Photo: Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

How Climate Change Is Transforming the Places We Care About

Belgium Nepal Peru United States Activism
by Emma Thieme Feb 28, 2017

THIS TIME LAST YEAR, I was somewhere in the southwestern United States, driving to Mexico with my boyfriend. When we returned home to Maine in spring, we were told that we missed a bad winter — there wasn’t any snow, it was rainy, wet, and cold every day. This summer, we all had high hopes for a snowy 2017 season — the Farmer’s Almanac had called for one. But November, December, and January came and went with limited snow. February brought back-to-back record blizzards, but the snow burned off in the unseasonable heat that followed them.

The Maine seasons that I grew up with are changing, that’s a fact. They’re shorter, warmer, dryer. It’s not just about the lack of coldness, it’s about the chain reactions that go off because of it. Because our grounds aren’t frozen for as long as they used to be, we’re experiencing a surge in Lyme’s Disease — deer ticks aren’t getting killed off and they’re emerging each spring with an even bigger vengeance than the year before. We have more soil disease, more pests, a completely different growing season.

So is this climate change? Is my home state just experiencing some kind of cycle? Does it even matter which? I asked members of the Matador Network Creator’s Community the same questions about their own beloved places. Here’s what they had to say.

Machu Picchu, Peru

When I first started working as a guide on the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, the adventure was not just limited to enjoying the beautiful snowcapped mountains, but partly about sorting out the many rivers and creeks that would frequently flood the trails. I remember with some nostalgia the many times I laughed at people falling into the mud or the water in their attempts to stay dry.

High up in the Paramo — the land of humidity, moss, fungus, lichens and orchids — is the buffer zone between the cold Andean grasslands and the semi-tropical cloud forests. The sound of the Andean marsupial tree frogs croaking right after sunset made a beautiful symphony for those camping on the Inca Trail.

I’ve been working for 20 years in these mountains, and it’s very painful to come to terms with all the dramatic changes in the natural landscape that have taken place throughout that time. Many of the streams that used to flood the trails are completely dry. The glaciers are gone forever, and nowadays I rarely hear those frogs in the Paramo.

You don’t have to believe me, just go on a hike to the Salkantay Trek or take the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. If you have an environmentally-conscious guide, they’ll be able to show you proof. If that’s not enough, the deafening sounds of the huge ice blocks falling off the glaciers will remind you of the real and devastating effects of climate change. — Miguel Angel Gongora

Grapevine Canyon, Nevada

1994: I am in the heart of the earth, a delicate canyon holding new and dried grapevines, petroglyphs, cigarette butts, bottle caps and a spring-fed trickle of water no wider than my hand. I won’t tell you how to find this place. Know that it is within range of the vampire lairs of Vegas and Laughlin. Know that from the throat of the canyon, you can watch a three-quarter moon fall slowly to a lilac horizon.

2017: I have continued to climb up into Grapevine Canyon at least once a year since my first visit. The trickle of water has shrunk to the width of my three fingers, two fingers, my thumb, then to nothing. The relatively lush vegetation has dried out. Research shows that the temperatures in the area have increased 2% and more since 2000 and are expected to increase an additional 3.5°F to 9.5°F by the end of this century. Not only is my sense of wonder and beauty being impacted, everything that lives in Grapevine Canyon is in peril — and who knows what horrors lie ahead for this place. — Mary Sojourner

Portage Glacier, Alaska

I have a photo from 1994, aged and slowly losing color, that shows me as a kid with a neon hat crammed over my flyaway hair, standing on a boulder with a vast Alaskan valley behind me. In the right side of the background, you can see a white mass of ice disappearing off the frame. This was Portage Glacier, one of the last summers the terminus of the glacier could be seen from the parking lot and Portage Glacier Visitor Center.

Now, the glacier has receded. Where you could once enjoy Portage Glacier in full view from the visitor center, you must now board a boat and cruise out around the rocky point that hugs the right edge of the vast frozen mass.

One-hundred years ago, Portage Glacier covered the parking lot where my picture was taken. One-hundred years ago, there was no lake to cruise on at all. The visitor center wasn’t even necessary because you could walk right up to the glacier and put your hand on the ice. You could feel the power ice has in shaping geography, even if at a nearly imperceptible pace.

That pace is no longer imperceptible in Alaska, where 99% of glaciers are retreating. The entire face of Alaska is changing as the glaciers that carved this land are melting away. Though we often define home as a building or a community, my home in Alaska includes the great mountains, powerful rivers, and humble glaciers. What will happen to my home when they are gone? — Valerie Stimac

Langtang Range, Nepal

Water is already a scarcity in Nepal and climate change is making it worse. Drought conditions have become more prevalent in recent years with increasing intensity of rainfall during the monsoon season and an absence in other seasons. To cope with the changing climate, some farmers are substituting rice crops for crops that are less demanding of water.

I was in the foothills of the Langtang Range of Nepal and had just spent the day in a village where the tiered rice paddies looked dead from the dryness. The only source of water was a cistern that barely looked bigger than my bathtub at home. I knew that it had to provide water for bathing, cooking, drinking, laundry and watering the animals and crops.

A woman on a hill above the rice paddies was attempting to bathe from a trickle of water coming out of the cistern. She wore a printed dress with the sleeves pulled down to expose her neck and arms, and had the tap on the cistern turned low. She strained to clean herself with the dribble of water even though the relentless dust would have her covered again within minutes. Everyone knows it’s rude to stare, but I did anyway. It was sad to watch her struggle when I knew I could return to my hotel and shower the grit off with more water than she would likely see in a week. The monsoon season was a long way off and this would be her reality for months to come. — Marlene Ford


Climate change has had a huge impact on my home country of Belgium. My birthday is in November, and for as long as I can remember, there’s always been snow. My birthday parties always had to be inside because it was too cold to play outdoors. We used to go to school with sleds or have snowball fights from November until February. Back then, we were happy when spring finally arrived with its sun and warmth.

Now, I can sit outside in the sun without a jacket on my birthdays. Even the rest of the winter that follows is not really a winter. I miss those very cold days, the days that ask you to be inside with some hot chocolate. A white Christmas would be nice, too. But most of all, I miss the changing of the seasons. — Sharon Janssens

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