My Backyard Glacier:
Glaciers are justifiably one of the most iconic of all climate change images. Here, the Mendenhall Glacier (also Sitaantaagu or Áakʼw Tʼáak Sítʼ) can be seen in the background flowing down from the Juneau Ice Field in Alaska, about 11 miles from my home. In the foreground is Mendenhall Lake—geologically speaking a brand-new feature on the landscape. Had you looked upon this scene less than a century ago, instead of a lake, you would have seen a glacier. During the past 100 years the glacier has retreated nearly two miles, leaving this lake in its wake.
The cause, of course, is the result of our own largess and failure to find the will to react quickly enough. Climate change is not like an earthquake, or a flood, but a very slow moving (you could say ‘glacial’) tragedy that is too easily ignored for more pressing matters like football and reality TV.
In climate change, there are winners and losers. The new lake has provided habitat for birds and fish that wasn’t there before. However, in other nearby places, the water has become so warm, that massive fish die offs are common. And let me be clear, although some gain while others lose, the net outcome is not a good thing.
Juneau residents, myself included, cash in on tourism dollars that drive our economy. Many of the visitors are heading to Alaska to “see the glaciers before they are all gone”.
And as communities go, Juneau is fairly green. Its power is hydroelectric and the town has one of the largest, per capita ownership of electric cars. We eat lots of locally caught, sustainable seafood, and are blessed with a seemingly endless supply of fresh water.
I do what I can to live a sustainable life, but I still get on jets, drive a diesel boat for fun and I still occasionally eat bacon. Yes, I’ll admit I’m a hypocrite, but at least I am trying to do better.