My Turn: Our way of life is at risk

Jeremy Jones and Doug Stoup

Snow and ice fuel both our livelihoods and our passion. We are lucky enough to make a living doing things many people only enjoy recreationally. Together, we’ve snowboarded and trekked in some of the most beautiful and pristine places on Earth.

Lake Tahoe is one of those places that is so precious to us and one we are committed to protecting for all the winter sports lovers and adventurers out there.

Millions of people agree with us; their shared love of snow and mountains bring them to Tahoe every year to ride the slopes and take in the panoramic views. Perhaps more importantly to the thousands of year-round Tahoe residents, these visitors fuel the economic vitality of the region.

But this way of life is at risk, due to climate change. And while some (even in the pages of this paper) will try to carry on with hands over their ears, willfully ignoring the facts, the reality is climate change is here. That the globe is warming and that manmade carbon pollution is the culprit has been confirmed by 97 percent of scientists and every national academy of science in the world.

According to researchers at UC Davis, Lake Tahoe’s average water temperature has increased 0.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970, with deep water temperatures increasing by a degree. And according to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, average atmospheric temperatures (aka air temperatures) in the area have also risen more than two degrees since the 1950s.

Earlier this year, new climate models published in the journal Climatic Change predicted that average temperatures in the Tahoe region could rise by as much as 9 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century. Although that is a worst-case scenario, even a portion of that kind of temperature rise will have a major effect on the entire ecosystem, from the blue waters of the lake itself to the snowfall and snowpack in the surrounding mountains.

We all know what happens when there’s a bad year for snow. Less powder means fewer skiers and snowboarders. And that means the economies built around our ski resorts take a big hit. Not only do ski resorts draw millions in investment (Sugar Bowl just invested $20 million alone in upgrades this year), but they provide jobs and tourism dollars to the rest of the community.

According to a 2012 study by Protect our Winters and Natural Resources Defense Council on the climate impacts of the winter tourism economy in the United States, each year of low snowfall could cost the U.S. economy between $810 million and $1.9 billion. How much do you think that will cost the Tahoe region, winter sports account for the lion’s share of local industry?

We didn’t get to the top of our fields by sitting back watching others blaze trails for us, or by taking unnecessary and dangerous risks. Instead, it took a serious work ethic, a no excuses attitude, and a deep love and humble respect for the daunting, dangerous and majestic landscapes we work and play in. Even if you don’t believe that global warming is real, it seems a risky bet not to inoculate the community against something that could threaten an entire way of life.

Instead of sitting back and letting carbon pollution continue to warm our world and put the places and pastimes we love at risk, we need to get working. Groups like our partners Protect Our Winters and The Climate Reality Project can help you learn more about science and do something to protect our winters and our way of life here in Tahoe.

The climate crisis can seem daunting. But that doesn’t mean ignoring it or pretending it’s a hoax will make it disappear. Instead, let’s put our hard work and passion into this mountain of a task, and climb it together.

Jeremy Jones is a professional snowboarder and founder of Protect Our Winters and Doug Stoup is a professional adventurer, mountaineer, skier and Climate Ambassador for I Am Pro Snow, a project of The Climate Reality Project.

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