Our View: More than skiing at stake in climate crisis

Along Route 30 in Dummerston, just outside of Brattleboro, the lift chairs of Maple Valley ski area have sat motionless above the slope for years, patiently waiting to carry skiers up the hill.

If you're interested in owning your own ski area, the online listing says it's 374 acres, including a 16,000 square foot lodge, two chair lifts and pumps to carry water for snowmaking up the mountain from the West River.

According to published reports, Maple Valley was listed for sale at $950,000 this past summer. Given its proximity to Brattleboro and Interstate 91, and the fact that it has lights for night skiing, one wonders why no one has made a run at bringing the place back to life as a entry-level mountain catering to families, first-timers and students.

Whatever the reason for its continued closure, it's sad to see it empty. A lot of happy memories were made on those trails.

Maple Valley is not the first little ski area to fall by the wayside in a notoriously tough industry. There are lots of reasons for that, from workforce and equipment costs to liability insurance. And yet, the ski industry contributes $1.6 billion overall and $900 million directly to the Vermont economy, according to Ski Vermont, a trade association representing the industry in the state.

But there's another threat to Vermont's ski economy, one that could take down every single ski area large and small, and it's not showing signs of letting up.

Sure, we've had plenty of snow here this week, and seasonal temperatures that have kept the snow on lawns and breathtaking frost capping the Green Mountains. The ski season seems to be off to a strong start as a result.

But around the north and south poles, Mother Nature is serving notice around the globe that something is dreadfully wrong and we'd better wake up.

This week, The Washington Post reported that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers realized the climate data for Barrow, Alaska, on the Arctic coast of Alaska, was missing. They figured out why: The computer algorithms the agency had designed to filter out erroneous data had excluded Barrow's rapidly-rising temperatures, as if they were impossible.

They're real, all right. And frightening. Since 2000, the average temperatures in Barrow have risen by 7.8 degrees in October. 6.9 degrees in November and 4.7 degrees in December.

The impact of climate change in the Arctic is shocking and troubling. Without sea ice to reflect sunlight, the temperatures around the north pole are likely to rise faster. The permafrost is melting and turning the tundra into mud.

Meanwhile, two major glaciers in Antarctica are shedding ice at an alarming rate. This fall, the Pine Island glacier lost a chunk of ice measuring 100 square miles — four times the size of Manhattan. If the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers melted, ocean levels would eventually rise not by inches, but by four feet.

In a world growing warmer and increasingly choked by greenhouse gases, there's not going to be much skiing. And that's the least of our worries. This past summer's devastating hurricane season may be an object lesson of what we can expect from warmer seas — flooding and widespread destruction.

If major cities flooded by hurricanes, video of emaciated polar bears starving to death in Iceland and satellite images of ginormous icebergs breaking off glaciers in Antarctica can't get Americans to realize they need to change their tunes about climate change, we're not sure what will.

But Vermont is still trying. Republican Gov. Phil Scott, in a break with most of his national party's slavish devotion to the Koch brothers and their dirty campaign money, has remained on the correct side of science — if not as aggressively as some in the state would like. He has, for example, kept the state committed to the Paris Climate Accords and to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nine-state, bipartisan effort to curb fossil fuel emissions in northeastern states from Maryland to Maine.

Scott has previously pointed out that Vermont could benefit from becoming an innovation hub for renewable energy technology that will only become more important in years to come. He seems to understand that the environment is important to his constituents and to the state's future.

But can Vermont do more?

Like the rest of the U.S., Vermont is addicted to fossil fuels. It powers a lot of our electricity, our cars and our public transit options. Saying we ought to stop burning fossil fuels entirely by 2050 is well and good, but it's easy to say that — and much harder to do it. Moving to electric cars, for example, seems like a great idea — until you realize that without fossil fuel-fired power plants, there's not enough renewable energy available just yet to generate the electricity to charge all those electric car batteries.

But if we do nothing, Maple Valley won't be the only ski area with empty chair lifts.


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