Covering Glaciers With Blankets to Hide the Ice — and the Real Problem
As climate change increasingly threatens glaciers and ice, glacier-saving campaigns led by environmentalists, governments, organizations, and communities are popping up around the globe. Quite a lot of different methods have been attempted, including using insulating blankets to stop melt, creating artificial glaciers, and implementing glacier protection laws. Nonetheless, as these campaigns develop into more popular, communities and researchers — including the authors of a chapter in the brand new book, Ice Humanities — have begun to query the motives, framings, and effectiveness of those campaigns, resulting in some doubts as to their helpfulness in addressing climate change.
The chapter focuses on five key examples of glacier-saving campaigns, three of which use geoengineering projects to cut back ice loss. In Switzerland, a bunch of residents has attempted to slow ice loss by putting insulating blankets on the Rhône Glacier, an important source of freshwater and tourism revenue within the country. Ski resorts in Europe have covered glaciers and snow with blankets and tarp, in addition to producing artificial snow with snow machines. Meanwhile in Ladakh, India, engineers are constructing artificial glaciers and ice stupas to complement water supplies for farming and drinking.
Within the two other examples from the chapter, communities and nations took a special technique to saving ice, working to secure legal and political protections for his or her glaciers. In 2010, lawmakers in Argentina passed the world’s first national glacier protection law, which prohibits mining, industrial activities, and other harmful activities near glaciers within the country. In India, two glaciers were granted “legal personhood” by the Uttarakhand High Court in 2017, allowing residents to sue on behalf of glaciers which have sustained harms.
These five examples of glacier-saving campaigns are the main target of a chapter in a recently published book, Ice Humanities. Mark Carey, an environmental historian on the University of Oregon and lead creator of the chapter, has been researching the societal impacts of glacier retreat and ice for over twenty years. After seeing glaciers transform right into a climate icon and observing the rise in glacier-saving campaigns often led by groups outside the affected communities, he began to wonder why certain stakeholders emphasize saving glaciers greater than others, for what purpose, and with what implications for communities and the larger climate movement.
The research gained steam through the summer of 2019, when two undergraduate researchers — Jordan Barton, now a law student at University of California Berkeley, and Sam Flanzer, now a current graduate student at George Washington University —began in Carey’s research lab. Their initial research on Greenland icebergs shifted to glacier-saving campaigns when the campaigns began popping up across their different individual research areas. In accordance with Barton, the media coverage followed the identical pattern: a “doom and gloom lament for lost ice,” followed by a “give attention to the brand new [glacier-saving] innovation” often led by outsiders. Nonetheless, missing from these stories was any kind of give attention to “the communities that really lived with these melting glaciers,” she notes.
With this gap in mind, the researchers began examining different glacier-saving campaigns through an ice humanities lens — specializing in the glacier representations, stories and values which are driving policy, engineering, and management strategies, relatively than simply the strategies themselves. Carey says that they honed in on the five key examples highlighted within the chapter, using the ice humanities approach to grasp each “the social actors and entities given authority to resolve the issue of ice loss and climate change” in addition to the “invisible actors and the implications for mountain landscapes and residents.”
Through this research, the authors found that the majority of the coverage of those campaigns primarily focuses on the strategies and creators of the campaign but not the actual result — whether or not it really works to cut back glacier loss. Coverage also often failed to handle the communities most affected by the melting ice, as a substitute focusing more on industrial effects and tourism. Because the authors observe within the chapter, “the act of offering an answer to ice loss seems more vital than whether that solution works.”
Barton emphasizes that the chapter shouldn’t be criticizing glacier-saving campaigns but relatively recognizing that “how we talk and think concerning the campaigns shapes how we frame the underlying problems of climate change and systemic inequalities.” The campaigns will be useful and impactful to individual glaciers, communities, and industries, but they don’t address the foundation problem of climate change. Focusing too heavily on “a Band-Aid over the symptoms of those problems results in missing an important greater picture,” she explains.
As ice continues to shrink and retreat worldwide, policymakers and journalists should query the underlying assumption that campaigns to save lots of ice are inherently a superb thing. As an alternative, they need to evaluate whether the campaign addresses the foundation problem, who’s leading it, and who advantages from it to discover schemes that act more as a brief fix than a long-term solution. Because the climate situation becomes more dire, community-led and long-term projects focused on mitigating the present and future effects of ice loss are vital to saving mountain communities and alpine ecosystems.