Seasonal workers who rely upon winter jobs to make their living are already being negatively affected by climate change. How will industries that count on snow and cold weather shift in the years ahead?
Even if you enjoy winter, by this time of year, you might find yourself feeling excited to see it go. It’s almost time to put away the boots and shovels until next year. However, if you’re one of the folks who works a seasonal winter job, you might be wishing for an extended season.
The cold and snowy winter months have a big impact on the economy, and the culture, of certain regions of the United States. There is significant evidence that suggests that climate change is already affecting winter work. How much have things already changed — and what’s next?
Climate and the economy
Many individuals and families rely upon snowfall in one way or another to support themselves. Jeremy Jones, who lives in a mountain town in California, recently wrote a piece for the New York Times about the impact of climate change on his region of the country. He points out that a big snow season provides an economic boost to these kinds of areas, whereas a shorter season can be devastating.
“A report to be released this month by the group Protect Our Winters, which I founded, shows that tens of thousands of jobs are at stake in mountain towns as our climate warms,” he wrote in the New York Times piece. “In total, the 191,000 jobs supported by snow sports in the 2015-16 winter season generated $6.9 billion in wages, while adding $11.3 billion in economic value to the national economy.”
Jones reports that the past three years were the hottest ever measured in his region. The winters are warmer, too. The snowpack, he reports, is at just 14 percent of the historical average for the middle of February.
Climate change is, in fact, having an effect all over the country, despite the fact that skepticism and doubt persist. Climate change will continue to shift the weather, which will impact the economy in all kinds of ways.
“Rising global average temperature is associated with widespread changes in weather patterns,” reports the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Scientific studies indicate that extreme weather events such as heat waves and large storms are likely to become more frequent or more intense with human-induced climate change.”
Climate change impacts culture, too
The impact of climate change extends beyond the realm of the economy. It impacts culture, too. Winter sports are a part of life for many individuals and families. Plus, cultural institutions, like the Winter Olympics for example, could ultimately be in jeopardy as well. If the availability of winter sports opportunities was altered there would be a significant economic impact, not just a cultural one.
“The world of winter sports is changing as the global climate continues to warm and elite winter athletes are witnessing the impacts of climate change at competition and summer training locations,” said Daniel Scott a professor of geography and environmental management at the University of Waterloo. “The climate in many traditional winter sports regions isn’t what it used to be, and fewer and fewer places will be able to host the Olympic Winter Games as global warming accelerates.”
In fact, research from the University of Waterloo, which involved research teams from Austria and China as well as Canada, predict that only eight of the 21 cities that have previously hosted the Winter Olympics will still be able to do so by the end of the century.
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Many individuals, families and geographic regions will be Affected
You don’t have to live and work in a vacation mountain town, ski or have any ties or interest in the Winter Olympics to feel the effects of climate change. Many people rely upon winter wages to stay afloat financially.
More than 1800 snowplow drivers are employed by the state of Minnesota alone. And they just keep the state highways clear. Towns employ drivers, too. Plus, many snowplow operators work independently, finding work assisting local residents with snow removal around their homes and businesses. It difficult to estimate how many snowplow drivers work each winter in the U.S., or how much they earn. But, the figures are significant.
Climate change poses a threat to other jobs, of course, and not all of them are connect to the winter season. The farming and agriculture industry, for example, is intrinsically tied to climate and weather. Ultimately, these industries affect everyone’s finances.
The future of certain seasonal employment opportunities is unclear. We do know that as climate change accelerates, so will shifts to the job market and the economy. The impact, ultimately, will affect everyone — no matter what their industry.
Tell us what you think
How does climate change impact your work? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.