Our Vanishing Glaciers, published by Canadian press Rocky Mountain Books, is a beautiful book. While accompanying photographs artfully display the subject matter, what it truly stunning about Our Vanishing Glaciers is the writing. Fluid and engaging, what could be dry subject matter suitable for a university class is instead transposed into a non-fiction book with excellent flow and pacing. Marketed as a coffee table book, Our Vanishing Glaciers comprises mainly text; and is a well-written testament to water in all its forms, especially climate related matters.
Author Robert William Sandford is more than qualified to speak on the subject matter. The EPCOR Chair for Water Security at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, he is a fellow at numerous Canadian universities and has authored or co-authored dozens of books about water.
While filled with scientific data and historical sources this book is the mythos of water. “A single substance has made our world unique and made it ours.” Sandford writes. “We are where we are and who we are because of water.” The properties water exhibits make it utterly unique, and the writing gives the sense that water is near sentient. “Ankle deep in the surf, the water in our inner cellular seas yearns for the salty sea without … We know the water, but water also knows us.”
Throughout Our Vanishing Glaciers, Sandford tells a story about water and all the ways it exists on earth, from raindrop to glacier. The author starts at the top and digs in, layer after layer, pulling you in with intriguing complementary information, such as how creatures made of water avoid, or embrace, being frozen. Readers learn of ecosystems within snow, the history of glacial research and explorations on ice. There is much to discover, perhaps the most important lesson being the global effect glacial bodies have on the world’s systems, from weather to ecosystems.
Our Vanishing Glaciers makes it clear, our glaciers are disappearing and there will be worldwide implications. 70% of the world’s freshwater is frozen. Based on current projections, 90% of interior glaciers in the Canadian West and 65% of the coastal glaciers will be gone by 2100. Sandford explains the realities of climate change and the ways it manifests. He lays out a quietly terrifying future, including fires (research estimates 75–120% increase in annual burned areas) and extinctions of various animals. But the future is not without hope. Here there is a call to arms; for research, conservation of land and restoration ecology. “Looking at an uncertain future, we have to see that there is a window of huge opportunity … Never before have we had a greater reason to create a vision of the West we want and to act on it,” Sandford says. This book is for every Canadian, preferably every human, who has any kind of vested interest in our future. This should be compulsory reading for all world leaders.
Our Vanishing Glaciers
Release Date: July, 2017
This article first appeared in the October/November print issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.