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February 11, 2014

Winter Olympians Speak Out for Climate Action

Photo by the Sierra Club

As cross-country skier Andy Newell takes to the mountains of Sochi for his competition today, he'll be sending a message every winter Olympian and athlete can relate to: Climate disruption is putting winter in jeopardy.

Newell and over 100 past and present Olympians-- such as Danny Davis, Gretchen Bleiler, Arielle Gold, and Elena Hight -- have signed a letter calling for climate action to stop the disruption that is putting their livelihoods at risk.

"As winter Olympic athletes, our lives revolve around the winter and if climate change continues at this pace, the economies of the small towns where we live and train will be ruined, our sports will be forever changed and the winter Olympics as we know it will be a thing of the past," the letter states.

The winter tourism industry generates an estimated 23 million participants and $12.2 billion annually in 38 states in the United States alone. When you factor in international competitions, like the Winter Olympic Games, and international tourism, that figure skyrockets.

Even now, the difference between a "good" snow year and a "bad" snow year can cost up to $1.9 billion and between 13,000-27,000 jobs. As the climate continues to be disrupted, the amount of bad years will increase. 

Luckily, Newell isn't alone. This is not the first time athletes are taking a stance against climate change. Within the last year, winter athletes and Olympians alike have been raising their voices with Protect Our Winters (POW) to save the snow. Just yesterday, Olympians Kikkan Randall and Alex Diebold wrote a letter to drive this point home.

"[...] If we're going to create a social movement in winter sports against climate change, the responsibility falls on us—to speak out, to teach the youth who look up to us, to influence the media who listen to us and leverage our reach and connections to mobilize millions," Randall and Diebold wrote. "We've joined POW because we realize that we have a platform to speak out about the changes we're seeing, to raise awareness and to influence change and that as one, we can truly make a difference."

Climate disruption has been a main focus over the past four winter Olympics after first being recognized following the 1998 Nagano Winter Games. In the wrap-up report for those games, the authors cautioned, "[...] Striving to host the Olympic Winter Games in harmony with nature is especially important, and we ask the IOC and future Olympic Winter Games host cities to pay close attention to the environment."

Sixteen years and four games later, we're still working toward that goal. In fact, if global temperatures continue to increase at the current rate, only a little more than half of the 19 cities that have hosted the winter games over the last century will ever be cold enough to host the games again.

But, these Olympians aren't willing to let that happen.

"The power we have as Olympians on a global stage is immense," Newell's letter continues. "Let's use this year to make a collective statement, to send a message to the world's leaders to recognize the impact of climate change and to take action now."

"If not us, who?" Randall and Diebold ask.

--Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team

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