David Suzuki: The future of outdoor ice rinks is at risk

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      One benefit of the National Hockey League strike: it gave people time to play outside on real ice! But outdoor skating could face the same difficulties as the NHLa drastically shorter season or outright cancellation. Research from Montreal’s McGill and Concordia universities shows global warming is already having an effect on outdoor rinks in Canada.

      “Many locations across the country have seen significant decreases in the length of the OSS [outdoor skating season], as measured by the number of cold winter days conducive to the creation of rink ice,” their study states. “This is particularly true across the Prairies, and in Southwest Canada, which showed the largest (and most statistically significant) decreases in the calculated OSS length between 1951 and 2005.”

      This echoes a 2009 David Suzuki Foundation report, “On Thin Ice: Winter Sports and Climate Change”. The McGill investigation looks at constructed outdoor rinks while DSF’s focuses on frozen rivers, canals and lakes, but the conclusions are similar. Both predict that, unless we rein in greenhouse gas emissions, outdoor skating in parts of Canada could be history within the next 50 to 100 years (the McGill study’s authors now say it could happen within 20 to 30 years), and the length of the outdoor skating season will continue to decline across the country.

      Meanwhile, at Ontario’s Wilfrid Laurier University, geographers have launched www.RinkWatch.org, a website where people can record information about backyard or neighbourhood rink conditions over the winter.

      “Our hope is that Canadians from coast to coast will help us track changes in skating conditions, not just this year, but for many years to come,” associate professor Robert McLeman said in a release. “This data will help us determine the impact of climate change on winter in terms of length of season and average temperatures.”

      According to the DSF report, one of Canada’s best-loved outdoor skating venues, Ottawa’s Rideau Canal, provides an example of what to expect. It concludes that, with current emissions trends, the canal’s skating season could shrink from the previous average of nine weeks to 6.5 weeks by 2020, less than six weeks by 2050 and just one week by the end of the century. In fact, two winters ago, the season lasted 7.5 weeks, and last year it was down to four. The canal had yet to fully open for skating when this column was written.

      On Thin Ice” notes that many of Canada’s hockey heroes got their start on outdoor rinks. “Without pond hockey, we probably wouldn’t have what has become the modern game of hockey,” the authors state. The DSF study says climate change could have a profound effect on many other winter sports, from skiing and snowboarding to winter mountaineering.

      With food and water problems caused by more frequent droughts and floods, property losses and high infrastructure costs from rising sea levels, and increasing illness and death from extreme weather and pollution, hockey may be the least of our worries. But losing winter recreation opportunities, let alone our ability to produce food and keep our homes warm and people healthy, needn’t happen. Solutions to our human-created problems exist. We just need our leaders to start taking this and other environmental issues seriously.

      That’s not likely as long as we keep electing people who show more concern for the future of the fossil fuel industry than the citizens they are supposed to represent. Politicians who only look ahead three or four yearsuntil the next electionaren’t seeing the big picture.

      We need to consider every solution possible, nowfrom putting a price on emissions through carbon taxes and/or cap-and-trade to stopping the rapid exploitation of fossil fuels and switching to cleaner energy sources.

      A skate or hockey game outside is a good place to start!

      If you’re in Quebec City for Carnaval, January 31 to February 3, join the David Suzuki Foundation for Sommet de l'hiver (Winter Summit)four days of sports, culture and science, presented with Desjardins, to raise awareness about climate change and its effects on winter. When former hockey stars team up for an outdoor game against artists to help save winter sports, you may even see some NHL heroes.

      Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Manager Ian Hanington. For more insights from David Suzuki, please read Everything Under the Sun (Greystone Books/David Suzuki Foundation), by David Suzuki and Ian Hanington, now available in bookstores and online.




      Jan 22, 2013 at 5:28pm

      Good thing for the wind chill factor or we would all burn up. With all the Chemtrails being spayed its too dangerous to play outside anyway.

      Ali Said

      Jan 22, 2013 at 9:28pm

      That's it $70 billion of climate research worldwide to save... winter hockey rinks in Canada! Meanwhile 10 m of snow fell on Norilsk Russia last week. China is enduring one the coldest winter... but since Toronto is the center of the world and thus, despite Quebec/Ontario representing a small fraction of the size of Asia, David's foundation remains gauzing on its own belly.


      Jan 23, 2013 at 9:05am

      "Only a sustained and dramatic shift to infrastructure and industrial practices using low-carbon technology can save the world and its economy from devastating global warming, according to a Davos-commissioned alliance led by the former Mexican President, Felipe Calderon, in the most dramatic call so far to fight climate change on business grounds."

      Fort McMurray is the largest user of natural gas on the planet. Its considerable demand pulls natural gas technology forward, with break-throughs that will transofrm our energy system in the future. The oil sands are providing an important market-based bridge to cleaner fuels.

      Time to recycle the old Suzuki on blocks in the backyard.

      Mountain Miner

      Jan 23, 2013 at 8:30pm

      For nearly 35 years I've been employed tearing down a mountain. Me and my cohorts have enjoyed a good living and lifestyles because of it. This business has contributed billions to the economy and monetarily benefitted even those who occupy and sit idle no more via the tax base it provides. However, it has it's dark side and it has no green side, except money. The product is shipped almost exclusively offshore. Whether due to climate change or climate cycle, god or the devil I have witnessed a decline in the amount of snow we have been accumulating and retaining where I live over the last decade and a half. The mountain where I work sits at the head of a small river valley. We have removed nearly 3000 feet off the top of that mountain. I don't have any idea how many millions of gallons of water fail to accumulate on that mountain each winter, because, it's not there, but, I know it's alot. And I also know that that little river is hurting because of it. We as a society are just getting too damn efficient at stripping the resources we seek and are not giving the enviroment a chance to heal between assualts. Yeah it's only one small river and is it worth a 100 billion dollars, I can't really say or decide for you, but you folks at the coast drink some of whats left of it. Oh yeah, it's located in the watershed for 2/3 of N. America. Do I feel guilty, more and more, but, hey, I'm a whore for the money, how about you. Look deep in yor wallet, I bet some of this cash is in there. Perhaps enough to buy a couple of new suzukis. Ride on Doc.