Torino 06 Gophers and global warming

Having a winter makes the Winter Olympics possible.

As the Olympic torch continues to burn in Torino, Italy, athletes from all over the world vie for gold, silver and bronze medals in hundreds of winter events. For Minnesotans, the Winter Olympics are special, because many of the stateís natives are champion athletes in the featured sports.

In hockey, in particular, five current and former Gophers womenís hockey players lead the 20-member Olympic womenís hockey team. The menís hockey team features one former Gopher and three Minnesota natives. Skiers and snowboarders from Minnesota also are competing in Torino.

What makes the Winter Olympics possible? Of course having a winter does, in addition to the scenic mountains needed to build courses for skiers and snowboarders, as well as tracks for the bobsled, luge and skeleton events. Now we must consider what impacts society will have on these luxuries ó even the luxury of cold weather ó we now take for granted. Building the courses, jumps and tracks needed for the Torino Olympics cuts into pristine mountain ecosystems. The organizing committee did an admirable job of offsetting tree removal with planting trees elsewhere and also tried to use clean fuels and recycle waste. According to the WWF (formerly the World Wildlife Fund) Alpine program director, ìIt could have been better, but it could have been a lot worse.” That is high praise from a strongly critical, ìgreen” organization. Hopefully, the ecosystems affected will be restored when the games end.

What about winter, in general? Global warming might preclude winter games in the future because there will not be cold enough weather to support it. Hundreds of years in the future? Perhaps. But if the industrialized world doesnít start watching what it dumps into the air, that day might come sooner rather than later. A fantasy along the lines of ìWaterworld”? Maybe, but winters are already getting warmer. A natural cycle of the earth toward a warmer climate? Possible, but why speed up the process with greenhouse gases and other dangerous pollutants? During these Olympic games, cheer on the Gophers competing for their nation, but remember what allows us to enjoy these games in the first place.