Climate Change Threatens Future of Winter Olympics

by The Cowl Editor on February 8, 2018


Olympic rings with a snowy background
photo courtesy ofJulian Finney / Getty Images

by Taylor Godfrey ’19

Opinion Co-Editor

From hockey to skiing to ice dancing to curling, there are plenty of sports to get excited about during the Winter Olympics. The games are a time to come together as an entire world and to celebrate not only our differing nationalities but also our commonalities as one human race. But how can we come together as a world if that very same world is the one we are slowly killing?

The 2018 Winter Olympics start this Friday, February 9, in PyeongChang, South Korea, and according to research reported by The New York Times and conducted by Daniel Scott at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, PyeongChang may soon be one of the only cities in the world left able to host the winter games

Scott analyzed data from past Olympic host cities as well as climate change models to determine that in 50 years, nine of the previous host cities will be too warm to host the Winter Games again. This data is staggering, considering that two of the cities, Sochi, Russia and Vancouver, Canada, each played host to the Winter Olympics in the last 10 years. Yet by the middle of the century, neither will likely have cold enough temperatures to host them again.

Climate change can often seem like a vague problem, distant from our everyday lives. We do not feel a dramatic rise in temperature every time we throw out a styrofoam cup or fill up our cars with gasoline. Yet, this study puts the problems with global warming into perspective.

Temperatures rising just a few degrees can spell disaster for many venues of outdoor sports. According to the Times article, temperatures were so warm during the last Winter Olympics in Sochi that some sports, like the snowboard halfpipe, became downright dangerous due to unsuitable conditions.

This could affect the future of the Olympics as well. If future elite athletes no longer have access to the frozen ponds and snowy hills where many get their start, how many people will be able to participate in future Winter Olympic Games?

And this problem does not just pertain to elite events like the Olympics. If rising temperatures threaten the places where Olympic Games have historically been held, they will threaten the places where ordinary people go to ski or snowboard or skate as well. If places in Canada and Scandinavia are no longer able to support outdoor winter sports, that will certainly limit the areas accessible to, say, students living in Providence, Rhode Island.

During the 2014 Winter Olympics, 105 athletes partnered with environmental advocacy group Protect Our Winters to release a statement calling on more government commitments to stop climate change, according to National Geographic. Now, four years later, the same problems continue to persist.

And while big environmental change should come from governments and organizations with power, there are things ordinary people can do as well. Using reusable containers or water bottles to reduce waste, or carpooling or taking advantage of mass transportation options to limit carbon emissions, are a good start.

This is not just about changing actions, but shifting an entire mindset around global warming and climate change. It affects everyone, and no, saying “Well, I’m more of a Summer Olympics person” is not an excuse.

The Olympic Games are a good reminder that while we all come from different places and diverse backgrounds, there is one thing we all have in common: we all call this planet home. And it is the only one we have, so we have to make an effort to protect it, not only for the future of winter sports as we know them, but for every future person who will someday call this planet home too.