STEVENS POINT — The American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race was held in Hayward this year, and that’s big news.
There was sufficient snow this year, but that hasn’t been the case in other years. It was canceled in 2017 due to warm temperatures. In other years, the race course has been shortened, and organizers have sometimes gone to great ends to build the base. “Will there be snow?” has become a common refrain among the thousands of Birkie enthusiasts.
If you don’t think climate change is real, just ask the people of Hayward and surrounding communities, who rely on the race for a big infusion of dollars from the event. Or people at ski areas across the U.S., for that matter. Or hunters in states like Maine and New Hampshire. Or the scientists who track snow pack in the mountains of the western U.S.
Climate denial is big business, and its adherents include President Donald Trump and U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, the make-believe lumberjack who is supposed to represent Hayward and other areas of the north impacted by warming.
The impact of climate change on people who rely on snow is told in a powerful documentary film called “Saving Snow,” by Brooklyn filmmaker Diogo Freire. It is being shown around the state by members of the Citizens Climate Lobby and other concerned citizen groups. Freire came to Hayward in 2017 to film part of the documentary, not knowing that the Birkie would be canceled. That it was providing a dramatic cornerstone to the documentary.
Ski organizations don’t like to get into politics because, well, it’s potentially bad for business. But the ski industry has begun to acknowledge that something has to change. Some ski areas have embraced sustainability measures to underscore their concern. Others have simply closed or seen their seasons shortened due to shorter, warmer winters.
This is but one piece of the new reality. Freire’s film tells the gruesome story of the decline in moose populations in northeastern U.S. states like Maine and New Hampshire, where declines of 70 percent have been measured. Scientists say a major cause is climate change, which has fueled a dramatic increase in the populations of the “winter tick,” a parasite that attacks moose. The tick differs from those that suck our blood in terms of size. They measure more than a half-inch, attaching themselves to a moose by the tens of thousands, literally sucking the life out of the animal. By the time the female ticks are full, they’re the size of grapes.
Climate change has a dollars-and-cents impact on communities that rely on the influx of dollars from skiers and moose hunters. The same can be said of snowmobiling and other winter sports, which used to bring big trucks, big trailers and big bucks to northern Wisconsin.
To the west, as Freire’s film notes, the consequences are even more ominous. The snow pack that provides succor to people and natural resources is clearly on the decline. If you don’t believe it, check with the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, where a survey team has found that there has been a 20 percent loss in the annual maximum amount of water contained in the western United States' mountain snowpack in the last three decades. This, an international team of scientists says, is due to human influences. This is ominous for Westerners who rely on that snow pack for reservoirs that supply their drinking water. Less snow pack also means less water for Western forests, which are then ravaged by fire. And it’s just beginning. Researchers estimate a further loss of up to 60 percent within the next 30 years.
The Citizens Climate Lobby is working to pass a climate fee and dividend program. Other groups are working on other efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. But like the tobacco lobby that taught them their tricks, the climate deniers have loads of money, and are driven to suck up more, sort of like the winter ticks of the northeast.
Bill Berry of Stevens Point writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org
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