In light of the reactions to Erik Remsen’s recent article “Nordic Skiing Must Become Greener”, as well as the Copenhagen climate talks, I decided that it was high time to carry out an idea I’d had last year as I sat in the airplane on my way to nationals in Anchorage. I’ve spent considerable time thinking about the environmental effects of this sport that I love, and it seems to me that when it comes to carbon emissions, by far the largest contributor is air travel. It occurred to me that the location of Nationals could have a pretty significant effect on Nordic-skiing related CO2 emission in the U.S. My idea seemed relatively simple at the time: calculate the CO2 emissions due to air travel for several different Nationals locations, and compare them.
When I actually decided to carry out my plan, I realized that it was a pretty complicated problem. So I simplified it, and made a lot of assumptions. Before you read any more, understand that this is a very rough calculation, but hopefully a reasonable estimate to use as a starting point for further calculations.
First, I divided the country up into five regions; Alaska, East, Midwest, Rockies, and Northwest. Each region is represented by an airport, respectively: Anchorage, Boston, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Salt Lake City, and Seattle. These airports were not meant to literally represent where skiers from that region would fly from, but I felt their locations were relatively central to the regions, and could be used to estimate the carbon emissions of an average flight to or from the region. For the purposes of keeping it simple, I neglected car travel inside the regions.
Next, I used an online carbon emissions calculator provided by the International Civil Aviation Organization to get estimates for the CO2 emitted in the six flights that connect the 5 regions. I used this data to determine the CO2 emitted to travel from each region to each of the other regions.
Next, I sifted through results from the last two years of Nationals and tallied up how many skiers competed from each region. This brought up a lot of issues. For one, the regional attendance at nationals varies a lot based on its location. There were over twice as many Midwesterners at the Houghton Nationals than the Anchorage Nationals, and significantly more Alaskans in Anchorage than Houghton. To get around this, I used the tallies from Anchorage for all of the regions except Alaska, and used the Houghton tally of Alaskans.
The results came in as follows (in order of descending emission):
230,000 kg CO2 for nationals in Alaska
193,000 kg CO2 for nationals in the East
148,000 kg CO2 for nationals in the Northwest
127,000 kg CO2 for nationals in the Rockies
121,000 kg CO2 for nationals in the Midwest
Really, the results weren’t very surprising. Clearly, the more central locations would cause less emission. The fact that they could cause almost a halving of emissions as compared with Alaska though, is significant.
Now, I don’t mean to make the argument that nationals should always be held in the most central location possible. And certainly there are a lot of other factors that must be taken into account when determining nationals locations: fairness to athletes, fairness to race venues, economics, altitude, terrain and quality of skiing, and willingness of venues, just to name a few. However, in the name of saving the winters that our sport depends on, it might be worth considering our sport’s carbon footprint when we pick future nationals locations.
Note: There are a lot of additional variables that could be included in this analysis. It was perhaps overly simplified. To begin to name a few of these variables: intra-region ground transportation, variations in airports used, variations in attendance based on location, venue distance from airports, non-athlete travel (coaches, family members, etc.)
Hannah Dreissigacker races for the Craftsbury Green Racing Project. For Hannah, joining the Green Racing Project means returning to her home club of Craftsbury Nordic. Hannah spent her last four years at Dartmouth, where she skied 23 of the 24 carnivals held during her career, and captained the EISA champions her senior year. An NCAA All-American in her senior year, Hannah is excited to have an opportunity to focus on skiing when she’s not at school and see where it takes her. She is hoping to be competitive on the national scene and improve upon her past results at Nationals. She also likes balance, so she’s trying to put her environmental engineering degree to use when she’s not training. At the Outdoor Center, she’s working on a composting project, a carbon inventory, and an outdoor bread oven.