October 25, 2002 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature - Coming to grips with Kyoto 

In the face of global warming, shrinking glaciers and an industry dependent on snow, Whistler’s interest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions is obvious

In the frigid Antarctic, a mammoth environmental shift occurred earlier this year when a 3,000-kilometre ice shelf, more than 200 metres thick, simply broke apart.

On the other side of the world in Greenland, the ice isn’t breaking apart it’s shrinking, in some places up to 30 feet in the past five years.

And in Tanzania, Africa, the famed ancient icecap of Mount Kilimanjaro is quickly vanishing. Its time on earth will most likely melt away in the next quarter of a century.

Closer to home the story is much the same. Only a century ago in Garibaldi Provincial Park there was 30 to 40 per cent more ice cover than there is today.

It’s hard to refute the fact that the world is getting warmer.

While killer snowpacks in recent years, pristine snow-capped peaks and fresh mountain air may belie the gravity of the global situation, Whistler is not immune to the threat of global warming.

And maybe because its livelihood depends upon it, the resort has been actively working towards the Kyoto Protocol – the international agreement aimed at reducing the harmful greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which are contributing to global warming.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien has promised to ratify Kyoto, the only international agreement addressing global warming, by the end of the year.

"A warming climate here for Whistler is clearly not a good thing," said Arthur DeJong, mountain planning and environmental resource manager at Whistler-Blackcomb.

"We are, as a ski operator, very concerned about global warming."

He admits that it’s hard to believe there’s any real threat to the ski industry, especially with the sheer amounts of snow Whistler has received over the last ten winters.

But the world’s glaciers have been acting as giant thermometers, sending out warning cries for the last 100 years.

Glaciers are one of the most sensitive ecosystems to temperature change.

"(The glaciers are) all rapidly diminishing in size," said John Clague, earth science professor at Simon Fraser University.

"If you look at any mountain range throughout the world you’ll see the glaciers have retreated and decreased in size over the last century."

A snapshot of Whistler at the turn of the century would have revealed a glacier under the chair lift above Harmony Lake and one in The Couloir on Blackcomb.

Warmer weather has made them extinct.

"Little ones below the critical threshold elevation just don’t seem to be making it," said Karl Ricker, a local scientist and naturalist who has been studying Whistler’s glaciers for most of his adult life.

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