Glacier National Park, melting before our eyes
Once home to about 150 glaciers, Glacier National Park now has 25. A trip through the park feels like being witnesses to an execution, writes editorial columnist Jonathan Martin.
Times editorial columnist
GLACIER NATIONAL PARK – The Grinnell Glacier once sprawled across a cirque basin above the ice-green Swiftcurrent Lake, providing an iconic snapshot from the Many Glacier lodge.
We’ll have to rely on those photos, because today, the Grinnell Glacier has withered to less than half its size a century ago. It, along with most of the namesakes of Glacier National Park, are melting before our eyes.
My son and I recently stood at a before-and-after exhibit at Many Glacier, the stunning Garden Wall of the Continental Divide towering above. Once home to about 150 glaciers, the park now has 25. A trip through the park feels like being witnesses to an execution.
“Many Glacier?” my 11 year-old son, Noah, asked, bobbing between the historic photo exhibit below to the stark reality before us. “Dad, I thought you meant Mini-Glacier.”
By the time Noah graduates from high school in 2020, there may be no glaciers at all in Glacier National Park. Research scientist Dan Fagre, who has studied Glacier National Park for more than two decades, said earlier models predicting a glacier-free Glacier National Park by 2030 appear to have underestimated rising temperatures.
“It is a relentless shrinking,” said Fagre.
The facts are stark. Twelve of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last 15. Ice pack across the globe is melting faster than even the most anxious predictions. Seas are warming, with dire consequences. Extreme weather is becoming routine.
Man-made climate change will be our largest bequest to Noah’s generation. Our nation has futzed and delayed and allowed flat-earth climate deniers to slow-walk us into catastrophe. Among the “science is inclusive” crowd is Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., No. 4 in the House leadership.
Enough is enough.
U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the former head of REI, declared a “moral imperative” on climate change last month. “I hope there are no climate-change deniers in the Department of Interior,” she said.
Four former Republican-appointed Environmental Protection Agency chiefs, writing in The New York Times, also debunked the deniers.
“There is no longer any credible scientific debate about the facts,” wrote William Ruckelshaus of Seattle and his colleagues, in a piece titled “The Republican Case for Climate Action.”
“The costs of inaction are undeniable. The lines of scientific evidence grow only stronger and more numerous. And the window of time to act is growing smaller: delay could mean that warming becomes ‘locked in.’ ”
President Obama, after being thwarted by Congress in 2009, finally in June laid out an end-run around the deniers in the House Republican caucus. By executive order, the EPA is beginning an overdue process of limiting carbon emissions on power plants.
What is missing, however, is the big fix. In their New York Times op-ed, the ex-EPA chiefs advocated a carbon tax, turning climate-harming emission into a tradable commodity. It would reward clean energy and reflect the true cost of cheap, dirty fossil fuels.
Standing astride the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, I watched full-size trucks, probably getting no more than 15 miles per gallon, lumber up the incline.
In the 1990s, former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., tried to pass a 40 percent increase in fuel-efficiency standards. Had it passed, the U.S. would be saving more than a million barrels of oil a day.
Instead, we delayed. And continue to delay, at least on the toughest stuff like a carbon tax. Delay is deferral to Noah’s generation. His generation will bear the costs of not only a carbon tax, but also for the untold cost of coping with a changed climate — supercharged storms, drought and ecosystems on land and sea warmed to collapse.
And they won’t have Glacier National Park for solace. By then, it will be No Glacier National Park.