When I found out I was attending the 2018 annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Katowice, Poland, my key goal was to learn as much as possible about Small Island Developing States (SIDS). A 2002 study estimated that over 200 million people will be displaced due to climate change. I found this statistic shocking and felt the need to educate myself further, and learn what role I could play in combating the issue.
The conference itself took place in a space that felt like an airport, white walls and no windows, constructed purely for the purpose of hosting the conference. As I picked up my ID badge and walked through security, I noticed the large letters spelling out “Welcome to Poland,” displayed front and center. The second thing I noticed were the endless piles of paper behind a desk named “Documents Distribution.”
Throughout the two-week-long conference, I began to observe more and more how unsustainable the most important gathering on climate change in the world actually was. Disposable cups. Single use silverware. Plastic water bottles. No composting. Very few vegetarian or vegan options. The list went on and on.
Every evening as I left the conference center to take a tram back to the hostel, the sight of smog and the smell of burning coal would remind me that not only was the event creating a ton of material waste, it was also being powered by coal. The conference would eventually teach me to notice the nuances that exist within the effort to combat climate change—that sometimes we cannot see the problem, even when it’s right in front of us.
At the conference, there were almost 30,000 registered participants from all over the world representing hundreds of different delegations, from countries, to NGOs, to institutions like CC. While the participants are ideally supposed to represent the world population, I felt like I was at a European Union conference rather than a United Nations conference.
Many of the other participants shared these frustrations, as well as those expressed earlier, including CC Junior Paige Shetty (Colorado College junior), who told me, “Leaders at the conference continued to emphasize the urgency of the crisis, yet almost everyone who attended the conference had flown on a plane. These same people likely knew that one air-mile produces, on average, 53.3 lbs of carbon dioxide. Additionally, the venue itself was built specifically for this conference and would be taken down at its conclusion, only for another large venue to be built somewhere else for next year’s conference. How can we expect countries to reduce their emissions when the leading conference for climate change is not a model for sustainability?”
From 10 a.m to 8 p.m every day except Sunday, there would be dozens of events running at once that anyone with a conference badge could attend. Al Gore led an event called, “The Climate Crisis and its Solutions,” The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) hosted an event titled “Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS)— Regional Perspectives on the 1.5º Special Report,” and the government of Fiji and NAP Global Network ran an event called “Launch of Fiji’s First National Adaptation Plan.” There was a lot to learn and definitely not enough time.
One evening I attended an event called “Bordeaux 2050.” Bordeaux 2050 is a wine from the future that gives us the bitter taste of global warming. The premise of the wine event was a warning: the Bordeaux wine region in France is at risk to severe conditions of climate change, and by 2050, Bordeaux grapes may lose their rich and wonderful taste. “Despite the fact that global warming is a reality, many feel that it is a distant, abstract problem. So the French Association of Journalists for the Environment decided to give the French people tangible proof of climate change by hitting them where it hurts the most: wine, of course,” The French Association of Journalists for the Environment wrote. They partnered with researchers, scientists, and wine experts (like Excell Laboratory, France), to study the 30 year projections of current climate data and to create a wine that simulates the taste of a Bordeaux wine grown in 2050.
Each of the wine tasters swirled their glasses, smelled the wine, and took a sip. Reactions ranged from excitement about the idea itself, to shock and disgust. Some called it flat and non-complex, others called it sour, the general consensus amongst everyone, however, was that the wine did not taste nearly as good as the Bordeaux wine people from all over the world know and love today.
On the Bordeaux 2050 website, the homepage reads:
The Real Taste of Global Warming
Do you know someone who still believes global warming isn’t real? Your pro-Trump uncle or that weird colleague you avoid at lunch? Fill in their details and we’ll send them a bottle of Bordeaux 2050.
If you choose to send a bottle of Bordeaux 2050 to someone, their suggested message is “Dear Climate Sceptic, here is a bottle of Bordeaux 2050, a wine straight from the future. It will give you a bitter taste of global warming … but please, keep your glass half full. Very warm wishes.” I sent one to Donald Trump … wishful thinking, I know.
After attending this event and doing more research on Bordeaux 2050, I was inspired by the work that the French Association of Journalists for the Environment had done. They took something that many people (especially the French) love and tangibly showed how climate change will affect it. They are making people think, “What would France be without really good wine?” Brilliant.
Given the excitement and chatter in the room after the event, I imagined these people going home to share the story of the wine tasting with their families and friends. I then started thinking about how I could use this method to encourage people to really pay attention to the impacts of climate change in Colorado. Is there something that Coloradans care about as much as the French care about wine? The outdoors, of course! What would Colorado look like without skiing and snowboarding? Recent statistics show that 71% of Colorado residents participate in outdoor recreation each year, and this doesn’t even include visitors that travel to Colorado.
A huge sector of the outdoor recreation industry in Colorado is skiing. In 2015, Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA) and Vail Resorts, announced the findings of a new economic impact study on Colorado’s ski and snowboarding industry. As the leading ski state in North America, Colorado’s ski industry generates $4.8 billion annually. However, if ambitious climate action is not taken soon enough, skiing in Colorado, as we know it, will be gone.
Several reports and studies have come out over the years projecting the impact of climate change on skiing in Colorado if emissions do not decrease. Here are a few of the many shocking possible outcomes evaluated through different studies:
1. Summit County can expect late 21st century winters to feel about 10ºF warmer with 25% fewer average annual days at or below 32ºF. This means that the ski season will be shortened by about 1 month by the end of the century.
2. High greenhouse gas emissions scenarios (continuing to emit at the exponential rate we are currently emitting at) are likely to end skiing in Aspen by 2100, and possibly well before then, while low emission path scenarios (reducing current emissions) preserve skiing at mid-to-upper mountain elevations. In either case, snow conditions will deteriorate in the future.
3. EPA projections estimate that many Colorado Ski resorts could see winter seasons shortened by up to 80% by 2090. This not only impacts skiing but also impacts the state’s water resources.
Regardless of which prediction comes true, each outcome proves dim. I hope that these statistics leave a bad taste in your mouth the way that Bourdeaux 2050 did for those who attended the conference.
To get a different perspective on the issue than my own and that of academic literature, I interviewed CC sophomore and avid skier Amy Raymond. Amy grew up in Centennial, CO and has been skiing for around 15 years. Last year (2017-2018), she skied 52 days. For Amy, skiing is a priority.
When I showed Amy the statistics predicticting less snowfall and a shorter ski season, Amy said, “This makes me feel really sad for a few reasons: one is that climate change is negatively impacting and kind of destroying this sport that I love. I dream of being an old retired woman on a chairlift who skis an unreasonable amount and makes friends with young people on the chairlift and this dream is honestly looking kind of impossible … Also, skiing is already so monetarily inaccessible for a lot of people, and a shortened ski season will only make skiing more inaccessible.”
Although Amy is saddened by these statistics, she is not surprised: “Comparing my winters as a kid in Colorado versus now, it’s pretty obvious we’re getting less precipitation and higher temperatures. It makes me feel sort of hopeless and definitely complicit. Skiing is honestly a pretty unsustainable sport that’s bad for surrounding environments and the environment at large, but odds are I’m not going to stop skiing anytime soon, so I’m part of the problem, which is very true but still sucks to acknowledge.” After speaking with Amy I realized how my intuition proved true; these statistics were especially upsetting to Colorado skiers.
What can skiers do in this dismal and contradictory situation? I decided to reach out to the Director of Planning and Sustainability for Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Matt Feier, to get his expert opinion on the matter.
Matt explained how Crested Butte was preparing for this predicted decrease in snowfall and expected shortening of the ski season. He said, “There is widespread acknowledgement in the industry that we need to remain nimble and adaptable to change, and that we all may need to consider other business models and revenue streams in order to remain successful.”
Thanks to input from Matt and Amy, I have come up with a list of things that people who ski and ride can do to help combat climate change in Colorado.
1. Pressure ski resorts to pursue sustainable practices and only ski and ride at resorts that acknowledge climate change and are actively doing something to combat it.
2. Vote for those who are passionate about climate action.
3. Offset your own carbon footprint from traveling to and from the mountains. Check out the Colorado Carbon Fund, a local non profit dedicated to decreasing carbon emissions, to learn more.
4. Pressure gear companies to pursue sustainable practices and consider only purchasing new gear from companies that have sustainable practices (i.e. Phunkshunwear, Zeal Optics, Picture Organic Clothing, GrassSticks, Meier Skis, and Capita Snowboards).
5. Donate to organizations that are doing conservation and sustainable activism work. Protect Our Winters (POW) is a great organization specifically focused on climate activism for winter lovers.
While these statistics are jarring, they are only a starting point: we have to start with what we love and grow to make bigger change from there. I wanted something more personal to catch people’s attention and get them to care, like Bordeaux 2050 does. Watching massive flooding and forest fires destroy our nation and the rest of the world on television and on our phones, it’s easy to become distanced. We do not feel the immediate impacts, so how do we know where to take action? The first thing that came to mind was art: visuals are a great way to get people to think and care about something that they otherwise wouldn’t have, like bringing awareness to the bottle of wine that sits on the dinner table every night. We can use our experience with wine and skiing as a means of connecting with the greater issue of climate change, something that can feel distant and thus paralyzing.
The art you saw at the beginning of this article, and might have seen around campus, is meant to get ordinary people like you and me to care about climate change, and most importantly, to start acting. It is easy to become complacent when we hear about climate change all the time, but if I took anything away from the conference in Poland, it is that climate change is the biggest and most urgent problem that humanity is facing. We all need to be doing our part if we want widespread change to happen.
For years, scientists and reporters have been sharing the facts behind climate change, but clearly, statistics are not always enough. Apparently, it is not enough for us to be told that islands are going underwater and millions of people are being displaced, or to hear about people dying due to an extreme weather event. So what is enough? What motivates us to recognize the change that needs to be made? For those at the Bordeaux 2050 event, it was wine. For many Coloradans, it’s skiing. The United Nations Climate Change Conference left me with a strong desire to get people to care and act, by contextualizing climate change into something tangible.
Blue Issue | February 2019