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Climate Change in Our Country's Backyard - Aubrey Tingler Investigates

Climate Change in Our Country's Backyard - Aubrey Tingler Investigates

This week, it's my pleasure to introduce Aubrey Tingler to the Sustainable Directions family. A friend of mine since our days in Emory's Environmental Sciences department, Aubrey is a passionate conservationist, scientist, and environmental writer. She recently completed a 10.5 month AmeriCorps service term with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where she conducted conservation science fieldwork and environmental outreach in Washington state. While looking into full-time opportunities in the environmental field, she is working part-time at a nature center in Bethesda, MD. Aubrey just got back from the adventure of a lifetime in our National Parks - and she reached out to me. She admitted that she came face-to-face with climate change everywhere she went. See below for her post on her observations and reflections. 

This year we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of our National Parks. As you read Aubrey’s story, I ask that you question what the parks mean to you, what memories you hold. I ask that we all question what legacy we will leave behind, and what memories our children will get the opportunity to have.

Photo Credit: Savannah Miller

By Aubrey Tingler: Within the 84.9 million acres of designated U.S. National Park land, you will find luxury lodges, backcountry campsites, short yet scenic trails, and opportunities to either provide yourself the challenge of a lifetime, or never be more than 10 feet from the comfort of your own car. Our National Parks are a jewel of our nation not just for the lands they preserve, but for the experiences they make accessible by providing a collective, albeit remote, backyard. This summer, I visited four National Parks on a cross-country road trip: Glacier (MT), Grand-Teton (WY), Yellowstone (WY/MT/ID), and Arches (UT).

Thanks for contributing Aubrey! Photo Credit: Tyrell Dozier

Thanks for contributing Aubrey! Photo Credit: Tyrell Dozier

I was awed by each landscape’s unique, eccentric, and often otherworldly features, from mountain-surrounded Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park to Yellowstone’s “Paint-Pots” teeming with ancient bacterial life. Throughout my journey, one thought struck me again and again. I was astounded by the sheer vastness of these landscapes. The United States is so big. Granted, I already knew this on an intellectual level, but to experience it driving across the country blew my mind in a way I never expected. But this notion was coupled with another – the environmental fragility of this landscape that seems so massive, so sturdy, at face value. We live in an era of global climate change. We live in an era where all 196 nations combined pumped nearly 38.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air burning fossil fuels, catalyzing worldwide changes to our atmosphere, oceans, and landscapes.

If this country alone – just one of 196 - seems so incomprehensibly vast, how can we even begin to address global environmental problems like climate change? You don’t need a trained eye to notice climate change impacting our National Parks. I witnessed massive swaths of scorched trees while touring Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. I learned the park suffered three wildfires in 2015, amidst unusually high temperatures for the area—over 95 degrees Fahrenheit in northern Montana. If you’re in doubt about the correlation between these increased wildfires and climate change, you need only look to the official brochure from the National Park Service on “Climate Change in National Parks.” 

Many climate change consequences make it difficult for park managers to preserve the resources unimpaired. Higher temperatures in spring and summer and earlier melting of the snow pack in recent years have contributed to an increase in the frequency and duration of wildland fires. Recent studies have concluded that a changing climate, not previous fire suppression policies or land-use changes, is the major cause.
— National Park Service

Hike in Yellowstone National Park. Photo Credit: Savannah Miller

Evidently, the National Park Service is directly linking climate change to some of the conservation challenges they currently face. According to an article in the Scientific American: “81 percent [of National Parks], have experienced extreme recent warm conditions; 78 have undergone recent extreme wet conditions, 43 recent extreme dry conditions, and 35 recent warm and dry conditions [due to climate change]”. In addition to evidence of wildfires in Yellowstone, we witnessed the impact of increased temperatures on glaciers. The Grand-Teton’s once-great glaciers were lackluster before us. Glacier National Park has also seen the loss, or mass-reduction, of many of its namesake glaciers. Around the parks, I saw fliers for ranger talks on how climate change is affecting the park, showing that its very much part of the conversation for the National Park Service. It was everywhere. In these parks, you can’t avoid the changes, the facts.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed, or even pessimistic. I felt this way myself at times. However, during my journey this summer, it was the National Parks themselves, and the 305 million people who joined me to visit every year, that gave me hope. Even though National Park visitors represent a tiny percentage of our nation’s population, I believe that if enough people care enough about nature to travel miles and miles to see it, perhaps we are closer than we sometimes think to a climate policy breakthrough in this country, and across the world.

Photo Credit: Savannah Miller

So, now that I've accosted you with facts and figures, here’s my crazy idea: If enough people care about the beauty of our National Parks, visit, observe, and return home equipped with the same feeling of stewardship and concern for this magnificent place we call home, it is possible for all of us—the 196 countries—to address climate change. It’s intentional that I don’t simply state “solve climate change.” Firstly, because we have already emitted such an excess of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, we have secured a certain amount of climate change within our atmosphere. Secondly, because addressing climate change requires both the politicians to push for smart climate policy, just as much as it requires individuals making sustainable, daily decisions.

I hear from my “devil’s advocate” friends again and again that you will “never convince everyone to [[insert lifestyle change here]].” I fully acknowledge that this is true. This necessitates pushing accountability to the industries, the polluters, and governments. The societal institutions with the power to escalate change must act, quickly and purposefully. I want to emphasize that your own, seemingly trivial, everyday decisions can and do make a difference. And ultimately, if people will travel thousands of miles from every state, and many countries, to view the beauty of the National Parks, I believe we recognize, at even the slightest level of consciousness, that “this is important.” 

This land, this place, this planet is important. It’s that consciousness that is the first step to getting people to adopt so many of the great, practical, lifestyle, and mindset changes that Savannah suggests on this blog for sustainable living. A trip to our National Parks isn’t simply another memorable vacation, but a climate change expedition. These visits offer us the opportunity to remind ourselves that it does matter where you shop, who you vote for, and how you manage your water and energy usage every single day. Bottle up that awe, and let it encourage you to drive less, eat less meat, think before you buy, and generally contribute to the sustainable future of our one planet that we all know both it and we deserve.

Photo Credit: Savannah Miller

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