The effects of climate change on glaciers, coral reefs and other natural phenomena around the globe are well documented: disappearing ice in Antarctica and Greenland, disappearing habitats for Arctic polar bears, disappearing marine life from coral reefs off Australia and other tropical waters around the globe being among the best known (and most alarming) examples.
But I wasn’t aware until I read this great piece from Reuters (via skift.com) that glaciers are also disappearing from the Peruvian Andes, or that Peru had the greatest concentration of tropical glaciers in the world, which are highly vulnerable to climate change.
The main gist of the article is that Peruvians who depend on tourist visits to one fast-shrinking glacier, the Pastoruri, are facing threats to their livelihood that mirror the threats to the glacier itself, which has lost half its size over the past 20 years and may not survive another ten.
Tour operators, travel agents, guides, hoteliers, food vendors and restaurateurs, service personnel, bus drivers (who once hauled “throngs of tourists” up to see the glacier in double-decker buses) and other tourism-related folks in the Cordillera Blanca peaks area of Peru have all seen business drop off mightily since the glacier has been reduced to a third of a square mile of ice. Where 100,000 people annually used to visit 20 years ago, only a third of that now come to view it.
According to the Reuters piece, about a quarter of the local population depends on tourism for their livelihoods. And that has led to an “adapt or die” strategy that we may see more of around the world: in this case, “climate change tourism.”
Local tourism leaders have come up with the idea of taking visitors on the “climate change route.” As Mitra Taj of Reuters writes, “Instead of marketing Pastoruri as the pristine Andean wonderland it once was…the peak is being rebranded as a place to see climate change in action.”
Visitors can reach Pastoruri via an hour-long flight from Lima and another hour’s bus ride from the town of Huaraz, where they can then “pass marshes and ponds red with rust as they walk over a hill that was once ice,” Taj reports.
But will tourists come to see climate change in action, as the once-mighty glacier now disappears?
It won’t work for everyone. As one German visitor, who headed elsewhere, explained, “Seeing something that was once a glacier sounds quite boring and sad.”
Another visitor, though, took the opposite view: “I wanted to be able to say after it’s gone that I was here.”
An official with Peru’s Huascaran National Park, where Pastoruri stands, says that the climate change route “aims to inspire, not depress,” according to the Reuters piece. Lichens and mosses are examples of life that has thrived in oxidized puddles below Pastoruri, he points out. “‘If they can adapt to that,'” the official says, “‘why can’t we, too, adapt to climate change? That’s what this route is about.'”
So baby boomer travelers, among others, have a choice to make: is climate change tourism on your agenda? Or, for that matter, is seeing man-made wonders like the Taj Mahal before they crumble into dust (which I hope doesn’t happen, but could) a priority?
I guess the answer lies in whether you find the prospect depressing or inspiring.
As for me, while I do find the subject depressing, I’m also very glad to have seen Greenland several years ago when much of it was still covered with massive sheets of ice, and to have seen the Taj Mahal in all its grandeur as well.
And I’d love to be able to help out the people of the Peruvian Andes who see their livelihoods slipping away with the glacier. So yes, I’d take the climate change route — even if it wouldn’t be the happiest day of my traveling life.