Look at this graph. Each blue bar shows the peak annual snow depth at Snowy Hydro’s five official snow measuring stations at Spencers Creek, about halfway between the NSW ski resorts of Perisher and Thredbo.
Photo by Chris Hocking, graph originally published at ski.com.au and reproduced with the permission of the creator
The black line shows the downward trend over the last 58 years. Pronounced decline, isn’t it. The consistent big seasons of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s are a thing of the past. On average, we’re losing three quarters of a centimetre of snow each year. That’s nearly half a metre since records were first kept.
Snowy Hydro has taken these measurements since the 1950s because they like to know how much snowmelt is going to end up in their dams each summer. The information is neutral, reliable, and untainted by ski resort PR. Even more crucially, it relies not on pie-in-the sky computer modelling, but on clinical, unhysterical observation.
And those observations reveal beyond doubt that Australia is getting warmer.
The problem with the climate change debate is that most of us can neither observe, nor feel, the data presented.
We cannot detect small annual changes in temperature, and are no hope of perceiving increases in CO2 or other gases. Moreover, popular graphs like the “hockey stick” championed by Al Gore, are endlessly open to misinterpretation and dispute.
But there’s no arguing with this snow depth graph. It is elegantly simple and best of all, it represents something tangible. The graph clearly shows that less snow is falling, and less snow is sticking around. And that ain’t happening because the world’s getting cooler, as some argue.
A warming globe impacts the Australian snow pack in two simple ways. Firstly, and most obviously, warmer weather means a greater likelihood of rain instead of snow, and quicker melt after snowstorms.
The second effect is a little more technical. Basically, a warmer globe makes it tougher for the snow-bearing cold fronts in the Southern Ocean to push north and make landfall on the Australian continent. Most experts agree that’s why areas like SW Western Australia are drying out so rapidly.
Now, no one’s saying the snow is going to disappear entirely this century, as predicted by a 2003 CSIRO report with a distinctly doomsday tone. But slowly, it’s going.
The $64 million question is why. Is all this part of a natural cycle or is the hand of human activity at work here?
This article is intended to be the first in an ongoing series in which The Punch asks you, our readers, to weigh in to the climate change debate in a new way. We are particularly keen to hear from those who live and work not in offices, but out there in the elements each day.
Maybe you are a lifelong ski resort worker who has seen the snow decline with your own eyes. You might be a farmer in the wheatbelt, a boat operator seeing coral bleaching on the Reef, an irrigator in the Murray/Darling basin or an indigenous Australian whose family who has lived on the land for thousands of generations.
In essence, we ask anyone who works in the natural environment to come forward and state, in this thread or in a piece of their own, whether they intuitively believe climate change is part of a natural cycle, or something of humanity’s own doing.
This approach is not anti-science. It’s about stepping beyond the typical internet arguments of “my graph is more accurate than yours”, because we’d all agree that’s never settled a single argument.
No matter how compelling the scientific proof for or against anthropogenic global warming, there will always be someone with the opposite view. So what’s left? Our gut, that’s what. Our innate sense of nature’s rhythms and cycles.
Let me tell you what my gut tells me, in an attempt to set the snowball rolling, so to speak.
My gut tells me the snow is disappearing much quicker than it would be if people weren’t spewing all kinds of gunk into the atmosphere.
I vividly remember my ski trip way back in the record 1981 season, when you could walk straight out onto the snow from the second floor balcony at our lodge in Perisher. The snow hasn’t been anywhere near that level since.
That’s not to take one enormous snow year as evidence of anything, just as one big cyclone proves nothing in and of itself.
But as someone who has not missed an Australian snow season as either visitor or resort employee for 31 years now, the rate of snow decline just feels wrong.
Australia has always been a marginal ski country. But the rate at which it is becoming ever more marginal leads me to the irresistible conclusion that external forces are at play beyond the regular fluctuations implicit in the very concept of “climate”.
In short, and to paraphrase the movie The Castle, “it’s the vibe”.
One last time, I admit that this is hardly science. And again, that’s the point.
This debate has for so long been run by people behind computers, and in laboratories, and by suits in rooms full of journalists, it’s high time we had it another way.
The world is warming. Surely there are those of you out there who deal with this reality every day. You see it. You feel it. You know there have always been droughts and floods and temperature extremes, but you know this feels different.
Or maybe it doesn’t. Either way, we’re keen to hear from you.
Send your stories, with your contact details, to email@example.com. Put MY VOICE ON CLIMATE CHANGE as the email subject heading.