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July 22, 2007

Global Warming Attacks Artificial Snowmaking

The Times of London offers up this commentary on artificial snowmaking and global warming as well as the need for environmental activism.

As an example of chronic and pig-headed frivolity, the snow machine has a lot to answer for. It is wasteful, energy-inefficient and environmentally indefensible. A single ski resort needs as much electricity as a small village just to keep its snowmaking systems going, and they are insatiable consumers of water. To cover one hectare (or 2.5 acres) of a snow slope, which may last less than a day, a snowmaking system needs 880 gallons of water; to cover all of the slopes in the Alps that have artificial snowmaking facilities, the annual demand has been estimated at 20 billion gallons of water, or enough to satisfy the needs of a city of 1.5 million inhabitants. Because alpine resorts are, despite their icy surroundings, often short of water, these precious supplies must either be stored on site or ferried up by helicopter. The Swiss, veteran users of airborne travel, favour the latter. The French dig reservoirs. The Austrians do both.

It would be hard to conjure up a more potent symbol of environmental perversity than the use of carbon-spewing fossil fuels to help to dispose of millions of gallons of carefully extracted water in order that a few thousand tourists can slide down a slope for an extra week...

For some reason, sport, leisure, wildlife and the general pursuit of happiness remain impenetrable barriers to perfectly sensible attempts to introduce alternative sources of energy and stem the ravages of climate change. In Scotland, the expansion of the wind farm industry has been slowed and often halted by objections that range from complaints that too many pylons spoil the view to suggestions that the occasional absent-minded hawk might collide with a propeller. In Perthshire, where the inhabitants of Dunkeld are proposing an energy-efficient and well-landscaped hydroelectric scheme on the River Braan, the plans have been thrown out by the National Environment Agency because the river is used by a few dozen canoeists every year.

Yet if we take the warnings about climate change with any degree of seriousness, we have to change our terms of reference. Instead of hailing the inventiveness of the ski resort that makes its own snow, we should accept the harsh reality that nature has terminally curtailed the skiing season. Much as we cherish our birds of prey, we should remember that their prospects of survival are threatened not so much by a freak collision as by the three-degree rise in global temperatures that will occur in the next 50 years if we do not manage to wean ourselves off a reliance on oil and gas. Stuff the skiers, sink the canoeists, gag the bird-lovers; this is a battle for survival, not an exercise in self-indulgence.

So let me get this straight... it is environmentally friendly to build hydroelectric dams to create electricity because that replaces the need for a fossil fueled coal plant. I like it. Makes sense. Then why does the Sierra Club want to drain Lake Powell?

There aren’t many silver linings to drought, but severe conditions in the Southwest are doing what the mighty U.S. Bureau of Reclamation won’t do. Since 1996, the Sierra Club and other groups have led a campaign to drain Lake Powell, which (when full) holds 7.8 trillion gallons of Colorado River water behind the agency’s 710-foot-tall Glen Canyon Dam near the Arizona-Utah border. Until recently, environmentalists could only rely on aging photos and lyrical accounts by the likes of Ed Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and explorer John Wesley Powell to convey a sense of the breathtaking arches and alcoves, labyrinthine side canyons, and sheer walls that were relegated to a watery tomb in 1966.

Let me use the article's own words--For some reason, sport, leisure, wildlife and the general pursuit of happiness remain impenetrable barriers to perfectly sensible attempts to introduce alternative sources of energy and stem the ravages of climate change.

Either we are in a war against Climate Change or we aren't. Either we all must make sacrifices for the common good or we shouldn't. So if we destroy a few species of almost extinct animals so that we can develop industries with a smaller carbon footprint, surely the end justifies the means. Concerts with no call to action and no tangible actions that could come from them and where people use plastic cups and create piles of trash while using tons of electricity and jet fuel for private flights don't answer these questions. The Sierra Club against all development so as to say we need to stop eating, decrease the human population and live in the dark so the world can be more natural. The Sierra Club says switching from Coal Power to Nuclear Power is:

Switching from dirty coal plants to dangerous nuclear power is like giving up smoking cigarettes and taking up crack.

Too many decisions. And most developing nations simply ignore all of it and focus on growing their economies. Nuclear is taking off in China because it is cheap and doesn't displace millions like 3 gorges. Plus it doesn't pollute their cities that are already so polluted you cannot breathe. No one can agree on how to combat things. Some say ski resorts need to make snow in order to stay viable. Others say snowmaking is exactly the kind of luxury excess that has led us to global warming. Maybe the nutjobs that defaced the H2 should start busting up snowmaking machines next.

Posted by Justin at July 22, 2007 11:40 AM