Vermont Winter Olympians call for action on climate change

Olympic cross-country ski racers, left to right, Ida Sargent, Hannah Dreissigacker, Liz Stephen and Susan Dunklee came to the Morse Farm Ski Center in East Montpelier to call for action on climate change. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Olympic cross-country ski racers, left to right, Ida Sargent, Hannah Dreissigacker, Liz Stephen and Susan Dunklee came to the Morse Farm Ski Center in East Montpelier to call for action on climate change. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

When Vermont’s Olympic cross-country ski racers started skiing as children, they could set out from their doorsteps on a solid surface of snow. Now, they say the snow is disappearing, and their professional careers are threatened by climate change.

After returning from the ski season in Europe, 2014 Olympic Winter Games biathlete Hannah Dreissigacker and other Vermont Olympians came to Morse Farm Ski Center in East Montpelier to call for action on climate change.

“We need to put a price on carbon emissions,” Dreissgacker said.

The 27-year-old Morrisville native, who often flies around the world to race and visit friends and family, said even her own carbon-intensive lifestyle is disguised by the low cost of fossil fuels, which doesn’t reflect the larger cost to the environment, she said.

“When we burn fuel, we’re paying for the fuel and we’re not paying for all the damage that that fuel does,” she said. “The idea of putting a price on carbon is that suddenly we’re paying for what that fuel should actually cost.”

Lawmakers this year did not propose a carbon tax. Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, who chairs the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, has said Vermont has one chance to get the policy right.

A carbon tax is among the policy options the Department of Public Service highlighted in its most recent draft Total Energy Study (TES), a document designed to guide the state closer to its comprehensive goal of meeting 90 percent of Vermont’s overall energy needs from renewable sources by 2050.

Dreissigacker and other Vermont cross-country ski racers were alarmed by the worsening snow conditions at many of Europe’s most popular World Cup venues this year.

Nordic skier Liz Stephen, 27, is a two-time Olympian from East Montpelier. She said the majority of her races this year were on narrow man-made tracks of slushy snow colored brown with rocks and dirt.

“It really seems this year, especially, that the venues we went to had much less snow than usual, even the ones we could count on in the past to have good snow,” she said.

That’s why during her off-season break this month she came home to ask Vermont to take the lead on climate change policy.

Ida Sargent, 26, got her start in Nordic ski racing in Barton. She too called for action.

“I could just go outside and ski from my door,” Sargent said. “And that sport is changing now. And it’s very visible both here in Vermont and in Europe.”

The warm winter season last year forced her and her teammates to race laps on short man-made snow tracks one mile in length. This is very different from the skiing she experienced growing up.

“It’s not going to continue our sport as the way we’ve known it and in the tradition that has grown in Vermont,” she said, “because it limits the accessibility of the sport because only certain places can manufacture and build snow like that.”

She said Vermont should model Europe’s action on carbon emissions: smaller cars, public transportation, and rooftop solar, for example.

This includes supporting Vermont’s current move toward industrial renewable power, such as the Kingdom Community Wind Project in Lowell, a project that has stirred an emotional debate on the state’s energy future.

“I think that this is a huge step forward for Vermont,” she said. “And I’m actually proud to live so close to both of those, and I hope that other areas in Vermont and New England will also continue this movement.”

Biathlete Susan Dunklee, 28, earned the nation’s top Olympic sprint finish for women this year. She grew up near Crystal Lake in Barton, which she described as “wild and rugged.”

But now she is worried the Montreal-Portland Pipeline, which brings crude oil from South Portland, Maine, to Montreal, could be reversed to bring heavy Canadian crude oil. Canadian tar sands oil is more energy-intensive to extract and is difficult to clean up because it contains bitumen, which sinks to the bottom of waterways.

“So I’m a little bit worried about that. But that aside – even if we were not to have a leak, the old pipeline worked out fine – the fact is, we’re enabling a system that’s depending on fossil fuels,” she said. “We need to be finding more creative solutions.”

On Town Meeting Day this year, 13 towns opposed reversing the flow of the pipeline. On Monday, a representative for the company said it does not plan to reverse the flow of the pipeline.

The Vermont Natural Resources Council and National Wildlife Federation hosted the news conference.

Johanna Miller, energy program director for the VNRC, said the testimony is affirmation that climate change is happening rapidly around the world.

“There hasn’t been … enough talk about the urgency of climate change,” she said. “And we have some young ladies who have dedicated their lives to building a professional career in an industry that could be dying.”

John Herrick

Comment Policy requires that all commenters identify themselves by their authentic first and last names. Initials, pseudonyms or screen names are not permissible.

No personal harrassment, abuse, or hate speech is permitted. Be succinct and to the point. Comments should be 1000 characters or fewer. If your comment is over 500 words, consider sending a commentary instead.

We personally review and moderate every comment that is posted here. This takes a lot of time; please consider donating to keep the conversation productive and informative.

The purpose of this policy is to encourage a civil discourse among readers who are willing to stand behind their identities and their comments. VTDigger has created a safe zone for readers who wish to engage in a thoughtful discussion on a range of subjects. We hope you join the conversation. If you have questions or concerns about our commenting platform, please review our Commenting FAQ.

Privacy policy
  • Yes, climate change, money can fix it and climate change is all about that, money. What this article proposes is charging everyone higher fuel cost, but how will that do one single thing, other than reduce our ability to afford travel, to help with reducing carbon, which by and large has not been soundly proven. Our climate has changed numerous times throughout the ages.

    If the “Officials” in Montpelier think they can save the earth by raising the price of fuel thru taxation, there is no threat what so ever from climate change, just charge more $$$ and the problem is solved.

    To think that these young women get on a jet, the most high use form of travel, and fly around the world to play a game shows how futile their own efforts are to rationalize their own statements. I guess if we were to stop the Olympic Games we would all be much relieved from carbon. Or, we can simply charge them more for the ride.

    Is this article really about carbon or is it about pushing for more ridge top wind energy?

  • Keith Stern

    Why not request Obama ask God personally to straighten out climate change? All the liberals believe he is the second coming after all.

  • Annette Smith

    So these athletes who fly all over the world burning up carbon feel guilty so they feel good destroying an intact ecosystem for wind turbines to assuage their guilt? Where is their evidence that the Lowell wind turbines are addressing climate change?

    For those of us interested in effective climate change action, the evidence shows that New England’s wind turbines may be increasing GHG emissions because of inefficient back-up generators that are required to ramp in response to intermittent wind. Without efficient ramping generators or storage, there is no evidence of meaningful fuel savings or GHG emission reduction. There is evidence, though, of destroyed wildlife habitat, degraded water quality and quality of life, and harm to public health. Do you feel good about that?

    As noted in the 19th century in “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay,
    “In reading the history of nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities; their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do. We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first.”

    • Richard Ratico


      Thanks for that. You’ve finally described the NIMBY mindset. “Extraordinary Popular Delusion”. Perfect.

  • George Plumb

    I commend these Vermont Olympians for speaking out on climate change. I also don’t understand how after looking at all the science there are people out there who deny that it is human caused. Do they really think that the scientists who started predicting global warming decades ago just knew that the climate was changing anyway and wanted to promote their false beliefs of it being human caused for some reason?

    However, I do find it ironic that these Olympians fly in jet planes all over the world many times a year so they can make money off of a sport that is only adding to green house gas emissions. If they had announced that they were going to stop playing their sports so they could reduce their carbon footprint then that would have really been something! Of if even if they had announced that they were going to use just some of their money to now drive an all electric vehicle that would have really been something.

    In an environmental editorial regarding jet plane travel in the New York Times Elizabeth Rosenthal said,
    “For many people reading this, air travel is their most serious environmental sin. One round-trip flight from New York to Europe or to San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person. The average American generates about 19 tons of carbon dioxide a year; the average European, 10.”

    • andew nemethy

      Hey George, trust me, these Olympians don’t ski and train and sacrifice for the money. There is no money in their sports, as their need to fundraise in order just to scrape by is ample evidence. The jetting they do is certainly an issue, though singling them out for this is a bit unfair considering they are a miniscule drop in the bucket compared to say, business travel. What they offer is empirical evidence that others like myself have also seen in my travels, that winter as we know it is an endangered species, with serious implications for water supply, hydro power, aquatic life, and yes, Nordic skiers. But they’re our present eyes on the world, and I for one think it’s over the top to criticize them for bringing this to our attention.
      As for Annette’s anti-wind argument, it may have some resonance here on mountaintops, but if you travel in Europe – take the train from Vienna to Budapest, or go to Amsterdam’s coast – and you’ll see thousands of turbines offsetting carbon-based power plants. Not sure how that is a bad thing…

  • John Greenberg

    Annette Smith writes: “… the evidence shows that New England’s wind turbines may be increasing GHG emissions because of inefficient back-up generators that are required to ramp in response to intermittent wind.” Please present the evidence to which you’re referencing.

  • Peter Liston

    These women really do Vermont proud. They’re remarkable athletes and thoughtful, committed citizens. It’s great to see!

  • I guess Al Gore’s failed predictions about the ice caps being gone by 2013 are not enough to cause concern for some people. All I can see happening world wide is, carbon tax, carbon tax, carbon tax. This really is all about the money.

  • Read this article! The Polar Bears really are in trouble, not from climate change but rather from to much ice:

    • Matthew Rutherford


      That article references only one small region of the Arctic.

      You can see the biologist’s blog post about the article at the link below. There is a picture which indicates the region she is speaking of, which makes up a clearly small percentage of the Arctic.

      And the ice caps are still melting. The ice coverage and thickness are both decreasing. Coverage during the summer of 2012 was the lowest on record. 2013 was the 6th lowest on record. And the ice is on average 50% thinner than in previous decades.

      “This year’s sea ice extent is substantially higher than last year’s record low minimum. On Sept.16, 2012, Arctic sea ice reached its smallest extent ever recorded by satellites at 1.32 million square miles (3.41 million square kilometers). That is about half the size of the average minimum extent from 1981 to 2010.”

      “This summer’s minimum is still the sixth lowest extent of the satellite record and is 432,000 square miles (1.12 million square kilometers) lower than the 1981-2010 average, roughly the size of Texas and California combined.”

      “Satellite imagery, submarine sonar measurements, and data collected from NASA’s Operation IceBridge, an airborne survey of polar ice, indicate that the Arctic sea ice thickness is as much as 50 percent thinner than it was in previous decades, going from an average thickness of 12.5 feet (3.8 meters) in 1980 to 6.2 feet (1.9 meters) in recent years. The thinning is due to the loss of older, thicker ice, which is being replaced by thinner seasonal ice.”

      And this is certainly a threat to polar bears as a species. Even if it was not, decreases in sea ice causes a feedback loop where the ocean absorbs more heat due to the decreased albedo effect, which in turn melts more ice. Which leads to the ocean absorbing more heat. And in turn the atmosphere becomes warmer.

      • John Greenberg

        Thank you!

        • Matthew Rutherford

          Just trying to stem the tide of misinformation. You deserve much more gratitude than I.

    • Peter Liston

      CNS news is crazier than Fox News.

      Created for and by the extreme Right Wing.

  • Don Peterson

    Olympians help unite the people of the world, and for that I’d burn a little jet fuel.

    Maybe our Vermont Olympians would like to petition their fellow athletes to publicly speak out about climate change, and offer solutions. That is how much needed consensus is built.

  • Vanessa Mills

    Certain fluff, global-scale jet-setting, hobbies, certain lifestyles, jobs, entities, perhaps even whole industries will cease to (and dare I say, need to cease to) exist (!?!?). What about the carbon emssions and resource waste of pro level sports and its related travel and promotion and perpetuation; what about NASCAR; and more things like tractor pulls and dirt bike races? What about lawns too big to enjoy but slave over. We all got something that will have to go. But anyone can justify and/or banter all day about freedom of choices and hobbies/interests; and about which ones are priority for human relevance, economic importance, critical to life itself.

    However…..some topics, like food security, water quality/quantity, the right to defend one’s home , would likely trump all, when it comes right down to it. If climate change is real and TOP PRIORITY (and, for Mr Stannard and anyone else ready to pounce: I’M NOT SAYING IT ISN’T!): then why is something like NASCAR not severely regulated? It ought to come to this sort of contemplation, no?WHY and how can it exist at all, given the gravity of the issues we face? (Big $$$$$, period)

    Yes. Indeed. People will have to give up things. (Is this all bad? Perhaps it should stop being marketed & sold that it’s bad to be judicious about lifestyle choices? We can’t be living in the Ronald Reagon-fueled, big-A$$ car-driving, entitled-as-Americans, 1980s anymore, right?!!)

    But as an example, won’t Big Corporate Big Dogs of something such as NASCAR and its affiliates assure the existence is NASCAR, regardless of carbon taxes/global warming/co2 levels/etc etc?

    Who’s going to turn down and offer to (waste water and resources while they) go play in 4 season climate-controlled indoor comfort of a mountain top waterpark when it’s advertised to the hardworking joe q. public as THE way to recreate!? Who’s going to forego their super bowl trip, their long-awaited cruise, their disneyland vacation, until they have to? And what will it take? Shudder to think…

    Until then, Tony Klein and others will work to carbon tax small-scale farmers right out of competition and/or existence with subsidies and loopholes for the factory-farm modes and methodolgy, i’m afraid. Unfortunate, cause vermont could turn things around.
    And there’s gotta be more help for the small scale sustainable farmers, all the way around.

    And, no matter what comes down…. we gotta eat.

  • Matt Fisken

    Vanessa, thanks for speaking the humorous truth.

  • George Plumb

    We should thank VNRC and particularly Joey Miller for organizing this event. It is too bad that more of the media didn’t cover it. Was it on any television broadcast? Fortunately we do have vtdigger but that reaches only a limited audience.

    And yes thanks Vanessa for mentioning all of those other unnecessary and harmful reasons for burning fossil fuels. The list could be much larger but at least you brought up some of them.

    One of the important factors that is almost always left out of the discussion is population growth. With the U.S. growing by at least two million per year and the world at eighty million is that going to make it easier or harder to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

    From much that I read we have only a few years to make radical changes in our lifestyles or some if not much of the Earth will become uninhabitable due to climate change.

    If the Vermont Olympians are thinking deeply about this issue it would be wonderful if at least one of them would respond to the excellent posts that have been made.

    • Matt Fisken

      Population reduction and serious lifestyle sacrifices will always be taboo topics for most people. That doesn’t mean continued population growth isn’t a problem, but it has become one of those shrug-your-shoulders, “well, what can we do?” issues.

      Obviously, it is more appealing to wishfully build industrial wind turbines and cover fields with solar panels than it is to voluntarily lower our standards of living or cull the herd.

      • Carl Werth

        “it is more appealing to wishfully build industrial wind turbines and cover fields with solar panels than it is to voluntarily lower our standards of living”

        It’s because we care. We CARE! OH, can you not see how much WE care? We will destroy to create – THAT is how much we care! Is that not enough?

  • Paul Lorenzini

    If public school, or any school is committed to educating children, then they should not tell only Al Gores side of the story, of which he is a direct profiteer. It appears to be a brainwashing agenda, and I feel bad for all these young adults that have been subjected to public school brainwashing. They should show this side of the story also.

    Facts, not drama and the indoctrination by fear mongers to further their agenda of self profit and control of the populace.

    Look for the truth kiddos, don’t be blind followers of a theory that no one can prove, only blindly swear faith to.

Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Vermont Winter Olympians call for action on climate change"