Twenty years ago, I was a high school foreign exchange student in Bolivia. One of the benefits of living in the southern hemisphere was the reversed seasons. Instead of a short Christmas break, I enjoyed a long summer break from November through February.

I spent much of that vacation traveling across the country. I visited many of Bolivia's cities. I visited the Incan ruins at Tiwanaku. I hiked an Incan trail. I camped on The Island Of The Sun on Lake Titicaca.

I did many amazing things that this kid from Pennsylvania would have never even dreamed of... but there was one "to-do" on my list that I never got around to. I wanted to ski on Chacaltaya.

Chacaltaya is one of many "world's highest" found perched high in the Andes mountains of Bolivia. Lake Titicaca is the world's highest navagable lake. Potosi is the world's highest city. La Paz is the world's highest capital city. Not surprisingly, the world's highest international airport is in El Alto, near La Paz. Chacaltaya is the world's highest ski resort.

Had I visited Chacaltaya, the conditions would have probably been miserable for skiing because fresh powder isn't the sort of thing one could expect to find there. Then again, oxygen isn't exactly abundant either, being that Chacaltaya sits at an elevation of over 17,500 feet above sea level. Chacaltaya isn't a snow covered mountainside. It's an 18,000 year old glacier.

...correction. Chacaltaya was an 18,000 year old glacier. Was. Much has been written about what will happen as climate change takes hold. Let's talk about something that already has happened. In 2009, the Chacaltaya glacier melted away to nothing.

It's gone.

With the loss of Chacaltaya, Bolivia most likely loses its title of having the world's highest ski resort as there isn't enough snow to ski there. Bolivia is also going to lose the glacier atop nearby Mount Illimani within the next fifteen years. Here's a shot of Mount Illimani that I took in downtown La Paz twenty years ago while leaning out my hotel window.

Mount Illimani

The glacier on Mt. Illimani provides half of the water that the more than two million people of La Paz and El Alto rely on.

The loss of that glacier will be catastrophic. I don't know how to put it into words, frankly. Life as we know it cannot survive without water. Already, taps and faucets in El Alto are running dry, causing the people who live there to hoard water when they have it.

Mount Illimani

On September 11th, terrorists killed three thousand people with four airplanes. How many millions of people are we killing with climate change? Are their lives any less important simply because they don't live here? Is their environment any less important simply because we don't live there?

Are we really that egotistical? I fear the answer is yes.

Smokestacks are death.
Burning coal is death.
McMansions are death.
Bigass mother fucking SUVs are death.
Suburban sprawl is death. It's death because we're wasting resources in order to live a lifestyle that is absolutely not sustainable.

The problem is, this waste isn't your death. It isn't mine either. Instead, the energy we're wasting and the fossil fuels we're burning will be the death of people who couldn't afford to live such a deadly lifestyle in the first place.

The La Paz I knew was a magnificent place. It was a city carved deep into a valley, high in the Andes of western Bolivia. Here, you can see homes built into the sides of one of the mountains that surrounds the city.

I have no doubt that La Paz still is a magnificent city, but changes are coming and they're coming fast. The Illimani glacier is expected to disappear within fifteen years along with half of the water La Paz relies on. The timeframe is too short for anything to be done that could possibly prevent the glacier's demise. How will the city survive? It's worth noting that the Chacaltaya glacier was expected to disappear by 2020, and it's already gone.


What fascinates me most about the reluctance of Haves And The Have Mores to address climate change is the amount of opportunity they're ignoring for the sake of political ideology. Disappearing glaciers aren't influenced by Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives. They're influenced by the temperature, and the average annual temperature is rising.

Someone is going to create green technology. Someone is going to profit from it. Why not us? We should be selling green technology to the other nations rather than buying it from them.

Like Chacultaya itself, the time to debate climate change is gone.

::::: | Tuesday, Dec 15 2009 at 12:05 AM
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Michele C. said:

I spent part of my Thanksgiving arguing about climate change with my neo-con cousin and father this year. The depth to which we will go to delude ourselves so we can continue to live such a wasteful life astounds me. But we can, because, as you say, it will be the "have-nots" who will suffer first. We - the more privileged in the northern hemisphere - rarely take actions that will alter our comfortable lifestyle unless forced. But it's coming. Beautifully written post!

::::: | December 15, 2009 10:54 AM

Rob said:

"The Haves And The Have Mores" is actually a phrase George Bush used early into his presidency to describe his political base.

::::: | December 15, 2009 11:00 AM

Anonymous said:

Great post (a bonus since I just wandered over to hear the Jalpuna radio this morning)! That comment by W is disgusting.

I heard on NPR recently that a lot of people go into denial when there's too much bad news, especially with regard to environmental change. I say slap *yourself* in the head if you have to--it won't go away just because you have your head up your butt.

::::: | December 15, 2009 11:51 AM

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