I didn’t always love winter as much as I do now. As a kid, I remember trudging up to the bus stop through deep snowbanks and then having to wait on a busy traffic corner for the bus to come. The cold air was numbing, freezing my fingertips — no matter how thick my mittens were — and reddening my knees, because girls like me wore miniskirts to school back then. I didn’t like winter very much.
But somewhere along the span of years since then, I developed an intense taste for winter. Perhaps it was because later in life I took up cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Or maybe it was because I spent twenty-one weekends of one particular winter season in Wisconsin outside in order to write my first published book. It’s more likely, though, that I learned to love winter because I think we’re close to losing it.
While it’s normal and easy to pine for what we think may soon be gone, convincing people to do something about saving what’s quickly disappearing is difficult. So when I recently discovered the following short film about the economic benefits of winter under the hashtag “MoreSnowDays,” I saw pure genius. Because money is a great motivator.
The economics of winter
In my home state of Wisconsin, the average number of days of ice cover on Madison lakes has decreased by about twenty-nine to thirty-five days over the past 150 years. Significantly, the longest ice seasons on record are all clustered in the first few years of the record, while most of the shortest seasons fall towards the end of the record. Across the United States, winter temperatures have warmed 0.16 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1895, and the rate of warming has more than tripled to 0.55 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1970. The strongest winter warming trends have occurred in the northern half of the United States, where snow plays an important role in the winter season.
If we do nothing to try to stem this tide, winter temperatures are projected to warm an additional 4 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, with subsequent decreases in snow cover area, snowfall, and shorter snow seasons. Snow depths could decline in the American West by 25 to 100 percent. The length of the snow season in the Northeast will be cut in half.
In addition to the information at #MoreSnowDays, it is hoped that the results of a new study commissioned by Protect Our Winters and the Natural Resources Defense Council will help policy makers understand the economic scale and potential impacts that climate change may have for all businesses dependent on winter weather — from snowmobiling, snowboarding, and ice fishing to snowshoeing and skiing — as well as on the other related sectors that count on winter sports tourists, such as restaurants, lodging facilities, gas stations, grocery stores, and bars.
The results of the study show that more than three-quarters of states benefit economically from winter sports. More than 140 million Americans make outdoor recreation a priority in their daily lives. They generate $646 billion in consumer spending every year. The outdoor industry creates 6.1 million direct jobs — 211,900 either directly or indirectly supported by the ski and snowmobile industry. That’s more than education, construction, or oil and gas. Last year, more than 23 million people participated in winter sport activities. They added $12.2 billion to the U.S. economy.
Watch the video at the end of this article. It’s obvious that in order to safeguard the hundreds and thousands of livelihoods that depend on a snow-filled season, we must protect winter and tackle climate change. We need to have more snow days for the strength of our economy — and the good of our planet.
Winter travels 2014
I think part of the reason that I do love snow and ice now is because I think winter is an endangered species. In some ways, I’m a “doomsday tourist.” When I travel, I tend to seek out the cold because I think it will soon be gone. In fact, this winter, I’m choosing to go to Yellowstone in January. I can’t wait for a big snowstorm.
But I won’t be wearing a miniskirt.
If we do lose our winters, will our economy irrevocably suffer? Have you ever chosen to travel to a particular destination because you miss the colder winters of the past?
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,
Join the outdoor industry and sign the climate declaration. Help protect one of our nation’s most valuable natural resources.