The figures of melting glaciers in Latin America are terrifying. The snow recedes over the years in an accelerated way and the disappearance of these white peaks is vertiginous and foreshadows a water shortage that will affect not only the economy of the region that is based on agriculture and livestock, but also threatens manifestly the supply of drinking water for the millions of inhabitants of the Andean region in Latin America.
LatinAmerican Post | Alberto Castaño
Leer en español: Somos tan 'cálidos' que derretimos los glaciares
The water supply of the main urban centers of countries such as Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, depend on a high percentage of glacier discharges, in the same way the sustainability of the main economic activities of millions of peasant families dedicated to the cultivation of food products, the raising of cattle for meat and dairy purposes. Therefore, the loss of the functioning of these ecosystems is a catastrophe in terms of public health and the economy, therefore, in the quality of life of Latin Americans.
Countries like Bolivia whose main city, La Paz, depend on 15% of the water coming from the snow-capped mountains, a figure that increases until almost doubling it in times of drought. Basins as inhabited as the Santa River in northern Peru, depend almost exclusively on water from snow-capped peaks for agricultural work, human consumption, and energy generation. In the Inca country, there are about 70% of the tropics glaciers in the world.
Colombia has lost, according to the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies, 63% of its glaciers in the last 50 years, only 37 square kilometers of glaciers remain in the country.
But perhaps one of the most dramatic situations is experienced by the largest independent massif in the world on the shores of an ocean, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta lives a catastrophic scenario. It gives rise to rivers as important as Cesar, Ranchería, Palomino, Don Diego, Guatapurí, Fundación, and Aracataca. Below are fluvial stars fed by glacier water, such as San Lorenzo where rivers such as Piedras and Gaira are born, emblematic rivers for the Caribbean region in Colombia, also the Manzanares River that crosses Santa Marta, the capital of the Magdalena department, inspiration for legendary composers and poets.
The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is, of the Colombian glaciers, the one that is most quickly destroyed, it loses approximately 5% every year. At the end of the 19th century it had 87 square kilometers of glacier mass, today it has lost more than 90% of your area. Of those 87 there are no more than seven square kilometers left.
Why do glaciers melt?
Since the Industrial Revolution started in the 19th century, human civilization has used fossil fuels to move the world economy. It was from there that we invented the steam engine, which gradually gained relevance to move locomotives that pulled large freight trains and passengers, moved huge machines that drove ships that crossed the oceans and that moved the mills and machines that we required to be more productive, more efficient and that development reach our door.
It was since then that, without knowing what consequences it would have at the beginning and without caring later, we continue to use fossil fuels to grow our global economies.
The disproportionate burning of coal and hydrocarbons to move our machines has increased carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere in such a proportion that not even three times as many trees planted in the world could absorb such emissions. This has forever changed the composition of our atmosphere that now traps more energy from the sun and leads to warming our planet so much that what some of us knew in the school as “perpetual snows” ceased to be perpetual and became “extinct snows".
Who could deny that the improvement of the steam engine by Scottish mechanical engineer, chemist and inventor James Watt transformed the way of producing, moving, seeing the world and its economy? Nobody. However, who, in the nineteenth century, could have foreseen what would cause the burning of millions of tons daily for decades of fossil fuels that would saturate the atmosphere of gases that would generate in Climate Change? Nor could anyone do it.
However, 97% of experts around the world agree that Climate Change is a reality that every inhabitant of the planet has to live with and the efforts of Latin American countries, which produce close 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, to curb this growing phenomenon are not enough. It is a global effort that is required, however, to the extent that global economic reality depends on growth above 3% per year in all countries to maintain the quality of life of its inhabitants and no change is made. In the energy matrix, the battle of the glaciers in the world will be a losing battle.