I’ve been to Sheridan Glacier 4 times now this summer, and this week was the last time I will get to see it this trip. Every time I went, it looked a little different. The icebergs would be shifted, smaller, different shapes, and more or less of them. If the air was still, the lake would be a glassy mirror, reflecting perfectly the surrounding mountains and ice. People who had been to the glacier in previous years all said it was significantly altered and the lake is higher. A longtime Cordova resident reported that it has changed more in the past 2 years than it did in the past 25.
Here’s the thing: Change is natural. Glaciers melt a little in the summer. They do. So part of what we’re seeing is actually “climate change” and part of it is just natural summer melting. It’s important to acknowledge the difference.
But what’s not as natural is the rate of change that we’re seeing. That’s the whole issue: Yes, the climate changes naturally and we are still coming out of the last ice age, but because there are now 7 billion humans on the planet who generally only think about things in the short-term, we have made some pretty bad choices that have led to global problems.
The biggest bad choice for the planet, is of course, pumping our atmosphere full of greenhouse gasses that disrupt the climate, which has a cascade effect on everything else (thanks, fossil fuel industry!). There are many reasons why this is scary: loss of biodiversity; loss of forests that turn our CO2 back into oxygen; the loss of ice that reflects heat back out into space (let’s hear it for albedo!); and rising sea levels are among a slough of other huge consequences.
But the thing is, the planet will recover. This ain’t its first rodeo. For 4.5 billion years this floating rock in space has been through a lot more that what we’re seeing now and the level of destruction we’re causing. What I’m more worried about is us, the people who have to live here. And the only way to survive is to maintain the natural resources that we rely on (at least until we learn to photosynthesize or something). And to survive, we need to use the existing societal and material infrastructures that we’ve already built up as a human species (as screwed up as most of these infrastructures are right now) to overhaul the system and create something more durable and equitable than what we have now.
So that’s the pipe dream that goes along with my life’s work in the environmental field. Everything I do is with this in mind. As futile as it all sounds, it gives my life purpose to have something to work towards, and inspiration to see the incredible parts of this world that I can while I’m alive and strong, and while they still exist.
Glaciers, to me, are one of those incredible parts of our world that are going to be rarer for future generations to experience.
When I went to Sheridan this last time, I sat beneath the largest iceberg with an audio recorder and took in the sounds. A constant trickle, with the occasional clink of ice melting off and bouncing down into the water below. The sound, the colors, the chill of the air; impossible to capture, but vital to understand its larger importance.