Will the Winter Olympics soon be a thing of the past?

Above: Image © wetcake,iStockPhoto.com

The 2018 Winter Olympics have just come to a close. Canada earned 29 medals. That’s more than we’ve ever won at a Winter Games! 

Nine of those medals are for sports that took place on the slopes, in competitions like ski cross, slopestyle and moguls. These competitions involve skiing or snowboarding. But how much longer will these sports be around?

Did you know? Two Canadian cities have hosted the Winter Olympics: Calgary (1988) and Vancouver (2010).

Temperatures Rising

Average global temperatures have gone up by almost 1 degree since pre-industrial times (before the Industrial Revolution).  In other words, if you took the temperatures of all places on Earth, added them up, and divided them by the total number of places, the number you’d get today would be 1 degree higher than you’d get in and around 1850.

Of course, with an average, some numbers are higher and some are lower. In general, areas nearer to the poles of Earth have warmed up more. The European Alps is a place where temperatures have risen by 2 degrees. Places like Davos, Switzerland.  have seen a decrease in snowfall . That’s a problem, because the economy of this region depends heavily on tourists who come for winter sports. It’s also a place where many Canadian athletes go to train outside of winter. In 2017, the Canadian ski cross team had to cancel a training session in Italy. 

Climate Change and the Winter Olympics

As you can see, many people have to look elsewhere for their winter sport needs. And that might include Olympic planners.

By 2022, there will have been 21 cities who have hosted the Winter Olympics. And according to a recent study, if things don’t change (a “business as usual” scenario), then over half of those cities will be “too hot” to host the winter Olympics by 2080. 

Where did that conclusion come from? Well, greenhouse gases contribute to warming temperatures and changes in climate. A team of researchers, headed by one from the University of Waterloo, got temperature predictions from a climate model that assumed that greenhouse gases emissions would continue to rise around the world at the same rate as they have been. Specifically, they got temperature predictions for February 2050 and February 2080 (remember, February is the month when the Winter Olympics take place). They found that the average temperatures in the 21 cities will rise by 2.1 degrees Celsius by 2050 and by 4.4 degrees Celsius by 2080. Then they used these temperature to evaluate the suitability of the 21 cities. They found that this would make 13 of the cities unreliable to host the Olympics by 2080.

Calgary did not make the “too hot” list. But Vancouver did!

That might sound grim - but those findings are what would happen if greenhouse gas emissions kept rising. The temperature rises would be much lower if greenhouse gas emissions went down.

So what are ski resorts doing about all this?

If you live near a ski resort, check out their website or social media page. Chances are, they’re making artificial snow with snow machines. This keeps the skiers and snowboarders coming on days when there isn’t much natural snow. But it also uses a lot of power and water. Activities like these emit greenhouse gases, further contributing to climate change.

It might also be a temporary solution. That’s because some scientists predict that by the end of this century, many resorts may be too warm even for artificial snow!

What can I do?

All of this means that it’s important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There are things you can do in everyday life to help reduce your carbon footprint (the amount of greenhouse gas emissions you cause). You may already know that it’s important to drive cars less often, but did you know it’s also important to eat less meat? Or to waste less food? Little steps like these could add up to more time on the slopes!

Let’s talk about it!

  • Do you enjoy any winter activities? Which ones? How will climate change impact them?
  • Do you watch the Winter Olympics? Why or why not?
  • What small change can you make today to reduce your carbon footprint?
  • Winter Olympics (and sporting events in general) can produce a lot of greenhouse gases. Do you feel like the benefits outweigh the costs in holding events like this?

Learn more

Climate Change Could Stop These 13 Cities From Hosting the Winter Olympics Again (2018)
J. Worland, TIME

Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in the Face of Climate Change (2018)
University of Waterloo

The changing geography of the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in a warmer world (2018)
D. Scott, R. Steiger, M. Rutty & Y. Fang, Current Issues in Tourism

Climate change impacts Winter Olympic preparation (2017)
The Associated Press


This is content has that been provided for use on the CurioCity website.

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