Feb. Silent Alarm: Climate changes and impacts on recreation
BY MIKE MCFADZEN
The Fourth National Climate Assessment Report confirms what’s happening in our daily lives
Hopefully, the Midwest is blessed with a snowy winter by the time you read this. People that ski and snowshoe are increasingly concerned about marginal snow conditions. In the 1970s and 80s, lake-effect snow was common with skiers traveling lakeside for early and consistent snow conditions. However, in the past 20 years, lakeside precipitation is often more liquid due to warming mean temperatures. Many Nordic ski areas located near the southern Great Lakes have abandoned their trail-grooming programs. Kohler Andre State Park, located north of Milwaukee, rarely groom ski trails anymore.
One of Wisconsin’s largest bike and ski retailers, Wheel and Sprocket, will no longer be selling skis and disbanded their rental program in southern Wisconsin.
“We (Wheel and Sprocket) love cross-country skiing and have been doing it since the beginning,” co-owner Amelia Kegel told Silent Sports. “The last five to six years, ski sales haven’t been good. We’ve started focusing on fat bikes that are great for snow and no snow. I remember closing the store to go skiing. That just doesn’t happen anymore.”
Meteorologists can predict winter weather with some accuracy based on ocean temperature. They describe an El Niño effect when there is large-scale Pacific ocean/atmosphere warming which translates into meager winters. La Niña’s indicate below average ocean/atmosphere temperatures and is associated with more robust winters. El Niño’s have ruled lately.
There are more winter snow events being canceled. Some cross-country race sponsors have given up and shelved their races after years of cancellations. While this information is anecdotal, what’s really happening here?
There is slowly rising mean temperatures, much faster than scientists originally projected. The Fourth National Climate Assessment Report, from the U.S. government’s Global Change Research Program, was released in November. Prepared with the support and approval of 13 federal agencies, and with input from hundreds of government and non-governmental experts, the report provides a comprehensive look at how climate change will impact the United States.
According to Dan Lashof, U.S. Director of the World Resources Institute, “The message is loud, clear and undeniable – climate impacts are here and growing. The tragic campfire in California serves as a stark illustration of how climate change is loading the dice for more extreme events that devastate people, homes and the economy. We should trust what we’re seeing with our own eyes: more intense wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, and heat waves.”
Seven of California’s 20 most destructive wildfires and five of the deadliest have occurred in just the last 15 months.
Climate change poses risks to seasonal and outdoor economies across the United States, including impacts centered on winter and inland water-based recreations, according to the report. The Midwest is particularly vulnerable with expected declines in snow as well as extreme heat, heavy downpours and flooding that will affect health, agriculture, forestry, air and water quality. It is transforming where and how people live and presents challenges to human health and quality of life. Many of us know people who have moved north to escape the expanding banana belt.
According to the Report, “There will be direct effects of increased heat stress, more flooding, drought and late spring freezes on natural and managed ecosystems which may be multiplied by changes in pests and disease prevalence, increased competition from non-native or opportunistic native species, ecosystem disturbances … much of the region’s fisheries, recreation, tourism and commerce depend on the Great Lakes and expansive northern forests, which already face pollution and invasive species pressure that will be exacerbated by climate change.”
Besides meager winters, locally this has been manifested by the southward tick migration causing huge increases in Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. Invasive plants, such as garlic mustard and buckthorn, are taking over large swaths of our parklands. You can’t blame everything on climate change but the scientific evidence is overwhelming.
President Donald Trump doesn’t quite see it that way. In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Trump voiced skepticism on a climate change report.
“One of the problems that a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence, but we’re not necessarily such believers,” Trump said. “You look at our air and our water and it’s right now at a record clean.”
The United States was the lone holdout to support the Paris Climate Change Accord at the annual G-20 meeting held in December in Argentina.
Sound dire? It should, but not all is lost. Many states, including Minnesota, have taken a leadership role in the climate-change debate using legislative power to reduce fossil fuels, shifting to renewable energy sources as well as creating incentives for businesses to reduce their carbon footprint.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, there are many small things that anyone can do to have an impact. This includes: use LED bulbs, invest in energy-efficient appliances, keep your electronics from drawing excess energy, insulate as much as possible, perform a home-energy audit, use a programmable thermostat, turn down your water heater temperature, have a garden, buy local and seasonal, compost, recycle and consume less water.
Above all, get engaged in the local and national climate debate.
“If there’s a world here in a hundred years, it’s going to be saved by tens of millions of little things.” – Peter Seger