How climate change is affecting Glacier National Park

The air was crisp and the sky was gray. A lonely north wind drifted over the craggy points of the nearby peaks. The weather was a far cry from the pleasant summer sunshine of just two days prior, but that’s how things are in the Crown of the Continent. Summer is but a fleeting glimpse in a place where cold and snow dominate the landscape for most of the year—or used to at least.

 I was enroute to Grinnell Glacier that morning, perhaps the easiest glacier to access in Glacier National Park. It wasn’t long before I arrived at the shores of Upper Grinnell Lake, a turquoise body of water below Grinnell Glacier. It would’ve been a pretty sight if not for the fact that the glacier looked downright depressing. It was shriveled and gray and riddled with rocks. The gloomy mass of ice sat tucked away against the flanks of Mount Gould, a stark shadow of its former self. I sat down at the edge of the lake and took a long look at it, then let my gaze drift back to the azure waters at my feet. One hundred years ago, Grinnell Glacier covered the entire drainage in which I sat. One hundred years ago, the lake before me didn’t even exist.

It was a sad spectacle to see. However, what’s even more sad is that while the glaciers of Glacier National Park melt away into memory, the people of the United States can’t even muster a constructive conversation on how to combat the cause of the glaciers’ retreat: climate change. The topic of climate change has become so bitterly polarized in this country that it seems unlikely that meaningful action will take place any time soon. It doesn’t help that one of the country’s major political candidates doesn’t even believe global warming is real. However, it also doesn’t help that many climate change hawks refuse to compromise on solutions.

There isn’t going to be a perfect solution to halt global warming. Many climate change activists want the United States, along with the rest of the world, to transition to 100 percent renewable energy infrastructure. They will accept nothing less and many refuse to set aside their ideological beliefs to support solutions that would at least move us in the right direction. This is not a feasible way to solve the climate crisis. Presently, we are nowhere close to making the world run on 100 percent renewable energy, contrary to what many environmentalists like to believe. 100 percent renewable energy is a goal in which we must strive towards, but in the meantime we must try to emit as little carbon as possible.  

This means we will need to embrace technology like nuclear energy, hydropower and the like. These energy sources aren’t as green or sexy as solar and wind, but they are carbon-free sources of energy, and right now, that’s what we need. Hopefully there will come a day when the world can generate all the electricity it needs from the sun, but until then we must work with what we’ve got. Climate change activists need to realize that the only feasible solution will be a pragmatic one, and climate change naysayers need to get their heads out of the sand. Only then will we be able to move past the polarization that has crippled our response to global warming. Perhaps it will be in time to save Glacier’s glaciers, but that time is rapidly evaporating.