Falmouth ski team: Climate change a year-round problem

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FALMOUTH — Weather-wise, it has been a very inconsistent month.

February began unusually warm, almost reaching 60 degrees. Temperatures then plummeted to below zero last weekend, only to rebound into the 30s and 40s this week.

For the Falmouth High School Nordic ski team, not only has the inconsistent weather been bad for the sport, it also hammers home the message they planned to make at a Wednesday press conference outside the school:

Climate change isn’t just bad for their season, it’s also bad for athletes’ health.

The team members, with help from the Maine Conservation Alliance, say climate change affects both their ability to compete, as well as the overall health of athletes from air quality.

Kaitlyn Bernard, the team’s coach and the Maine program assistant at the Appalachian Mountain Club, said she was approached by the conservation alliance to do the event with the ski team.

“Winter is changing,” Bernard said. “It’s hard to predict what we’re up against.”

She said the things athletes have to do to stay healthy are made more difficult by poor air quality.

Bernard said AMC commissioned a study that found healthy individuals experienced lung function declines at ozone levels of 40 parts per billion. She said AMC wants to push for a standard of 60 parts per billion.

Beth Ahearn, program director at the MCA, said climate change is an area of focus for the organization, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which seeks to have states lower their carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030. The U.S. Supreme Court stayed implementation of the plan this month.

“We believe that the plan is based on solid legal ground under the Clean Air Act and will prevail on its merits,” Ahearn said via email. “In the meantime, Maine can set an example by staying the course on reducing carbon emissions. Our health and our economy depend upon it.”

London Bernier, a senior at FHS and captain of the Nordic ski team, said the team has lost parts of the season to warm temperatures and melting snow, and also had to cancel practice due to bitter cold.

Additionally, she said, athletes who suffer from asthma struggle with poor air quality conditions.

“Opening people’s eyes (to this issue) is important,” Bernier said.

Bernard said it is “time for skiers to do something about this.” The hope, she said, is to be able to begin influencing policy makers across the state.

“The combination of poor air quality in southern Maine during the summer months and erratic snow patterns and shorter winters is dramatically changing both AMC’s recreational offerings and opportunities, and my athletes’ ability to train and compete,” she said in a written statement.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

The Falmouth High School Nordic ski team is lobbying for more attention to issues caused by climate change.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.