Sunday, December 24, 2006


WILL WARMING END SNOW SPORTS? is a report from EcoShock News about winter sports, the issue of retreating glaciers, and related issues. One of the effects of the retreating glaciers is to threaten the possible continuation of "winter sports" such as Skiing. This then threatens the livelihood of those whose life is those winter sports, such as professional competition skiers, skiing competitions, and ski resorts.

One of the coping strategies used by ski resorts is to install snow making machines. If there isn't enough snow, they can make the snow, right? Well ... that is just like one of the scenes in An Inconvenient Truth (DVD) with a "solution" to global warming where giant ice cubes are made and dropped into the ocean to cool the ocean. But in truth that's no solution of any kind, for instance it takes an expenditure of energy to create the ice and snow, and that expenditure of energy probably involves emission of more greenhouse gasses to run the ice or snow making machines.

However the EcoShock report includes a discussion about sustainable energy installations being put in at the Whistler-Blackcomb resort. At this resort they have begun showing pictures of the changes in the glaciers around them, which then demonstrates in very real terms the effects of global warming. This would be just like the glacier I visited in Alaska which had an informational sign showing where the glacier was over the last 100 years, and just how far up that valley the glacier had retreated. They are exploring wind power, micro-hydro-electric power generation, etc. I suppose this is at least a solid symbolic gesture that has to be connected with their message that the glaciers are melting. "Look", they're saying, "the glaciers are melting, and here are some simple things we can and are doing to mitigate the cause of the melting glaciers".

The last thought I want to mention is the ecological arrangement people around the world have learned to live in. Around the world areas exist where there isn't much rain most of the year, and the rivers stay full because of water coming from snow that accumulates during the winter and melts during the summer. So long as more snow falls in the winter than melts in the summer then you have a continual presence of snow on the mountain top. That's what a glacier is, technically speaking, is a snowpack that lasts year-round.

In those areas of the world often there are societies of people who develop and are able to live there because water is available year-round even if there is little rain most of the year.

California is just one example. What draws people to California today is that it "never" rains. Well, actually, it does rain during the winter, but the rest of the year is essentially without rain. And, you might ask, just how is the state of California able to supply enough water year-round to slake the thirst of over 30 million people? Well, part of it comes from the Colorado River, but the vast majority come from snow accumulations in the Sierra Nevada mountains and other mountains in Northern California. That water is accumulated in reservoirs, is used for hydro-electric power generation, is used for drinking water, is piped around the state in an aqueduct system, etc. The movie Chinatown dramatizes some of the shenanigans concocted in the early 1900's to tap that water for the use of the Los Angeles area.

But there are other cultures world-wide, some not so rich and fortunate as California. 10 years ago I visited the far reaches of the Andes mountains in Peru, and in part of my trip I attended an indigenous ceremony performed by the local people for over 1000 years. In this ceremony they traveled a strenuous and long journey deep into the mountains to visit the glaciers and perform sacred ceremonies with them. One of the things which struck me deeply witnessing these ceremonies is how they kept alive this wisdom that their livelihood depends on the continued existence of those glaciers.

And, uh, it is the melting snow from those glaciers which feeds the rain forest regions of Brazil and other parts of South America. I wonder what proportion of the water flowing through the Amazon and other rivers in that area come from melting snow, and what proportion come from rainfall?

So, that is an important consideration if you remember that one of the big ecological worries we face is the continued existence of that particular rain forest. It is widely held that the rain forests, not just the Amazonian rain forest, are the lungs of the planet. If those rain forests disappear then where will there be enough plant life to convert the CO2 we exhale into the O2 that we breath?