As politicians waffle on climate change, glaciers exit Glacier National Park

DENVER– As Denver Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper waffles on climate change, the U.S. Geological Society is reporting that Montana’s Glacier National Park will be glacier-less in a decade. Scientists had previously estimated that the park’s signature glacier-grade ice fields would last until 2030.

Glacier National Park, where glaciers are an endangered species.
Glacier National Park, where glaciers are an endangered species.

“The 2020 date is new. Dan Fagre, glacier-melting expert [for the USGS], took a close look at his monitoring data last year and determined that the glaciers are melting faster than he had anticipated,” Steve Thompson, senior program manager at the National Park Conservation Association‘s Glacier Field Office, told the Colorado Independent.

Thompson has been living and working in northern Montana for 20 years and knows Glacier and its environmental challenges intimately.

“There are only about 26 glaciers left now. There were 150 in the late 1800s,” he said.

Fagre’s report actually came out last March, but it’s not the kind of news the Park would have liked to report on the eve of its hundred-year anniversary. Thompson looks to put a positive spin on the facts.

“To be clear, the predicted absence of glaciers in the park after 2020 doesn’t mean everything will be dry. There will still be ice and ‘permanent’ snowfields. However, the size will be below the threshold of a glacier. Mountain glaciers are defined by a minimum size and physical properties, especially movement and replenishment.”

Mark Wenzler, director of the Conservation Association’s national clean air and climate programs, which educate decision-makers and the public about the effects of air pollution and global warming on the parks, worries the recent predictions are just the first wave of similar reports that will cascade out of research and public information offices over the next decade.

“Flooding, droughts and wildfires are also advancing faster than scientists predicted even a few years ago,” Wenzler told the Colorado Independent.

He said that parks can be protected from many of these climate change impacts but that action must be taken immediately.

“It will take deliberate action by Congress to curb greenhouse gases and invest in safeguarding the natural resources that our parks and people depend on,” he said. “For much of the last decade, the debate in Congress focused on how best to reduce greenhouse gases. We now know that it’s too late to cut emissions and hope for the best. Climate change is happening now, so Congress has to deal with the consequences.

“A complete solution now requires that Congress reduce emissions and protect our air, water, land, wildlife and communities from climate change impacts that will only grow worse for decades to come.”

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff, who is challenging Sen. Michael Bennet in the primary, says reckoning with climate change would be one of his top priorities as a senator, along with education and health care reform.

“I think it’s pretty clear that the contribution we’re making as humans to the destruction of our climate and the change in our environment poses a really grave threat to our ability to survive on this earth and make this planet hospitable to other species as well,” Romanoff told the Colorado Independent.

“The stakes are dramatic. We’ve lost a lot of ground in the last few years and we need to revolutionize the way we heat our homes and fuel our cars. I don’t think we should have to spill our blood or spoil our skies just to power our planet.”

Romanoff reportedly had considered running for governor in the wake of Bill Ritter’s decision last month not to run for reelection. He has repeated that he is committed to running for Senate.

Even though his talk with the Colorado Independent on climate change came before this week’s apparent flip-flop from Hickenlooper on the subject, the contrast now couldn’t be more apparent.

Hickenlooper, at the international climate change conference in Copenhagan last year, said he was shocked by the power of climate change evidence and the predicted effects it would have on the planet.

“It’s pretty compelling,” the mayor told 9 News then. “It really does make you say, ‘Gosh, I know it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be unpopular [to change].’ My takeaway is I want to come back to Denver and sit down with every skeptic I can find and just walk them through all the evidence.”

This week, as a candidate for governor, he told a crowd of mining industry executives that the “final verdict” has yet to be made on climate change, arguing that perhaps global warming would not be as “catastrophic” as reports have suggested.

Romanoff said that the time has come to develop a clear plan.

“I feel we’ve lost a lot of ground. In some cases the damage is irreversible. Here’s what I think we ought to do. I think we ought to dramatically increase the percentage our electricity to renewable sources. I think we ought to be transforming transportation policy using alternate fuel vehicles and develop paths that no longer simply subsidize sprawl but instead focus on urban infill, mass transit, conservation of open space, green space and farmland. I think we ought to be much more aggressive in energy efficiency and energy conservation efforts on the national level.”

Romanoff retired from the Colorado House in 2008. His Senate campaign has been lackluster in many respects. He raised relatively little money for such a major run and seemed to move off the radar for weeks after announcing in September. But he has recently picked up key endorsements and has hired a new team of national political consultants.

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