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December 07, 2012
US Winter Tourism Endangered by Climate Change
    by Robert Kropp

A report prepared for the Natural Resources Defense Council and Protect Our Winters warns that the winter tourism industry could disappear in regions of the US if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase.

Here in Vermont, as elsewhere across the northern US, the economy is heavily reliant upon the winter tourism industry. In a state with a total population of just over 600,000, more than 13,000 were employed in the industry during the winter of 2009-10.

Needless to say, the financial health of the winter tourism industry is threatened by the impacts of climate change, especially as the trend toward warmer winters has been felt most acutely in the northern US. "The ramifications of changing snow fall patterns are already altering people's outdoor habits," according to a new study analyzing the potential effects of climate change on winter tourism, "taking an economic toll on the ski resort industry of over $1 billion in the last decade."

The report, authored by University of New Hampshire researchers Elizabeth Burakowski and Matthew Magnusson, was prepared for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Protect Our Winters (POW). "Climate change is already happening and we are seeing its effects every day," the authors state.

"On average, a nationwide low-snowfall year results in an estimated 15.2 million fewer skier visits, $1.07 billion in lost potential revenue at ski resorts, nearly 13,000 fewer jobs, and $810 million less value added to the US economy as compared to a nationwide high-snowfall year," the report continues.

Furthermore, if winter temperatures continue to warm significantly throughout the century—a scenario increasingly likely to occur, as current mitigation efforts fall far short of what is needed—the winter tourism industry could well disappear completely in many areas of the US. In the Northeast, the number of days with snow cover could decrease by as much as 75%. And the mean snow depth at Rocky Mountain resorts could drop to zero, if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue to rise.

Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most prevalent of GHGs, reached a record 9.5 billion metric tons in 2011, and are expected to be even higher in 2012, according to a recent analysis by the Global Carbon Project (GCP).

"We need to protect the laws we have, specifically the Environmental Protection Agency's authority under the Clean Air Act to set carbon pollution standards for major polluting industries," the report concludes. "And we need to put in place policies and standards for the longer term that will ensure that vibrant, prosperous winters endure for generations to come."


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