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Katie Siegner,
Wisconsin Environment
Megan Severson,
Wisconsin Environment Research and Policy Center

Global Warming has Winter Games Skating on Thin Ice

For Immediate Release

Madison, WI – Today, as the world’s attention remains captured by the Sochi Olympic Games, Wisconsin Environment released a summary of global warming impacts on Winter Olympic sports, and highlighted the need to act urgently to reduce the carbon pollution fueling global warming.

“When it comes to the future of winter sports, global warming has us skating on thin ice,” said Sofie Madden with Wisconsin Environment. “There’s still time to keep from sliding off the edge by going after the biggest sources of the carbon pollution fueling global warming.”

Wisconsin Environment pointed to increased rate of snow melt, shorter winters, drought, and a shrinking map of reliable winter host sites to show how climate impacts are threatening the Winter Olympic Games. They also warned that unchecked global warming could accelerate these changes. At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, organizers trucked in and manufactured tons of extra snow. The unusually warm conditions that trigger these extreme measures could become the new normal.

Power plants that burn fossil fuels like coal and gas are the largest sources of carbon pollution in the U.S., and here in Wisconsin they’re responsible for over 40% of our state’s carbon emissions. But while there are limits on smog, soot, and other dangerous pollution from power plants, there are no federal limits on the industrial carbon pollution power plants emit.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently accepting public comments on its proposal to start limiting carbon pollution from new power plants, and plans to propose limits on carbon from existing power plants in June. Americans have already submitted 4 million comments to the EPA supporting limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

"Global climate change is the most significant issue facing the City of Madison,” said Alder Scott Resnick, President Pro Tempore of the Madison Common Council. “Unpredictable winters will have major impact on wildlife, tourism, and recreational sports that make living in Madison great. Understating the threat of a changing climate, the City has created policies to reduce salt usage, invested in sustainable building practices to reduce carbon emissions, expanded curbside composting, and funded hybrid buses and City vehicles. We hope other private industries will follow the City's lead."

The Winter Olympic Games aren’t the only victims of climate change – scientists are seeing global warming’s fingerprints on the polar vortexes that have hit the Midwest this winter, as well as the long-term trend of fewer ice-cover days on Madison’s lakes, chronicled by UW Center for Limnology emeritus professor John Magnuson. Extreme weather, warming global temperatures, and air pollution worsened by heat waves are already exacting a huge toll on Wisconsin’s businesses, public health and safety.

“Businesses like ours depend on cold weather and reliable, heavy snowfall,” said John Hutchinson, president of Fontana Sports, where the press conference was held. “A trend has been documented of less ice-covered days on Lakes Mendota and Monona, with a 29-35 day decline over the last 150 years, according to the Climate Wisconsin website. The 2009/2010 winter tourism industry added $648 million to the Wisconsin economy. If we want to preserve our vibrant winter outdoor recreation heritage, we need to act to curb the carbon emissions fueling global warming.”

“President Obama has committed to protecting our children and grandchildren from the worst impacts of global warming, but the EPA’s proposal to limit carbon pollution from power plants is not yet in place,” concluded Madden. “The fossil fuel industry and their allies in Congress are already lining up to block the president’s plan. Wisconsin’s leaders must show their support for climate action.”

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Wisconsin Environment is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy group. For more information, visit www.wisconsinenvironment.org.