In 2019, an author and friend, Porter Fox, joined us on the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP). Porter grew up in Acadia and I met him through his childhood friend who became one of my long-time climbing partners, Chris (Toph) Kane. Toph was the first to suggest we team up to help Porter get this story out. Thanks for the idea Tophie! Porter’s mission was to share a story of research, education, collaboration, and science advocacy focused on warming temperatures impacting snow around the globe. I am happy to say that Porter accomplished this mission with the soon to be published (November 2) new book, The Last Winter. Porter’s book represents his incredibly beautiful, funny, and thoughtful first person account of scientists and other characters across the Northern Hemisphere who have a connection to snow and winter in some way. Porter’s journey includes the West coast of the U.S., Alaska, European Alps, and Greenland. He brings out the character of each person he meets, several from JIRP, including yours truly. Like any wonderful book, reading this caused me to laugh out loud, smile, and sense feelings of joy, happiness, sadness, and inspiration, all in one. This book is well worth your time to read or listen to! Enjoy!
I asked Porter some questions related to this book, his answers are below:
1. Did your perspective change on how the science community works together or SHOULD work together after your experiences meeting with scientists from across the U.S. and Europe, and if so how?
Answer: After reporting on many different sides of climate change and the scientific community, I was completely amazed by how tight knit the polar studies and cryosphere community was. I was literally on opposite sides of the planet talking to folks who had just been with interviewees from my last trip. Everyone seemed to know one another and everyone also seemed to be helping each other out. Nowhere was this more evident than on the Juneau Icefield. Not only were the researchers there at the very top of their field—something a journalist is always searching for—but they had worked with one another all over the world and hailed from labs and organizations with even more leading voices in the community. As I continued with my research I repeatedly saw names from the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP) in peer-reviewed studies and even headlines in major newspapers—names that I met and walked with on the icefield. Finding the thesis of your book and then all of the supporting evidence is a long and winding trail, but this particular journey was like the yellow brick road in Wizard of Oz, with JIRP participants lining the way.
2. What strengths do you see from scientists of today and what do you think our broader communities should know about scientists working on the front lines of climate change?
Answer: I think the greatest strength of the scientific community today, even compared to 10 years ago, is its ability to get research and findings out to the general public. Peer reviewed studies are so much easier to access now, and the abstracts are always concise and get the point across. Research teams also seem to have better ties to the media, which allows for so much more cutting edge climate change news coverage—alerting the general public to what national policy decisions mean for our individual and collective futures. Scientists need not be activists the same way that journalists do not need to be activists. But the information needs to make it to the layperson, so that everyone knows exactly what is going on with the climate crises day-to-day.
3. If you could have people remember one point, idea, or concept from this book or from your own experiences writing this book, what would it be?
It is the old aphorism that everything is connected—so we need to take care of every element in our environment to preserve our own future. Remote glaciers in Greenland that no one will ever see could erase the East Coast of the United States and send Europe into a thousand-year Ice Age. If permafrost in remote regions of Arctic Canada thaws, it could release enough greenhouse gases to warm Earth as much or more than humans ever did. If snow pack in the Rocky Mountains melt out completely, the Colorado River and the primary fresh water source for 40 million Americans and a half dozen western US cities will dry up. All of this is connected, and one of the first major tipping points that could cause runaway climate change and major disruptions to our way of life is melting snow and ice. How do we stop it? Support science and vote. We need to pull out all the stops to save the fragile cryosphere that has helped maintain our relatively stable climate for 10,000 years.
4. We obviously have lots of environmental challenges that we face, and in many ways, an uphill battle. However, there are also many recent positive signs that can inspire action to deal with our environmental challenges. What is your inspirational message to readers who hope to enact change?
Data that scientists are pulling from ice cores, tree rings, soil and rock samples are providing the means necessary to hone climate change modeling, and truly predict what will happen in various emissions tracks being considered by nations of the world. By seeing how catastrophic a high emissions future can be, leaders are finally being scared into making good decisions—and realizing the existential threat that we are all facing. A vast majority of the world’s population is on board and ready to take action. The stubborn minority, rooted in the fossil fuel industry, is withering. The silver lining, as climate change mitigation plans are put into action: all of this research has brought us much closer to understanding how our world works, where droughts, floods, wildfires and rogue hurricanes come from and, possibly, how to live on this planet more equitably and harmoniously.