Winter Olympics Threatened by Climate Change

This year’s winter Olympics may unfortunately be one of the greatest opportunities to show a global audience the catastrophic impacts of climate change. The average February temperature in Sochi has been around 50 degrees F, making these Games easily the warmest winter Olympics to date. Temperatures on some days have even crept into the 60s, warmer than temperatures experienced even in some previous Summer Olympics. This has raised complaints from competing athletes, as snow turns to slush on race courses and in the halfpipe.

Scientific evidence shows that Arctic regions, including Alaska, Canada, and parts of Russia, are warming twice as fast as the global average, with some areas experiencing temperature increases of 4-5 degrees F since the 1950s. A major reason for this increased warming is due to the ‘ice-albedo feedback’ cycle, in which warming air temperatures speed the melting of white, heat-reflective polar ice and turn it into dark, heat-absorbing sea water. As Arctic regions continue to warm, conditions become increasingly less suitable for future winter Olympics. An infographic by Climate Central notes that, by 2080, only six of the previous 19 Winter Olympic host cities will be cold enough to reliably host the Games again.

Sochi Olympics

Source: USA Today

Olympic participants are coming to realize the major threats of climate change. Already, more than 100 Olympic athletes at Sochi have signed a petition to urge world leaders to address climate change by reducing emissions and adopting clean energy alternatives. The petition, called Olympic Athletes Against Climate Change, was created by Protect Our Winters, a climate change advocacy group founded by U.S. Olympic snowboarder Jeremy Jones in 2007.

The impacts of climate change are being felt beyond just the winter sporting community. Warming winters threaten our health, freshwater sources, food supply, and biodiversity. Sochi should serve as a wake-up call to everyone: taking action today to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will increase the likelihood that fresh water and robust crop yields (not to mention winter Olympians) will be around for years to come.

Featured image courtesy of Huffington Post