As our country and the world continues to deal with the increasing effects of climate change, many of us have witnessed the toll that rising temperatures and sea levels have taken on large urban centers and coastal areas. Or in the least, we can recognize that these areas are incredibly vulnerable to the changes coming in the foreseeable future. Yet those of us living here in the intermountain west have also probably seen the great impact that rising temperatures have had on our relationship to and dependence on nature, particularly during the winter months. One way we can track our valley’s climate change is by monitoring carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere (co2.utah.edu). This winter, along our 487 protected acres at University of Utah Heritage preserve, these levels are reading 449ppm. According to researchers, the safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 350 parts per million and the last time carbon dioxide levels measured this high on earth, humans didn’t exist.
Along with the greenhouse gases, a sense of uncertainty fills the air as cold weather approaches, causing us to wonder how the coming season will play out. Winter is an incredibly important season in Utah, both for the economy and our happiness in being able to connect with the outdoors on a pair of skis or a snowboard. The winter of 2014-2015 ended as the warmest, least snowy winter on record. The difference between a dry winter and a snowy one can cost the state up to $87 million in revenue and the loss of about 1,000 jobs, according to the NRDC. Not to mention that countless Utah residents have specifically decided to build a life in this area because of their love for winter sports.
Luckily, the ski industry and those that thrive off of plentiful snow are not unaware or apathetic to the climate changes and economic threats that winter sports towns like ours are facing. With such projects as Protect Our Winters, Mountain Pact, and the Environmental Charter for Ski Areas, organizations and agreements seek to advocate for climate change legislation, reduce emissions and the use of natural resources within the winter sports industry, and continue to protect and preserve open land. Here in the office, we see everyday the necessity to conserve our natural areas. Land conservation helps absorb greenhouse gases, prevents future emissions that would result from development, and builds resilience and the necessary habitats for animals to adapt and thrive. The triple benefit is that when we dedicate our time to preserving open lands, we give ourselves the gift of being able to connect with nature on a regular basis.