The great American writer, E.B. White once said, “I arise in the morning torn between the desire to save the world and the desire to savor it.” Last week, I had the opportunity to take a break from my job, helping ACE save the world (or at least the climate) to savor it.
Have you ever seen a picture and said to yourself, “I want to go THERE!”? I had that experience with a picture of Glacier National Park in Montana a few years ago, and have been trying to figure out a way to get there ever since. I’m a huge believer in spending your money on experiences rather than things, and so with a bit of saving I was finally able to pull together enough time and money to make it out there.
And let me just say that Glacier did not disappoint! I have been lucky enough to be able to visit many beautiful places around the world, but I have to say that Glacier is now one of my favorites. I was completely blown away by the wild, scenic landscapes of the park that were somehow both harsh and delicate all at once. I immediately understood that this was indeed a place worth protecting and was grateful to the people who had worked (and continue to work) to make it so.
In an effort to learn a bit more about the park, I attended a talk by a park naturalist who graciously shared her knowledge about Glacier’s history, wildlife, and current research efforts. And if I thought that I was getting away from the subject of climate change, boy was I wrong!
In talking about how Glacier has changed throughout the years, the naturalist began talking about the toll climate change was taking on the park and its natural resources – everything from the uncertain future of one of the park’s cutest residents, the pika, (Seriously, look it up. It’s adorable!) to the rapid disappearance of the park’s namesake.
I was horrified to hear that when the park was founded in 1910, there were 150 glaciers within its boundaries but that there are currently only 25. And to make matters worse, she added, scientists expect that due to climate change all of the park’s glaciers will be gone by 2020. Let me just say that again so it can sink in. ALL 150 glaciers GONE. In only 110 years – not much more than one lifetime.
I felt a mix of emotions at hearing this news. Admittedly, I felt lucky to have been able to visit the park before this happened, but I was also heartbroken to hear that future generations of Americans may never be able to enjoy the park the same way I did.
And unfortunately, Glacier is not alone in its struggle. Climate change threatens many of the most treasured natural places in our nation. Park managers in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, for example, are worried about the ongoing pine beetle outbreak which, due to warming winter temperatures allowing the beetle population to explode, has caused the devastation of lodgepole pine trees in the park. Similarly, park managers at Saguaro National Park in Arizona are concerned about the current increase of invasive Buffelgrass, which spreads quickly and competes with native plants for resources, threatening the iconic saguaro cactus. And park managers at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota fear that as temperatures warm and native grassland species shift their range the park’s bison herd will have to leave the park in search of better food. The list goes on and on.
Many have called our National Park Service and its mission to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations” America’s best idea. Isn’t it time then that we act in order to protect this best of ideas? If not for us, then perhaps for the future generations of this wonderful country that we have sworn to protect.