It’s vacation season, which is high time to load the kids in the car and drive off across the country to see America’s National Parks - “America’s Best Idea (tm).”
I fully support seeing as many parks as possible - I’ve been to about a half dozen, and am hoping to get all of the big name parks in the country in the next few years. Author and Backpacker Northwest editor Michael Lanza also supports this idea, but he adds some urgency to it - the parks he visits in his book Before They’re Gone will all be radically changed by climate change. And the changes they’ll undergo could destroy the very things that make some of the parks such special places in the first place.
Before They’re Gone traces Lanza’s trips to many of the iconic American parks - Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Glacier Bay, and the Everglades, to name a few. The impetus for his urgency are his two children - he wants them to be able to see these magnificent landscapes as they are now, before climactic changes scar them forever, and possibly before his kids have kids of their own.
It’s a haunting story that juxtaposes the incredible places he is visiting with the bittersweet understanding that what he is seeing will not last. The idyllic trip in Rocky Mountain National Park might already be a thing of the past as wildfires chew up Colorado. The mangrove swamps in the Everglades might not last for many more harsh hurricane seasons. And the glaciers in Glacier National Park certainly won’t be around much longer - they are already smaller than they were when I was there just 2 years ago.
Lanza’s book is something that the environmental movement needed. It needed a reminder of what happens when carbon emission and other greenhouse gases are left unchecked. It needed to read about the people (Lanza’s kids) that will only see these places once the way they are. It’s not a panacea, but it is a reminder that some of the things we take for granted - Parks, forests, beaches - will all feel the effects of climate change.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go plan a lot of vacations.