Last week, Yellowstone National Park experienced massive flooding and mudslides, washing away roads, bridges, and buildings. Over 10,000 visitors were evacuated, and park officials said that some areas will remain off-limits
to tourists for the rest of the summer season.
Yellowstone is not the only national park facing the consequences of a rapidly warming planet: hellish wildfires
in Sequoia National Park brought down an estimated 10-14 percent of that park’s total ancient tree population in 2021; and in Saguaro National Park, high heat
is proving too much for the park’s namesake cactuses that dot the Arizona desert.
Though historic, none of these occurrences were unexpected. In 2010, the National Parks Service (NPS) published a “Climate Change Response Strategy
” to ensure the NPS continues to meet its mandate “to promote and regulate the use of the…national parks…which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural history objects and the wildlife therein…for the enjoyment of future generations.” The publication called for “collective and individual action” to guide the NPS in its stewardship of over 84 million acres throughout the United States. The paper lays out an ambitious strategy that recognizes and adapts to the consequences of a warming planet, while mitigating the worst potential outcomes.
Doing nothing is perhaps the worst option available. “Inaction may be the riskiest decision of all because climate change is a long-term problem that carries a huge procrastination penalty.” the NPS authors write. In other words, we can’t kick the can down the road anymore–the road caves into a massive sinkhole.
The question is, how do we all work together and what issues demand the most attention? The NPS paper offers a robust guide on how that entity should address a changing climate, and though the authors couldn’t have predicted the extent of the damage in Yellowstone, it seems to me that the institution is prepared to address the fallout.
The Climate Change report acknowledges that bad things will happen and that we can’t bury our heads in the sand. Adaptation is key, and to do that requires cultivating resilience, which the NPS identifies as “the amount of change or disturbance that a system can absorb without undergoing a fundamental shift to a different set of processes and structures.” That means looking for ways to help local ecosystems survive stresses by adapting or resisting change, whether through controlled burns, restoring depleted soils, or replanting native plant species.
Nature is resilient, but at this stage, it needs help from all of us, whether we work in national parks or live in a townhome in suburbia. We are more than capable to both assist and enact positive change. We humans are part of nature, and we are also capable of adapting to a changing climate–we must accept that certain changes are unavoidable at this point. Such adaptability is not always so easily done, but we need to remember that we are capable of change.
The NPS has been actively addressing
the challenges of climate change within the park system and educating visitors on how climate change is impacting the natural world and what can be done to be more “climate friendly.” Other climate initiatives are happening in urban areas. One example comes from Miami’s Resilient305 Initiative
, a community-wide strategy for planning and adapting to increased floods, fires, and hurricanes. Another can be found in Chicago, where rezoning has led to the creation of urban vertical farming. A 90,000 square-foot hydroponic facility is one of the world’s largest
and grows produce with recycled water and no pesticides. Though urban-based, these programs prove that all of us, no matter where we live, can cultivate community resilience where we live. These local wins also provide the mental fortitude to tackle larger issues beyond our own neighborhoods.
Awakening our environmental consciousness means becoming less anthropocentric–the belief that humans are the center of earthly experience–and accepting that we comprise one group among many on this planet. Reconnecting with the natural world, taking steps (any steps!) to reign in our excesses, and rejecting fearmongering tactics of righteous would-be environmentalists or conspiracy theorists. Fomenting fear does nothing to encourage people to change–in fact, fear can freeze us to inaction. It is easy to feel helpless or distressed by the loss of an ecosystem. There’s even a new term to identify this sadness, solastagia.
Change is incremental. Think of the frog in water that is slowly heating to a boil — he doesn’t notice it until he’s just about cooked. We’re all experiencing confusion, trepidation, and grief. I have millennial clients who are resisting their urge to have children because they don’t want to subject their children to the climate chaos, they fully expect to arrive mid- to late-century, if not earlier. That’s a grievous loss in itself.
“Those of us left behind must relearn our physical world, reexamine the places we took for granted and how they have changed…. Without mourning rituals…feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and anger seem out-of-place, misunderstood, or inappropriate, resulting in a kind of mental stasis where acceptance and closure never happen.” Actively cultivating resilience by working towards a better future is a hedge against such feelings of futility.