Glacier's Retreating Glaciers
This is a post about science and politics and national parks. It touches on global warming, its impact on such places as Glacier National Park, and how the Bush administration seemingly is ready to buck anyone who tries to alter its position on climate change.
It seems not a day goes by without a new report on how global warming, or climate change if you prefer, is altering the Earth in some fashion. One day the story might focus on how permafrost in the far north is thawing, another reports that global temperatures are warmer than ever in recorded history, yet another might talk about wildlife changing their patterns due to what seem to be abnormal seasons -- winters not lasting as long as they once did, for instance.
In Glacier, scientists long have warned that the park's signature glaciers are on the retreat, and possibly could vanish by 2030 if current warming trends persist. Read on and I'll let you know how you can view the shrinkage from the comfort of your home.
Back in February I mentioned an effort to have the World Heritage Committee declare Glacier a World Heritage Site "in danger" because global warming
was melting the park's glaciers faster than might be expected. During
two days of meetings in Paris last week, climate change and its impacts
on World Heritage Sites such as Glacier were discussed by a
wide-ranging field of scientists, academics, non-governmental
organizations and international organizations.
Flowing from those meetings is expected to be a list of proposals outlining actions and strategies that might be implemented to help World Heritage Sites weather climate change. The full World Heritage Committee will review those proposals when it meets in Lithuania in July.
A petition was forwarded to the committee in advance of last week's meetings to have Glacier declared a site "in danger." The Bush administration, in response, presented a petition of its own that argues that such a designation should not be made because there are so many unknowns about the underlying cause of climate change. Beyond that, while human influences might be contributing to climate change, the administration went on, there is no way to reverse the warming trend in the near future.
"There currently is not enough data available to distinguish whether climatic changes at ... (Glacier) ... are the result of human-induced climate change or natural variability," the U.S. petition states in one section.
Additionally, it notes that none of the specific threats mentioned by the World Heritage Convention Guidelines that could lead to an "in danger" designation are occurring at Glacier. Those specific threats revolve around drops in wildlife populations, severe deterioration of the scenic beauty or scientific value of the site in question, or human encroachment on a site's boundaries that could threaten the site's integrity.
And while the guidelines note that any threats to World Heritage Sites must be "amenable to correction by human action," the Bush administration contends that, "It cannot be demonstrated that global climate change is caused only by man-made greenhouse gas emissions."
"It also cannot be demonstrated that if all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions were eliminated immediately, climate change would be reversed in the foreseeable future. Therefore, it cannot be demonstrated that any threats to sites from climate change are amenable to correction by human action."
Beyond that argument, the U.S. petition says that many of the "Outstanding Universal Values" that are cited in the designation of World Heritage Sites are in fact the result of climate change.
"Climate change is as old as the Earth itself," notes the petition. "In fact, many of the features that constitute the OUV of most natural sites are the result of or linked to dramatic climate change. The time frames in which the climate has historically changed are such that the impacts of climate change on World Heritage Sites cannot be affected by any short-term action that may result from including the petitioned sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
"...Even if there were a global consensus on the issues of climate-change impacts, causes and remedies, it is clear that even the most radical mitigations or remedial actions by man, even if taken immediately, would most likely not appreciably alter current climatic trends for decades or longer."
That last argument perhaps is right. Climate change can't be turned off and on overnight. But does that suggest that societies should remain indifferent to climate change and their possible impacts on it? Wouldn't it be more prudent to err on the side of caution, accept the likelihood that humans are throwing the Earth's climate out of whack, and work to minimize what impacts we can?
Now, if you're interested in checking out how Glacier Park's glaciers have retreated during the past 90 years, go to this United States Geological Survey site and follow the directions for viewing the photographs. You'll be amazed...and perhaps saddened as well.