Millions of American are tuning in to watch the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea and one of the ads they are seeing features a strong message on sustainability from Toyota. Showing ice sculptures of athletes melting, the company is promoting their hybrid vehicles and says it wants “to help keep our winters, winter”. It is a poignant and timely message as our global temperature warms and the viability of many previous Winter Olympic host sites is declining.
Since the first winter games were held in 1924, the month of February – the traditional time of year for this global event – has increased an average of 1.82°F worldwide. If this current rate of warming continues, according to Climate Matters, only 6 of the 19 past host sites will be reliable future venues by the end of the century. Under a business as usual scenario, previous host cities, on average, are expected to see a temperature increase of 7.9°F by the 2080s. Significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions would reduce that warming to 4.86°F
Warming winters also affect athletes’ ability to train. In the US, NOAA says winter temperatures have increased almost twice the rate of summer temperatures. If this trend continues, some areas are likely to see the ski season cut in half by 2050. This truncated season correspondingly means an economic hit for the winter sports and recreation industry. These businesses, according to Protect Our Winters, contribute $72 billion to the national economy annually and support more than 600,000 jobs.
The 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia were the warmest winter games on record.