Given that Perú is home to more tropical glaciers than anywhere else in the world, you might think that their melting away due to climate change would be bad for business.
True, the number of eco-tourists has dropped in recent years. Back in the 1990s, Pastoruri Glacier, for example, used to draw about 100,000 visitors per year. In recent years, thanks to climate change, 10 of the last 20 years being the hottest on record for this area, the glacier has shrunk by more than half. Much like the size of the glacier itself, the number of tourists has dropped to just 30,000 or so per year. Local guide Valerio Huerta says, “There isn’t much left of our great tourist attraction. Tourists now always leave totally disappointed.” Residents and guides who make their money from tourists have suffered a lot, but they have a plan.
From my back porch, I can see climate change happening. A number of small towns and cities dot the landscape below the disappearing glaciers and snowcaps of Parque Nacional Huascarán [Huazcarán National Park], which rises to a height of 6,768m [22,204ft]. From my vantage point at 2,688m [8,819ft], I can see the snowline rising. Part of the glacier above Carhuaz, where I live, has melted, and a lagoon has formed in the trough below. Because part of the glacier above the lagoon has a crack in it, the city lives in constant danger of a flash flood, should the glacier finally crack off and fall into the lagoon.
According to some estimates, Peruvian guides may have one more shot to draw tourists to the glaciers before they disappear, in about ten years. “Come see Patoruri before climate change melts it,” kind of reminds me of whaling in the 1980s, “Save the whales. Collect the whole set.” On the plus side, cities below the park, such as Yungay, destroyed in 1970 by landslide, and Carhuaz, in danger of flash flooding due to glacier-melt, won’t have to live with that fear in about a decade.
Image © PRI.org