Glacial retreat is a term that describes what happens when a glacier’s furthest point doesn’t reach as far down valley as it used to at the same time of year. It can be used as a shorthand to describe the shrinking of a glacier and as a symptom for climate concerns globally. Some of the most famous occurrences of glacier retreat occur in places with glaciers that attract numbers of visitors. Muir Glacier in Alaska has seen a significant reduction in size when comparing photographs from the 1970s to ones taken this decade. Glaciers around Glacier National Park in Montana are also notably smaller than before. Earlier this year, the nation of Iceland held a funeral for the first glacier lost to climate change. A bronze plaque was mounted on a bare rock where the Okjökull Glacier used to sit. The world’s glaciers cover about 10 percent of all land, mostly around Greenland and Antarctica. More glaciers can be found in elevated portions of places like Mt. Kilimanjaro or Patagonia. These frozen spaces store about 70 percent of the world’s fresh water. Based on recent surveys, around 99 percent of glaciers are in retreat. Glacier loss has devastating consequences. At a global level it relates to temperatures unsustainable for food production and mass extinction. When it occurs in a more localized setting, the runoff of more ice water than typical can cause soil erosion and farmland infertility.
Glacier retreat is an indicator that relates to global level concerns, although the two of course deeply interlink. The overall rate of carbon emissions into the earth’s atmosphere, the decrease in its forest spaces, and other environmental threats all contribute toward retreat. Transporting invasive pests can have the unintended consequences of disrupting the ecological balance in such places. An example of this is the transportation of rats via cargo ships, visiting Antarctica or the Arctic Circle. Similarly, unsustainable travel by researchers or tourists can have damaging effects. While these locations may seem distant to the environments we more frequently interact with, they are all interconnected. As temperatures rise and ice melts, increased water flows from the ice caps into seas and oceans. This results in rising waters and warmer oceans. This is a threat to much marine life, and creates the risk of ecological disasters for costal populations. “Researchers long ago predicted that the most visible impacts from a globally warmer world would occur first at high latitudes: rising air and sea temperatures, earlier snowmelt, later ice freeze-up, reductions in sea ice, thawing permafrost, more erosion, increases in storm intensity. Now all those impacts have been documented in Alaska,” warns Daniel Glick of National Geographic.
The goal is simple. Carbon dioxide is the climate’s worst enemy. It’s released when oil, coal, and other fossil fuels are burned for energy—the energy we use to power our homes, cars, and smartphones. By using less of it, we can curb our
own contribution to climate change while also saving money. Here are a dozen easy, effective ways each one of us can make a difference.
What’s the single biggest way you can make an impact on global climate change? “Talk to your friends and family, and make sure your representatives are making good decisions,” by voicing your concerns—via social media or, better yet, directly to your elected officials—you send a message that you care about the warming world. Encourage Congress to enact new laws that limit carbon emissions and require polluters to pay for the emissions they produce. “The main reason elected officials do anything difficult is because their constituents make them”.
Choose a utility company that generates at least half its power from wind or solar and has been certified by Green-e Energy, an organization that vets renewable energy options. If that isn’t possible for you, take a look at your electric bill; many utilities now list other ways to support renewable sources on their monthly statements and websites.
“Building heating and cooling are among the biggest uses of energy”. Indeed, heating and air-conditioning account for almost half of home energy use. You can make your space more energy efficient by sealing drafts and ensuring it’s adequately insulated. You can also claim federal tax credits for many energy-efficiency home improvements.
Since they were first implemented nationally in 1987, efficiency standards for dozens of appliances and products have kept 2.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the air. That’s about the same amount as the annual carbon pollution coughed up by nearly 440 million cars. “Energy efficiency is the lowest-cost way to reduce emissions”. When shopping for refrigerators, washing machines, and other appliances, look for the Energy Star label. It will tell you which are the most efficient.
Saving water reduces carbon pollution, too. That's because it takes a lot of energy to pump, heat, and treat your water. So take shorter showers, turn off the tap while brushing your teeth, and switch to WaterSense-labeled fixtures and appliances. The EPA estimates that if just one out of every 100 American homes were retrofitted with water-efficient fixtures, about 100 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year would be saved—avoiding 80,000 tons of global warming pollution.
Approximately 10 percent of U.S. energy use goes into growing, processing, packaging, and shipping food—about 40 percent of which just winds up in the landfill. “If you’re wasting less food, you’re likely cutting down on energy consumption”. And since livestock products are among the most resource-intensive to produce, eating meat-free meals can make a big difference, too.
LED lightbulbs use up to 80 percent less energy than conventional incandescents. They’re also cheaper in the long run: A 10-watt LED that replaces your traditional 60-watt bulb will save you $125 over the lightbulb’s life.
Taken together, the outlets in your home are likely powering about 65 different devices, an average load for a home in the U.S. Audio and video devices, cordless vacuums and power tools, and other electronics use energy even when they're not charging. This “idle load” across all U.S. households adds up to the output of 50 large power plants in the U.S. So don't leave fully charged devices plugged into your home's outlets, unplug rarely used devices or plug them into power strips and timers, and adjust your computers and monitors to automatically power down to the lowest power mode when not in use.
Gas-smart cars, such as hybrids and fully electric vehicles, save fuel and money. And once all cars and light trucks meet 2025’s clean car standards, which means averaging 54.5 miles per gallon, they’ll be a mainstay. For good reason: Relative to a national fleet of vehicles that averaged only 28.3 miles per gallon in 2011, Americans will spend $80 billion less at the pump each year and cut their automotive emissions by half. Before you buy a new set of wheels, compare fuel-economy performance.
If all Americans kept their tires properly inflated, we could save 1.2 billion gallons of gas each year. A simple tune-up can boost miles per gallon anywhere from 4 percent to 40 percent, and a new air filter can get you a 10 percent boost.
Choosing to live in walkable smart-growth cities and towns with quality public transportation leads to less driving, less money spent on fuel, and less pollution in the air. Less frequent flying can make a big difference, too. “Air transport is a major source of climate pollution”. “If you can take a train instead, do that”.
You can offset the carbon you produce by purchasing carbon offsets, which represent clean power that you can add to the nation’s energy grid in place of power from fossil fuels. But not all carbon offset companies are alike. Do your homework to find the best supplier.