FES students warn of warming Olympics

(From left to right) Bo Uuganbayar, Diana Madson, Tom Owens, Kaylee Weil, and Taylor Rees.
(From left to right) Bo Uuganbayar, Diana Madson, Tom Owens, Kaylee Weil, and Taylor Rees. Photo by Hannah Schwarz .

In February, five students from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies will warn the world that the winter Olympics may someday be an event of the past.

While the long-term effects of climate change are hard to detect, Team Climate plans to make the impact of global warming more tangible by highlighting its impact on many events at the winter games. Through encouraging the athletes to share how climate change has affected their sports, the group hopes to expose the game’s global audience to both the immediate impact and the less tangible — but more severe — long-term effects.

“By targeting the winter sports community, we’ll be reaching spectators or sports fans who don’t normally read The New York Times and aren’t interested in climate change,” said Diana Madson FES ’14, one of the students working on the project.

The Yale group, which received funding both from external foundations and F&ES, found Olympic athletes passionate about climate change by tapping into the Protect Our Winters Riders Alliance, a group of about 50 winter sports athletes who have pledged to join a climate change-awareness campaign, said Taylor Rees FES ’14. Beyond accessing this network, the team has simply cold called, emailed, and searched through social media, said Kaylee Weil ’12 FES ’14. So far, the team has partnered with Olympic gold-medal mogul skier Hannah Kearney and former alpine ski racer Kaylin Richardson.

The team is currently in the process of contacting mainstream news outlets to encourage them to cover the impact of climate change on winter sports. While about 75 percent of coverage is preplanned, Weil said the group hopes that media outlets infuse the remaining time with some coverage of climate change.

In addition to encouraging athletes to share their personal stories about the impact of climate change on their sports, the Yale team will publish articles on their own blog that discuss how these climate change symptoms forecast even worse events to come, Weil said.

“To frame it as just a situation where skiers and snowboarders only get a couple of weeks left of practicing massively overlooks a humanitarian crisis,” Madson said.

She added that targeting the winter sports community — an influential and wealthy cohort — will help translate their efforts in Russia to policy change in Washington.

According to the World Health Organization, climate change is responsible for around 150,000 deaths per year.

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