Seattle Times Editorial

THIS summer thousands of Glacier National Park visitors are climbing a steep mountain trail to bid farewell to the rapidly shrinking Grinnell Glacier. Fit young athletic types and families with small children walk single file along with people like me. I’m one of those gray-haired types relying on hiking poles. Even though I’m not as old as the park’s glaciers, like them, I am closer to the end of my life than the beginning.

The current glaciers in the park are estimated to be at least 7,000 years old. In 1850, there were 150 within the park boundary. By the time I was a teenager, there were 50 glaciers left. Now there are only 26 remaining, vastly diminished in size. Somewhere between 2020 and 2030, scientists say these will all be gone.

When I’m gone, friends and family will miss me. When the glaciers are gone, it’s not just hikers who will miss them, because mountains and glaciers are much more than scenery. They are the water towers of our world, supplying us all with fresh water from rainfall, snow cover and glacial melt. Globally, 68.7 percent of fresh water is stored in glaciers and ice caps.

As we reached Grinnell Lake, I overheard a young girl saying, “Mommy, I don’t want the glacier to melt!” Me neither. I wished I could deliver a eulogy for the glaciers to the crowd of hikers assembled on the lakeshore. Here’s what I would tell that little girl: The Grinnell Glacier will melt, but you can help save other glaciers.

First, you need to understand why we are in this serious situation. You live on a beautiful green and blue planet with the perfect temperature for life, an average of 55 degrees Fahrenheit, thanks to our insulating atmosphere. Infrared radiation from the sun is trapped by the earth’s atmosphere and warms us.

Unfortunately, that blanket has gotten too thick. When we burn dirty, carbon-based fuels like oil and coal, too much carbon dioxide is trapped in the atmosphere, so now our climate is hot enough to melt the Grinnell Glacier.

Humans created this problem, and we can solve it together. All we have to do is reduce the burning of dirty fuels and switch to clean sources of energy like wind and solar. That’s where that next generation comes in. By sharing knowledge on glaciers and climate, change will come.

There’s more you can do. Write a letter to your representatives in Congress and to the editor of your local paper. A friend’s third-grade, daughter recently wrote a letter to our newspaper: “I am just a kid, but I want my friends and everyone else to grow up in a clean and healthy world where we and all the animals can exist. I bet you’d want that for your kids as well. We have to take care of our world. It’s our only one.”