Report from 2050: America the Not-So-Beautiful

Climate change and human development have marred the landscape of America's national parks

[Note: This was originally published on 13.7 Billion Years as part of "Reports from 2050," a series of imagined reports from the year 2050, based on current news, recent discoveries and scientific predictions. To see what's real and what's not, click on the links within the text.]

by Reynard Loki, 13.7 Billion Years

JANUARY 13, 2050 (Twentynine Palms, California) -- Almost 40 years ago, in 2011, Emma Harris wrote an article in the journal Nature entitled "The End of the World."

"Imagine Montana’s Glacier National Park without glaciers; California’s Joshua Tree National Park with no Joshua trees; or the state’s Sequoia National Park with no sequoias," Harris wrote. "In 50 years’ time, climate change will have altered some U.S. parks so profoundly that their very names will be anachronisms."

"Jon Jarvis, who became director of the U.S. National Park Service in 2009, has called climate change 'the greatest threat to the integrity of our national parks that we have ever experienced.' The sentiment represents a dramatic shift from the position held during the Bush administration, when officials refused to fully acknowledge the existence of climate change."

It didn't take half a century to achieve the sad transformation of America's parks about which Harris warned almost four decades ago. Today, the majority of these once majestic lands are just shells of their former selves. Visitor numbers are at an all-time low; the few people who come to the nation's public wildlands come mostly to witness the devastation, the lack of wildlife and healthy forests, the absence of bird calls, the polluted rivers and streams.

Climate change isn't the only culprit. Since President Bill Clinton established the Giant Sequoia National Monument in 2000, the Forest Service has irresponsibly allowed extensive logging there. Energy exploration and human expansion from population growth have also negatively affected the nation's public lands and its wildlife populations. Waterways have become final repositories for pesticides due to agricultural runoff. Record numbers of Yellowstone's endangered bison have been killed by cattle ranchers for encroaching on land meant for livestock raised to feed a human population that is bursting at the seams.

President Theodore Roosevelt once said, "The things that will destroy America are prosperity at any price, peace at any price, safety first instead of duty first and love of soft living and the get-rich-quick theory of life."

A staunch environmentalist and conservationist (he created 150 national parks while in office), Roosevelt would likely have connected the dots between America's overpopulation, its addiction to fossil fuel and the destruction of the nation's wilderness.

Suffice it to say, "America the Beautiful" is now a thing of the past because the price of the country's so-called "prosperity" has included "purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain."

image: The upper end of St. Mary Lake, the second largest lake in Glacier National Park, after Lake McDonald, and Wild Goose Island. (credit: Ken Thomas)

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