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A Patagonia Lesson

Posted by griffithd on February 11, 2019 at 1:10 PM

I have been away from Philadelphia for 12 days traveling in the Patagonia region of Chile and Argentina with my spouse and a small group. This is a trip that requires hiking boots, rain gear and because of the wind, layers even though it is summer. It does not need a jacket or bow tie for anything.

Patagonia is in the very southern part of South America on the Magellan Strait and to the north. Its main features are the lower Andes mountain range, the inland fiords, and the ice fields which contain, other than Antarctica and Greenland, the most freshwater anywhere.

We had come to see the Andes and their glaciers.

The scale is measured in miles. Condors float on the winds, Guanacos abound, and Pumas, while rarely seen, are clearly present. One finds themselves thinking that this is what the world must have looked like 20,000 years ago during the last ice age. Fossils of 20-million-year-old tiny squids dot the rock formations laid open by the glacial ice. The land is defined with vast isolated ranches, call estancias, of cattle and sheep, worked by gauchos. It is very much a wild land.

Yet even here in this remote wildland, you see the impact of man on nature. Clearly, you see evidence that vast ice fields covered this entire region. Torres del Paine as massive as the three towers are, the land was shaped by ancient ice. The scientist will tell you that ice ages have come and gone for eons. The issue here and now is that the glacial melt and receding are at a record geological pace. The Serrano Glacier at the southern end of the ice fields is retreating some 400-500 meters per year, and that pace is accelerating. Our world is no longer in its natural cycle and the consequences we, the non-scientific public, are only now starting to understand fully.

It is hard to understand why we are debating global warming. The science is clear, the evidence is clear, not only at scale in the ice fields of Patagonia, but in our oceans rising temperatures, the concentration of CO2, and the weather impacts with record heat and cold, rain and drought. Rather than debate, we ought to be relentless with our regional and world political process and respond.

Sadly, looking at the data, we may have crossed the tipping point. Even if that is so, do we want our legacy to be to future generations that we saw the evidence, and we were so arrogant that we failed to respond meaningfully. That greed took precedence over great-grandchildren?

No doubt hard choices need to be made, but I would like to think we are smarter than this current state, and that real, worldwide change in environmental policy is possible, that deeds rise above rhetoric.

What if science is right?

It is our time to be a force for nature, while the glaciers, and we, are still here.

Listen, See, Act.

Categories: Griffith Thoughts, Muddy Boots, Leadership

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