Arthur Hubbard, Ph.D.
Chemistry and hiking might seem like a strange combination of passions! However, my science background has made me aware of the fundamental scientific reasons why we should be working to prevent climate change. And, my lifetime of hiking has shown me that climate change is in fact an everyday reality.
We all know that climate scientists have been observing for many years the telltale symptoms of climate change, including sea level increases, increasing acidity of the oceans, increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, increasing average temperatures, disappearance of glaciers and polar sea ice, extinction of plants and animals, extremes of weather, cloud cover, rainfall, snowfall, and violent storms. A glance at “climate change” in Wikipedia, for example, guides us to an abundance of scientific data on this subject.
My personal perspective comes from regular hiking and backpacking during the past 50 years in the mountains of California. For instance, the “Sierra Nevada” mountains form the backbone of California, running north from Los Angeles across California, into Oregon where they are known as the Cascade Range, to merge with the Rocky Mountains, and on northward through western Canada and Alaska, all the way to the Bering Sea. Included are the two highest points in the US, namely California’s Mount Whitney, and Alaska’s Mount Denali. “Sierra Nevada” is Spanish for “snowy range.” Nowadays, not so much! My photos from 50 years ago remind me that when hiking in the Sierras, even in summer, in the past one had to cope with snowfields, as well as powerful snowstorms and hailstorms. Now, the mountain peaks are often without snowfields, and the glaciers are mostly gone. Even “Glacier National Park” in Montana is largely devoid of glaciers. The magnificent trout have mostly disappeared from the Sierra lakes, rivers and streams, even in remote locations. Reservoirs that were enormous a few decades ago are now frequently empty. The snowy “garden of Eden” experience of the Sierras is changing into something much warmer and drier. Of course there are weather variations from day to day, and from year to year, yet, on average, in general, the boots-on-the-ground feeling that I get nowadays is definitely bleak!
Hiking can be delightful, of course, but what makes the mountain snows so massively important is that snow melt is vital to agriculture. The way this works is that the winter snows are nature’s way of storing enormous quantities of pure water, shaded from the sun by trees and tall mountains, for use during the hot, sunny growing season, many months later. In other words, snowfall equals food! All of the myriad edible products from farming and ranching ultimately descend from mountain snowfall. Mountain snow is a source of water for later use in much the same way as rainwater that is stored in reservoirs.