"the cool thing about science is that it's true whether you believe it or not."
- Neil deGrasse Tyson
It would come as no surprise to anyone watching political discourse in this country that climate change is a hot topic. What could be a watershed moment in the embarrassing history books of the future could be Oklahoma republican Jim Inhofe bringing a snowball into the Senate to disprove the theory. There are a few clever responses to this exact type of rhetoric:
It must be said that the initial use of the verbiage "global warming," created some rather convenient holes for political opponents and the scientifically-challenged to aim for. The much more apt "climate change" has been adopted since and, though the overwhelming evidence is that the planet is warming, has proven to be a much more apt method of spreading the word on what is happening. Still, many cannot quite wrap their head around the idea since its snowing in Atlanta. This little graphic from NASA (2010) should help explain:
Like temperatures of air like to follow the path of least resistance and will often funnel into larger groups. In each part of the world you can expect areas to be colder on average relative to the warmer areas as the colder air coalesces into groupings. This also means the larger walls of colder and warmer air colliding create some rather strong storms and weather conditions. The east coast and mid-west of the US is a glaring example of that right now. (Edit: This also means "super typhoons" like the one spectacularly pictured below from space will be more commonplace. Click the pic to blow that bad boy up.)
There is an ever-growing debate on the cause of these things and it has bogged down the much more pressing issue; the planet is warming, the climate is changing - what are we going to do about that inevitable future? Regardless of human-induced change, it would appear this runaway pattern needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later. How much sooner?
California's water supply has been in the news recently. A mis-quoted article made it seem as though the state only had one year of water supply left. In fact, the emergency reservoirs only have one year left (they usually hold about two years' supply), but when that becomes a primary source of water consumption it will become a much more dire situation. Even so, the prospects of continued, intensive drought are not particularly appealing to most in the state and especially the badly-damaged snow tourism industry.
What should be frightening to those of us that work in this industry is just how important the winter has been for most of these retailers. Clothing continues to perform just fine as the US has obviously had no shortage of potential customers looking to stay warm. Where the industry looks to take a massive hit is in the hardware - skis, snowboards, and the rest.
This has resulted in a number of manufacturers issuing statements regarding their future plans. Forward-thinking companies have already begun to slash their profits knowing full well they may have to do so in the future if climate change continues down its current path. Better to adjust your business model while there's plenty of cash and customers available than to be in an emergency situation where throwing the right dart the right direction might be the only real answer.
Those of us that love this industry and want to see it continue to thrive and be relevant will most likely need to adopt two positions - and neither of these positions will be popular with the rest of the country. I say 'rest of the country,' - less than 10% of Americans ski or snowboard. They don't rightly care if we are low on snow - in fact, they'd prefer to think of it as a hindrance and downright dangerous to the ill-prepared.
Position number one involves a shift to a business model that is less "weather-dependent." Most standalone ski shops are struggling to offset their warm winters with bike business. The bike business itself is a tough one that relies heavily on accessories and service to be profitable. Successful bike shops often bring something else to the table as a means of drawing customers. But shops that are still around that are not able to offer unique feel often have to rely on more traditional sports to supplement their business. There's your first piece of free advice - attack high-markup categories like running and fitness apparel to help with a terrible winter. The big upshot to this is most ski shops are quite adept at understanding apparel technology and fitting ski boots - the shoe fitting process involves just a tad more knowledge of arches and running shoe mechanics, something most ski employees can handle fairly effortlessly.
The second position involves sustainability. We hear that word a lot without contemplating what it actually means. Sustainability isn't just operating all of your lights on a timer, switching to paper over plastic, and recycling. It means simplifying systems to use less electricity, printers to use less ink and paper, and locations to allow for more forms of transport. Installing bike racks, getting involved with city planners to make urban areas more "walkable" (to see what that looks like - check out Portland), and looking at simplifying to clever business models that are all-encompassing but require less waste - in the forms of light pollution, paper waste, water consumption, and electricity use.
The warning I will pass along is this trend of warming temperatures and shifting climates largely seems to be a trend that is only growing - and should be dealt with like some of the companies earlier-referenced are; by attacking the problem while the going is still (marginally) good.
And at that I'll leave this little quote for you. A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.
Get to work.