I recently attended a lecture given by a panel of speakers, one of whom worked for Glacier National Park and was responsible for training all of the park’s presentation staff. The effects of climate change, particularly the melting of glaciers and the resulting change of the landscape, has already impacted the park’s inhabitants, and models predict that all the glaciers in the park will be gone by 2020.
Yes, that’s right, no more glaciers in Glacier National Park just 10 years from now. This will obviously affect the native species that live there, including the Pika, which very well may become the second species to be listed as endangered because of climate change.
But who wants to hear about all this bad news on their summer vacation? To make sure that visitors have a pleasant time at Glacier, the park’s staff “interprets” the science so as not to offend anyone’s views and always present a message of hope to the visitors. This might make for a happier vacation, but how is this interpretation and hopefulness affecting the way that the park’s visitors view the seriousness of climate change? And what kind of hopeful message will these interpreters deliver to the public when the very sheets of ice after which this park was named have disappeared?
As much as the millions of annual National Park visitors may want to have a pleasant vacation, these parks represent the face of environmental science to much of the public, and they have a responsibility to present science without interpretation.