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September 2007

The Impact of Climate Change on Florida’s Everglades, Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias

What do Florida's Everglades and Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias have in common? Both face uncertain futures as temperatures rise.

IN CONTRAST TO THE WIDE-OPEN views of the Wrangells, the headwaters of the Everglades’ mangrove swamps are profoundly subtle, intimate country. I leave Hells Bay Chickee in the late morning, and continue paddling toward the coast. In a narrow passage between two bays I encounter my first oncoming canoe–a pair of retired schoolteachers from New Jersey, Charlie and Judy Welch. I ask them if they think much about climate change.

“Yeah,” Judy says. “I see parents driving their kids to soccer practice in their big SUVs, and it makes me worry. What’s going to be left of the natural world for our daughter?”

“It makes me angry,” Charlie adds, “that there’s been no serious energy policy. I’d like to see a presidential candidate say, ‘We need a national effort like when we went to the moon, but focused on stopping global warming.”

A few hours later, I stop to talk to two couples in a passing motorboat. I’d assumed the area was off-limits to powerboats, but they seem nice enough, so I don’t confront them. They seem surprised that someone would attempt a trip through Hells Bay in a canoe.
“How did you get across those big windy bays?” one of the women asks.

“I paddled,” I tell her, and then I say goodbye and continue onward, pulling against a shifting wind and a building tide. If enough people got on board, I think, we could really make some waves. And then maybe, if we all pulled together, we could get somewhere–and arrive, with any luck, before the last of our treasures fades away.

Tom Clynes wrote about a group of teenagers on a life-changing expedition in our August 2007 issue.

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