Glacier National Park as Climate “Canary”

Author Jean Stewart at Act on Climate Rally 10/2015

Author Jean Stewart at Act on Climate Rally 10/2015

A recent tour of Glacier National Park alerted me to its importance as a predictor of the frightening changes that await us globally if we do not drastically reduce pouring carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

The cliche “canary in the coal mine” applies directly to the situation in Glacier National Park. The temperatures in the Park have risen more than the average temperatures worldwide, bringing about huge changes in the number and size of the Park’s glaciers and snowpack.

The Park once had 150 glaciers but now has only 25 active, moving glaciers, and some of these are already on the verge of becoming stagnant snowfields. Meticulous studies of glaciers conducted by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists show yearly acreage losses twenty percent higher in the last ten years than in the previous decade. Glacier melting has dramatically increased.

Why should this Park’s losses matter?  Because melting is an indicator of our future, with alpine glaciers in the rest of the Rockies, the Cascades, the Andes, the Himalayas, the Alps, and Mount Kilimanjaro in East Africa also suffering severe melts.

Meltwater from these glaciers has historically provided water to surrounding populations for drinking, irrigation, and hydroelectric power. It is estimated that over 50 percent of the world’s population gets its fresh water from glaciers.

Other cascading effects are being seen in the changes in flora and fauna in high mountain areas. Rare and potentially valuable plants and animals adapted to a cold and icy climate cannot migrate upward much further, as they’re already near the tops of the mountains. This problem will reduce species diversity, further damaging the planet’s overall health.

Anyone still inclined to disbelieve the reality of climate change should compare the photographs of Park glaciers in the 1920s and 1930s alongside the photographs taken by the USGS at the exact same locations in the last two or three years. These pictures speak louder than words ever could.

But there are very rich and powerful interests, especially in the fossil fuel industry—the Koch brothers for example—who pour billions into political campaigns and public advertising to distract us from taking any kind of action to reduce this ongoing destruction of our planet.

Fossil fuel industry representatives are even planning to attend the international climate summit in Paris in December!

These huge companies prey on our desires for more jobs and cheap energy and no modifications in our lifestyles. We need to fight back by showing the costs of drought and flooding and shrinking biodiversity. The recent droughts in California and flooding in South Carolina are ready examples of our dangerous refusal to face climate change. We must have safe and abundant and free water. We must go into high alert and demand concrete action from each of our politicians and demand it now!

Jean Stewart
WNDC Energy and Environment Task Force 

Leave a Reply