Better

I spent the last six months thinking about climate change’s effects on winter, and during that time I developed a sense of how the climate of one small valley in New Hampshire (population ~15,000) will change in the future. If carbon emissions continue unchecked through the end of this century (mind you, that’s 80 years out), winter as the Mount Washington Valley knows it today will not exist. Things look much better if we get emissions under control soon.

Now, I do not harbor an illusion that the disappearance of ice and snow in the MWV is the worst impact of unmitigated climate change. But in light of the current political rancor surrounding the disappearance of coal jobs (there are 50,600 by July’s count) and concurrent development of coal resources on federal lands, I believe there is an opportunity to address some other working-class jobs that will be devoured as snowpacks are. In 2015 there were approximately 73,200 jobs in the downhill ski industry in the United States, about 1/3 of which are in the east. Skiing is the main driver in winter tourism in the MWV and many other northeastern mountain towns. Coal towns in southern Appalachia hollowed out when coal jobs went away. What will happen to ski towns in northern Appalachia? Mountain biking in cold gloomy rain?

In any one-on-one discussion of how to move forward ‘as a society’ to reduce emissions, there is nothing I can say to convince a science denier to pay attention to Bill Nye. But I have long wondered why more US citizens who are climate believers do not demand climate change action from their congresspeople… ultimately I think it boils down to a dearth of dinner table conversations. There are a lot of believers out there, just look at these statistics of common climate beliefs:

70% of people believe climate change is happening;

– 58% of people are worried about climate change;

– 33% discuss the topic of climate change.

A lot of people believe in—and worry about—climate change. People just don’t talk about the issue. This is probably because we’ve got other things to worry about and climate change is a big scary problem somewhere off in the future. That, and there’s a lot of catastrophic language floating about which makes it a straight-up depressing topic. We can’t do much about it unless everyone gets on board. Why worry about it now?

Well, one good reason is because many of the world’s biggest problems are tied up in this one — inequality, conflict, hunger. To address these challenges everyone has to play a tiny part relative to the whole problem. By playing it well we have an opportunity to promote change through our relationships and communities. I’ve started to feel pretty hypocritical about my personal impacts. As a ice climber, winter-lover, and self-proclaimed environmentalist, I have lived my life by ‘best intentions’ while burning, baby, burning. While I’ve largely avoided real action to reduce my impacts, the best way I can see to move forward is to wake up and ask myself each day “How can I behave a little better today, and encourage others to do so?” Forming good habits is a tough process, but it boils down to incremental action: a little better, every day.

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