Why is the Climate Friendly Parks Program Important?

When Glacier National Park was established in 1910, one of its most famous glaciers, Grinnell, covered more than 500 acres on the eastern slope of the Continental Divide. Today it covers barely 200 acres. In another part of the American West, fly fishers familiar with the Yellowstone River report reduced angling success as warmer waters fail to support the large numbers of trout, salmon and other cold-water fish that once thrived there. The northern Great Plains' prairie pothole wetlands are declining in number, and breeding duck populations show a similar downward trend. Sea level is rising and invading ecosystems along the Florida coastline, including Everglades National Park.

Warming ocean temperatures are contributing to the decline of coral reefs around the world, possibly affecting the northernmost reef in the United States at Biscayne National Park.

Many researchers, park staff and visitors, hikers, anglers, hunters, scuba divers, coastal residents and tourists have noticed these kinds of changes, and most scientists believe that the key cause is global warming. According to the National Academy of Sciences, the Earth's surface temperature has risen by about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the past century with accelerated warming during the last two decades.

There is strong evidence that most of the warming over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.

Human activities have altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere through the buildup of greenhouse gases - primarily carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Fossil fuels burned to run cars and trucks, heat homes and businesses, and power factories are responsible for about 98% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, 24% of methane emissions, and 18% of nitrous oxide emissions. Increased agriculture, deforestation, landfills, industrial production, and mining also contribute a significant share of emissions. The United States alone emits about one-fifth of total anthropogenic greenhouse gases globally.

Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases are likely to accelerate the rate of climate change. Scientists expect that the average global surface temperature could rise 1-4.5°F (0.6-2.5°C) in the next fifty years, and 2.2-10°F (1.4-5.8°C) in the next century, with significant regional variation.

The National Parks, because of their location and unique, protected resources, are places where the effects of these changes are particularly noticeable. With the establishment of the National Park Service in 1916, responsibility was given to the Service to preserve and protect the significant resources within the parks for the enjoyment of future generations. As knowledge about climate change and its effects has accumulated, it has highlighted the need to maintain park resources through practicing not only good stewardship of the flora and fauna within parks' boundaries but also active protection of the natural environment on regional and global scales.