Guest commentary: From Everest to Aspen, the end of ice sparks worry, inspiration
If you think our Rocky Mountain winters aren’t what they used to be, you’re right and it’s not just because the Tippler disco ball is no longer spinning.
Average temperatures are rising. Snowpack has decreased by 20 to 60 percent since the 1950s, according to an EPA report. Our snow is melting 15 to 30 days earlier than it did 25 years ago, a report by the University of Colorado’s Environmental Center states.
This doesn’t mean we won’t have epic powder days, but it does mean average global temperatures are increasing and this is evident in our local paradise.
On the other side of the Earth, mountain weather isn’t what it used to be, either. In the Himalayas, glaciers are melting, rainfall is becoming more erratic, and there are questions about whether the “water towers of Asia” will continue to function as well as they have for millennia, keeping rivers flowing that provide drinking water for a billion people.
These mountain ranges are a world apart, but are united by a common problem: global warming. In both cases, majestic landscapes are showing unprecedented changes that human beings created, and that only human beings can repair. And on Dec. 7, we are bringing famed mountaineer David Breashears to the Wheeler Opera House to show dramatic images of Mount Everest and talk about global warming and mountains in a way that echoes right here in Aspen.
The event will support the Keeling Curve Prize, an Aspen-based effort to tackle our changing climate at its source, all around the world. The prize is named for the iconic Keeling Curve, which shows the steady increase of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. It spotlights and awards prize money to the globe’s most promising projects for reducing greenhouse gas emissions or sequestering carbon.
The effects of average global temperatures increasing are a call to action, and the hardworking individuals and organizations that enter the competition each year are reasons for hope. Winners have demonstrated a creative variety of approaches to keeping greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, from micro-grid hydropower, to grasslands restoration, to carbon pricing, to turning invasive plants into affordable biofuel for cooking and lighting. Winners have hailed from Africa, Asia and North America. Grassroots nonprofits, for-profit companies and university-based projects have won the Keeling Curve Prize.
It will take that kind of all-hands-on-deck mentality to curb the worst effects of climate change. As scientists on the United Nations’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently made clear, we are running out of time to act.
Like anyone else who has lived in these mountains for decades, we remember when ski season seemed more robust, when the mountains held the snow year-round, and when people skied the Montezuma Basin snowfield above Ashcroft in the summer. We wonder what is going to happen to this beautiful landscape and to the livelihoods of our global neighbors as the world continues to warm. We depend on these mountains, like they depend on theirs, and we want to protect the life they have given us.
There is power in that urge to protect, and we are not the only ones who feel it. Californians along with the people of the Roaring Fork Valley have experienced wildfires threatening places that have never burned so ferociously before. People in the southeast are seeing stronger hurricanes take entirely new paths and dump unprecedented amounts of water. The past four years have been the four hottest, globally, since record keeping began, according to the organization Climate Central, and people the world over want to do what they can to protect the places they love and the planet we need.
We invite you to learn more about how emissions, temperatures and change are affecting mountains from the Rockies to the Himalayas, and about the people working hard on climate solutions. Come join us Dec. 7 for stunning photography, sobering reality and a dose of inspiration.
Jacquelyn Francis is founder and director of the Keeling Curve Prize, which spotlights the world’s most promising projects for reducing greenhouse gas emissions or containing carbon. John Wilcox owns the Pine Creek Cookhouse and Ashcroft Ski Touring, and has had a decades-long career in television sports and adventure filmmaking.
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