forecasts predict that the temperature in Sochi could hit a balmy 17° C (63° F) by Thursday.

Warm temperatures have already interfered with some contests. Ski jump events have been postponed because warm temperatures created puddles for landing. Downhill skiers are complaining about “mushy” snow, and several biathletes fell on a slippery course while skiing the men’s 12.5-kilometer pursuit.

Some of the world’s best athletes have seized upon this year’s unique circumstances to call for action on climate change.

A letter penned by American skier Andrew Newell and signed by 105 Olympians from around the world emphasized the urgency of a changing climate and exhorted global leaders to “recognize climate change by reducing emissions, embracing clean energy and preparing a commitment to a global agreement at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris 2015.”

Newell’s letter comes on the heels of a widely circulated study that used low and high emissions scenarios to predict the climate of former Winter Olympics host cities. Under the high emissions scenario, the researchers found that only six of the 19 cities would be able to host the games by the 2080s.

Even under the low emissions scenario, only ten of the previous hosts would be able to have the games again.

Even now, weather problems are already some of the biggest challenges for the Olympic Organizing Committees and host countries. In 2007 Russian President Vladimir Putin guaranteed “real snow” at Sochi during the Russian’s final bid presentation to the International Olympic Committee.

To keep good on Putin’s promise, Russian officials in Sochi stockpiled some 500,000 cubic meters of last year’s snow under insulated tarps to hedge against the chance of high temperatures.

No matter the outcome of this year’s games, rising winter temperatures are part of a dangerous trend that can’t be ignored.

The same high temperatures that are wreaking havoc in Sochi are endangering forests and reducing snowpack around the world. They are also putting the entire winter tourism industry at risk. In the United States alone, winter sports, tourism, and recreation generate $12.2 billion in revenue annually and support 212,000 jobs.

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