I’ve been working on climate change issues for the past decade, and I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the biggest reasons we aren’t seeing more public outcry on the issues boils down to a simple concept. Urgency. When most people talk about climate chance — they talk about the future. What will our temperature rise be in 2100? What will happen to Arctic Ice and sea levels in 2050? What world will our grandchildren inherit? When we talk about climate change – we are often envisioning a future that is dire, frightening, and at times apocalyptic.

While many of these visions might be true, they don’t instill a sense of urgency. It gives people, politicians, and corporations the sense that they have lots of time to deal with the issue, or more accurately, plenty of time to pass the buck and not deal with the issue at all. But as we’ve seen in recent years – climate change isn’t just something that is looming in our future. It’s happening here and now. When 350.org decided to launch Climate Impacts Day – I was very excited. Communities around the world are seeing the impacts of climate change all around them, and we desperately need to share these stories so that the world understands the urgency to this crisis. While I’ve followed news stories from around the world about droughts, floods, and extreme weather that climate change is increasingly affecting,  I wanted to see what these impacts looked like in my backyard. So, I began research climate impacts here in California.

As a climber and backpacker, I spend a good amount of time in the mountains, especially near Yosemite National Park. I knew that this winter was one of the worst winters in recent history – record low snow fall, and bizarrely warm temperatures were all over the news. I found a great website called Glaciers of the American West, which has been documenting glaciers around California, nearly all of which are shrinking rapidly due to a changing climate. I decided to organize an event for Climate Impacts Day to the Dana Glacier just outside Yosemite National Park. Dana Glacier isn’t the largest, or most well-known glacier in the world. But through these amazing photo archives  documenting many of  California’s Glaciers, I learned that Dana has lost nearly 75% of it’s area since they began documenting it. We worked with one of the lead experts on California Glaciers, Hassan Basgic to learn more about these changing glaciers. Like several of Yosemite’s glaciers, it’s very likely that the Dana Glacier could disappear in our lifetime.  These glaciers also serve as part of an important ecosystem that provides 65% of the freshwater  for California cities, and for millions of acres of farmland. 

With the theme of Climate Impacts Day being “Connect The Dots”, we spent weeks painting a massive banner to take up to the glacier. Actually, it was so big we cut it into 4 banners – each one being 40′ x 40′!  Even cut into fourths, we hard a hard time finding physical space to lay out and paint the banners in, and one banner alone overflowed up my entire 80 liter backpack – which normally can fit all my supplies for a few weeks on the trail! With lots of volunteer help, and the friendly security guards at the SF Giants stadium parking lot, the banner was painted and ready to go. 

We had about 15 volunteers (and one strong dog) who were willing to help out on the project, support from partner organizations like Patagonia, and we set off for the mountains.

Normally, getting to the glacier this time of year should have required a lot more work. The seasonal Tioga Pass Road should be closed through the winter, usually from about November through June. But with snowfall being at 43% of normal, we could drive right up the road to the trail head – and Tioga Pass had the earliest opening in nearly 25 years. (And the pass was open for most of December and January too). It took us a few hours of hiking, but we found a good spot near theGlacier to lay out the banners. Due to their massive size, we had a bit of a challenge dealing with wind, and making sure each banner was staked down and catch wind like the sail of a giant yacht. We ran into a few back country skiers who had seen us from various nearby ridges, including some who got some great photographs that showed just how enormous the banner was.

And now, we’ve got this giant banner, that maybe we can send around the world to document that many other mountains, glaciers, and ice shelves that are melting. We have some great partners that are profiling these impacts – and you can learn more about glacial retreat from our friends at GlacierWorks and Extreme Ice Survey.

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