Today's post is from Tom Hallock, Associate Publisher of Beacon Press.
I was thrilled when I realized that our family’s annual White Mountains High Huts trip would coincide with one by Beacon author Michael Lanza and his family. We made plans to hike together on the Webster Jackson trail and exchanged cell phone numbers. Michael and his family arrived first and, with Nate and Alix eager to start their climb, set off. Michael texted to say that they we were just a few minutes ahead of us, assuming that two adults would be able to catch up with hikers going at a “family pace.” It never happened (see trail photo). My brother-in-law and I had a great hike at our own pace and met other family and friends at Appalachian Mountain Club's Mizpah Hut, hiking to Lake of the Clouds the following day. Our own “Before They’re Gone” moment came when the hut naturalist told us that the entire White Mountains alpine zone, the largest one east of the Rockies, could be gone in 25 years, as a result of acid rain. Hiking in the alpine zones of the Whites is an incredible experience, whether you’re in a cloud (which you are half the time) or making the trip on a clear day. I always return feeling gratitude to the AMC staff and volunteers for all they do to protect this environment and make it possible for us to experience it.
It's hard to argue that there's anything more urgent and potentially catastrophic than climate change. In reading countless journal articles and conducting numerous interviews for my book, Before They're Gone—A Family's Year-Long Quest to Explore America's Most Endangered National Parks, it was hard to maintain optimism in the face of forecasts that the steady diminishing of mountain snows means that Yosemite’s famous waterfalls will peter out earlier in the year; that every glacier in Glacier National Park is doomed to melt away; that Joshua Tree National Park will one day no longer support its namesake tree, and much of the Everglades is fated to sink beneath the sea. The issue became powerfully immediate to me in realizing that much of this fallout will occur within the lifetimes of my children.
Many scientists now believe that a rise of 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in average temperatures worldwide is unavoidable in this century, which could erase 40 percent of all species on the planet. It was really disturbing to interview one leading scientist after another and hear every one of them express fear that we’re facing the greatest disaster in the history of human civilization.
It's frightening to contemplate what this will mean for people all over the world. Many scientists I interviewed echoed the comments of USGS research ecologist Nathan Stephenson, who told me, “Sometimes people say, ‘If this has happened in the past, why should we be worried?’ The simple answer is: you would not have wanted to be alive then. Civilizations have fallen on slight changes in climate.”
As I wrote in my book: Our conversation about climate has not achieved the degree of honesty we would use when talking with our own kids. We would not encourage them to make choices fraught with such a high degree of risk. Yet we as a people have embraced just that kind of choice time and again.
Still, I feel optimistic—partly because optimism offers the only hope for the world our kids will inherit. I think we’re at the brink of a tectonic shift in public perception and understanding of climate change, one that could, hopefully, drive public policy in the right direction. Record high temperatures are being constantly recorded all over the world. A recent poll showed a large majority of Americans believe that extreme weather events of recent years are connected to climate change. Major corporations are calculating the impacts of rising temperatures on their business. The Pentagon is preparing for a world growing more politically unstable as crop failures increase and societies grapple with simply feeding their people.
We have to hope—especially for our children and grandchildren—this positive shift in public awareness and action will happen fast enough and isn’t coming too late. We have no reasonable option but to do much better than we are now.
Michael Lanza is a freelance photographer and writer. The creator of TheBigOutside.com, Lanza dedicates his site to sharing personal hiking adventures and offering guidance to fellow wilderness enthusiasts. He is the Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine, the voice behind the Trip Doctor blog on backpacker.com, and a former editor for AMC Outdoors magazine. Author of previously published hiking guides, Lanza's newest book, Before They're Gone (Beacon Press, spring 2012), examines climate change in national parks through the lens of family hiking excursions.
National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis calls climate change "the greatest threat to the integrity of the national park system that we've ever faced."
Jarvis, who began his NPS career in 1976 and took over as director in October 2009, oversees America's 58 national parks and more than 300 other units of the park system at a time when scientists are learning more about the myriad threats posed by warming temperatures. Those include the expected disappearance of Glacier National Park's glaciers within a decade; snowpack declining virtually everywhere and the sweeping impacts of that on rivers, recreation, and ecosystems; more, larger wildfires and invasive species devastating forests across the West; and the gradual inundation by rising seas of park lands from the Olympic coast to Acadia to the Everglades.
Jarvis has served as a park biologist, chief of natural and cultural resources at several parks, superintendent at Craters of the Moon National Monument, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, and Mount Rainier National Park, and director of the Pacific West Region. He says he began working on climate issues 20 years ago. In an exclusive interview with for my upcoming book on parks and climate change, he talked about how the National Park Service is responding to the climate threat, and the possibility of employing drastic measures like irrigating giant sequoia trees.
Michael Lanza is a freelance photographer and writer. The creator of TheBigOutside.com, Lanza dedicates his site to sharing personal hiking adventures and offering guidance to fellow wilderness enthusiasts. He is the Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine, the voice behind the Trip Doctor blog on backpacker.com, and a former editor for AMC Outdoors magazine. Author of previously published hiking guides, Lanza's newest book, Before They're Gone (Beacon Press, spring 2012), examines climate change in national parks through the lens of family hiking excursions. The following post is an example of one such adventure.
I pause and stare at the trail ahead of us. Barely more than a foot wide and plastered in hard-packed snow and ice, the trail clings to the face of a cliff with a sheer drop-off of hundreds of feet to one side.
Then I look down at my seven-year-old daughter, Alex. Only four feet tall and 50 pounds, she exudes an innocent faith that her dad, holding her hand tightly, will guide her safely across that scary traverse—and the next, and the next, and so on for more than a mile and nearly a thousand vertical feet on our descent of the Grandview Trail, which zigzags across wildly exposed ledges on its steep drop into the Grand Canyon.
Our situation makes me wonder: Do parents whose kids spend seven hours a day in front of electronic screens ever grapple with the existential question haunting me now—is this really a good idea?