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Glacier National Park

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Tuesday, September 2, 1997

I thank all of you for joining me here in Glacier National Park -- one of the greatest glories of America's park system. The rich landscape we see all around us -- the deep valleys and dramatic summits -- date back more than a billion years, when Ice Age glaciers cut through this terrain, shaping and sculpting what is now one of the largest wild areas in the United States.

The Blackfeet Indians called this land "the Backbone of the World" -- and there is no question that, for the two million people who visit this park each year, Glacier connects us to the very core of our nature. It's a place where stunning summits overlook a million acres of wilderness; where the most rugged rock formations rub against meadows of beargrass blossoms; where grizzly bear, and elk, and bighorn sheep roam free.

It's easy to understand why Glacier means so much to the families that come here. It is a land that seems almost untouched by time, undamaged by man's heavy hand. To look out on Glacier's alpine beauty is to want to preserve it and protect it -- for our children, and for our children's children.

That's a responsibility President Clinton and I have taken very seriously -- not just here in Glacier, but in all of America's special places. That's why we prevented oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge. That's why we preserved 1.7 million precious acres in Utah by creating the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument. That's why we protected 1.4 million acres of the unique California desert. That's why we're restoring the Florida Everglades.

That's why we're protecting Yellowstone National Park from the dangers of mining on its borders. That's why we're putting record resources into our parks and rivers and wilderness preserves. To President Clinton and me, preserving America's special places isn't just good public policy -- it's a moral obligation.

I have come here today because Glacier National Park faces a grave threat to its heritage -- and it's one that can't be met with a simple restoration plan. The 50 glaciers in this park --which date back to the last Ice Age, 10,000 years ago -- are melting away at an alarming rate. Over the last century, we have lost nearly three-quarters of all the glaciers in this park. Grinnell Glacier has retreated by over 3,100 feet.

Jackson Glacier has lost about 75% of its surface area. If this trend continues, in about thirty years, there won't be any glaciers left at all. To borrow a phrase from a well-known pop musician, this could become be the Park Formerly Known as Glacier.

What's happening at Glacier National Park is strong evidence of global warming over the past century -- the disruption of our climate because of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, all over the world. The overwhelming evidence shows that global warming is no longer a theory -- it's a reality. Greenhouse gases keep rising at record rates. The last fewdecades have been the warmest of this century -- and the ten warmest years in this century have all occurred since 1980.

More than 2,000 scientists from all over the world on a special panel on climate change found that the evidence shows, and I quote, "a discernable human influence on global climate."

If we stay on our present course, scientists predict that average global temperatures will rise by 2 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit in the next century. That may not sound like much. But keep in mind that the difference in temperature between today and the last ice age, when all the glaciers in this park were formed, is only about nine degrees Fahrenheit. That's why, if we fail to act, scientists believe the human impact of global warming will be severe:

Infectious diseases could spread, affecting families and children in regions that had been too cold for tropical viruses to survive. Farmers and rural communities could be in jeopardy, since farms depend on a stable climate to be productive. Back in 1988, when we faced both record temperatures and droughts, the United States lost a third of its grain supply. We could face greater floods, droughts, and heat waves. Some see the unusually severe flooding in the Midwest, the Dakotas, and around the country -- those "hundred-year floods" that seem to be happening every couple of years now -- as early evidence of this.

As we see here at Glacier, the impact on our natural heritage and special places could be just as strong.

Our seas could rise by one to three feet, flooding thousands of miles of Florida, Louisiana, and other coastal areas. A sea level rise of just one foot could place a third of the Florida Everglades completely underwater; it would also threaten our coral reefs, and endanger the countless varieties of fish that live in them. With warmer temperatures, we could lose important parts of our forests. Some have predicted that the Northeast could lose all of its sugar maples; and in New Hampshire's White Mountains, many of the trees could stop changing colors with the seasons.

Scientists aren't the only ones who are concerned. The President of the Reinsurance Association of America, Frank Nutter, says that significant, perhaps permanent changes in our climate could bankrupt the insurance industry in years to come. Strong words from an industry that's all about calculating risk. This spring, John Browne, the CEO of British Petroleum, acknowledged the importance of taking, and I quote, "precautionary action now."

My purpose today is not to be alarmist -- nor is it to say that we need radical changes in the way we live and work. But it's time to face the facts: Global warming is real. We helped to cause it -- and by taking reasonable, common-sense steps, we can help to reduce it.

What we need is an approach that is prudent and balanced. On one hand, we must recognize that energy consumption has led to enormous increases in our standard of livingthroughout this century, and we want to continue those increases. On the other hand, we see all around us today glaciers that have survived for 10,000 years, now facing the prospect of melting away in a single century. We've seen people struck by severe heat waves -- more than 400 in Chicago just two years ago -- and many others who have lost homes, jobs, even their lives to increasingly heavy storms.

We need to understand our role in climate change -- and we need to act to address it.

As one ecologist recently told President Clinton and me at the White House, simply by slowing the rate of climate change, we can make it much easier for our environment to evolve and adapt to it.

Thanks to President Clinton, we're already working to develop new energy technologies, to shrink greenhouse emissions in ways that also grow the economy. Let me give you just a few examples: First of all, after a decade of declining budgets, President Clinton is working to restore our commitment to the Energy Department's research into renewable energy and energy efficiency.

We need help from Congress to do that -- and quite frankly, there are some on Capitol Hill who still cling to the old programs, and the old industry subsidies. If we really want to move forward in this area, and capture these new energy markets for America -- if we want to keep up with nations like Germany and Japan, which are already establishing an edge in these technologies -- Congress has to join us in meeting the challenge.

Our efforts reach beyond Washington as well. The President has asked some of the nation's leading experts from academia and industry to conduct an intensive review of all our energy research and development programs, and to report back by October 1st with their recommendations -- so we can start to shape a national energy strategy for the next century.

We're working with the auto industry through our Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles -- to try to triple the fuel efficiency of cars with no loss in comfort or safety. We're working with the building industry through our Partnership for Advancing Technologies in Housing, to make homes cheaper, more energy-efficient, and more environmentally-friendly.

But we know that America's efforts alone will never be good enough. Because winds circle the earth within a few weeks, greenhouse gases don't respect national borders. Any real solution to global warming must be an international solution -- including developing nations as well as industrialized ones.

This December, when the nations of the world meet in Kyoto, Japan on this issue, the United States will work to achieve realistic, binding limits on the emissions of greenhouse gases.

We will emphasize approaches that are flexible and market-based, to give industry theopportunity to develop the most cost-effective solutions.

We will continue our efforts in research and development. We will work with industry, with environmental groups, with all who share a stake in this problem here at home. And we will ask all nations, developed and developing, to join with us to meet this challenge.

We don't have all the answers today. But we know we must reverse the trend of global warming. We must safeguard our precious natural resources, and put a premium on public health and safety.

You see, thirty years from now, I want my grandchildren to live in a world that is safer from disease, freer from droughts and floods, able to grow the food they need for their children and families.

But just as importantly, I want them to understand that God created only one earth -- and that its parks and forests and wilderness preserves can never be replicated. Our responsibility to this land is one of the most profound and sacred responsibilities we have. It is really a responsibility to each other -- and to future generations.

Ultimately, that's why we came here today, to the very Crown of this Continent. We've got to start facing up to that responsibility -- not just for the sake of these glaciers, but for the sake of our children. Here in the shadow of these glorious mountains, let us resolve to make that start -- let us protect this land for its rightful inheritors -- and let us fulfill our obligation to the millions of families who have yet to enjoy it.

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