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How Cliché

By Carlyn Anderson, Geography major, Mountain Studies minor
Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ten students, seventeen guest speakers, ten days, one big issue: climate change. Overwhelmed? Well, welcome to CCS 352, a climate change field course that ten of us students surrendered the end of our summer to learn about issues such as glacial melting, climate change policies, and pine beetle kill in forests.

We jumped right in to the issues on our first day up in Glacier National Park. We met with Steve Thompson of the Cinnabar Foundation in the afternoon and research ecologist Dan Fagre of the Glacier Institute in the evening. Being that I’m minoring in ‘Mountain Studies’, Fagre’s presentation had me captivated with information on glaciers, wildlife, and the changing ecology of the park due to climate change.
“Seeing is believing” is how the cliché goes. Fagre pointed out that when it comes to climate change, it may be a cliché found true by many people. In his PowerPoint, Fagre discussed work done to collect data and scientific information on the impacts climate change has on the glaciers of the park by doing things like digging through densely packed snow to probe glaciers. This allows Fagre to measure things that can’t be depicted in pictures, like volume loss within the glacier. Yet, at the end of the day when the all the data is collected, all the public wants are the repeat photos taken from the early 1900’s to now, demonstrating the drastic change in the size of glaciers.

Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park, MT

Now, being a photography fiend myself, I have to admit that I’m as guilty as the rest of them. Sure, I’m taking this class on climate change to learn all about the issue but when offered data or pictures, I’ll be staring at the pictures. On this course alone I took 300 pictures (excessive, I know). So when the repeat photography was shown in the presentation, my interest perked up. The old images from the 1900s showed these tremendous glaciers all over the Park! Yet, next to them laid the current picture of the glacier (for those that even still exist) and they looked so small and deflated.

This got me thinking though. What does it take to get the attention of America when it comes to climate change? The science is being done, the models projected, and first hand changes can be seen, such as with the mountain pine beetle kills. All I have to do is walk out my backdoor in Helena, Montana to see the effects on the forest, the rust red color of dead trees more plentiful then the green of evergreens. Yet, for the examples of climate change that exist, the pictures are what the media requests.

Dead trees on the Macdonald Pass

Therefore, my challenge to you all is to go outside, look around, read headlines of the News or Weather Channel, even get on some websites like www.world.org/weo/climate and find out what’s going on. After one day of guest speakers, I learned that you can’t grasp the full complexity of ecosystems and affects of climate change merely through pictures. A picture can’t show the vulnerability that places like Glacier National Park have, nor can it really show the full changes in glacier volume or even forest health – starting down in the soil and impacting fauna, biota, and entire ecosystems. If seeing is believing, open your eyes to the changing world around you and learn a little bit more about climate change.