Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Sunday, August 4, 2019

Rocky Mountain glaciers “endangered species”

According to legend, Paul Revere rode through Massachusetts at midnight shouting his warning, “The British are coming! The British are coming!”

            I would like to ride out of the Rocky Mountains, shouting my own warning: “The glaciers are dying! The glaciers are dying!”

            You can see this for yourself, if you drive the Icefields Parkway that runs from Banff to Jasper up the spine of Canada’s national parks. I’ve just returned from doing it.

            The Crowfoot glacier no longer looks like a crow’s foot. The Angel Glacier does not look like an angel. And the Snowbird Glacier looks as if a coyote got to the bird first and ripped it apart.

            Only by looking at old photos can you appreciate the names given to these glaciers.

            When I first saw Lake Louise as a child, Victoria Glacier came right down to the water. Today, the glacier clings to the high ridges.

            And if you stop at the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre, you might learn that as recently as 1870 the Athabasca Glacier totally covered the place where you parked your car. A series of markers, looking like tombstones, march across the highway and up the valley, marking the glacier’s steady retreat.


World’s biggest water storage

            What you can’t see from the Discovery Centre is the Columbia Icefield from which the Athabasca Glacier oozes down the valley.

            The Columbia is the largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies. It covers about 220 sq.km. It may be 700 m deep, over 2,000 feet. It is a bigger water storage facility than any dam on earth.

            Its waters flow to three oceans. They have flowed this way without interruption for more than 10,000 years. By the Athabasca River to the Mackenzie and the Arctic Ocean. By the Columbia River into the Pacific. And by the Saskatchewan River system into Hudson’s Bay and the Atlantic.

            It is uniquely a triple continental divide.

            And it may have lost a third of its stored water since the early 1990s.


Vanishing glaciers

            This is not just a Canadian problem. In Glacier National Park, just across the border from Waterton Lakes in Canada, 113 of the 150 glaciers found in the park as recently as 1860 have vanished.

            Some 300 glaciers have disappeared along the Great Divide of the Canadian Rockies just between 1920 and 1985. Over the next 20 years, between 1985 and 2005, Jasper National Park lost 135 of its 554 glaciers; Banff National Park lost 29 of its 365, and its total glaciated area shrank by 20% -- 1% every year!

            These figures come from Bob Sandford, probably Canada’s most knowledgeable person about glaciers. Sandford, EPCOR Chair for Water and Climate Security at the United Nations University, condensed his vast knowledge of glaciers into his latest book, Our Vanishing Glaciers.

            Given their rate of demise, Sandford suggests that Canada should treat its mountain glaciers as an endangered species.

            As the earth’s atmosphere warms – let’s not argue about why, let’s just accept that it has been warming steadily for about 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution – snow melts sooner in summer. It doesn’t last long enough to pack down and form new ice. Old ice, now exposed to the sun, melts too. Rivers rush down the surface of all our glaciers.

            “All the glaciers in the Canadian Rockies appear to be a period of prolonged recession,” Sandford states.


When the well runs dry

            Another glacier authority, Dr. Brian Luckman, put the issue more baldly: glaciers in the Rockies have been changing in size faster in the last 150 years than they have since the last great ice age ended 10,000 years ago.

            Peyto Glacier is the most studied glacier in Canada, one of only 30 “reference” glaciers in the whole world. It has had its shrinkage painstakingly documented for 40 years.  It’s been shrinking at slightly under 1% a year – in the last 100 years, it has lost 70% of its volume.

            It’s likely to disappear entirely by 2050.

            Already research scientists are abandoning Peyto; it’s becoming too small to provide reliable data that can be extrapolated for bigger and less accessible glaciers.

            Other glaciers will follow Peyto’s lead. The Bow Glacier around 2060, Luckman estimates; Saskatchewan around 2070; Athabasca around 2080.

            Every river that flows across the prairie provinces starts in those mountain glaciers. There is no other reliable source of fresh water. For drinking. For agriculture. For industries. For power.

            If the prairies had to rely on rainfall, they’d be a desert.

            Instead of obsessing about petroleum reserves, Alberta and the prairie provinces might better worry about water reserves -- what they’ll do when the glaciers run dry.


Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

                       To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write jimt@quixotic.ca





Doug Martindale’s story of Restorative Justice last week apparently resonated with many of you.


Dawne Taylor wrote, “Great column Jim, thanks. I’m sick of seeing comments on Facebook expressing a desire to ‘kill murderers and rapists’. And then of course there’s the US, with the decision to begin executing federal prisoners on death row again.”


Anne McRae: “They don't learn much in jail except how to be more criminal, I heard a guard from the jail say ‘what they don't know about how to be a criminal before they come in here, they do know by the time they get out’.”


Calvin Hefner, enjoying cool weather in Ecuador: “While I served as a member of the North Carolina Council of Churches some years back, we made a study of Restorative Justice and I personally attended several conferences on the subject. I met quite a few people, both victim and perpetrator, and was able to experience the pain, suffering, and transformation that took place. Only by God's grace was Love shared by both parties.

            “The Courts in the US need to take a hard look at Restorative Justice that will bring lives together, rather than separate ‘them’ from ‘us’. It's hard for some to admit, but we are all one. If Restorative Justice would be demanded by the citizens, millions of dollars would be saved that could feed the hungry, educate people, and provide adequate housing for the less fortunate.”


Florence Driedger has direct experience with the Restorative Justice concept: “We have been relating to many men who fall in the ‘nephew’ category for about 30 years and have been amazed over and over again at the tenacity they have to go on in life when many in our community are not ready to accept them back. Many have been victims of poverty, abuse beyond words, isolation, and degrading verbal abuse, and this has often led to great loneliness. 

            “When I asked one of the guys just recently what the most important aspect of restorative justice was for him, he immediately, without giving it a moment's thought, said it was that ‘compassion and respect’ shown him by the friends in a Circle who all were volunteers. They now are his friends. It was hard work when he faced his crime, but now he is working, attending a church, and also helping others to leave their lives of crime. His life is much less lonely and he has hopes and dreams for the future.

            “We all are social beings. God made us so. Each of us needs at least one friend, or more. I am passionate about moving from punishment to compassion and respect, and when we, as those who call ourselves Christian or persons of faith, become relational, befriending those who have few if any positive persons in their lives, God will take care of the rest and we will be blessed.”


Isabel Gibson noted my line, “The mother said later that it was harder to go through mediation than to go to court, because everyone had to hear each other’s pain.” 

            Isabel added, “Yes, almost anything is easier than hearing or witnessing another person's pain, especially when we're implicated. Even just involved. Thanks for this story. Maybe it will help the next time I'm tempted to go the legalistic route.”


Dick Best: “I first became aware of the concept of Restorative Justice through the actions and leadership of the Rev. Connie White and others, including a youth offenders’ judge, who created the RJP in Monterey County, CA, during the 1980s. That program grew and continues to this day. For further information, seehttps://www.restorativejusticepartners.org/


Clare Neufeld shared his own experience from his childhood of restorative justice -- even before it had a name: “One summer, a friend & I were playing on the school grounds, near his home. (His father was a member of the local school board).

            “We noted that the boys’ outhouse had several holes kicked into the buffalo board walls, while the girls’ did not. (Our school had burned down the winter before. Portables were set up, with outhouses for toilet facilities.) Concluding that this discrepancy between the two was not fair, we rectified the situation in short order.

            “We were caught, then reported, by the janitor of the school, who lived kitty corner across the street from the outhouses.

            “Long story short, my father found out, sent me to work the sugar beet fields of a local producer until I had earned enough to pay for my share of the repairs. When payday arrived, he had already arranged for me to meet with the trustee, where I was afforded an opportunity to learn what our thoughtless indiscretion had cost, asked to reflect on who should pay for repairs, who might do the work, etc.

            “When it was time to pay the trustee, I was feeling so small and ashamed, that I simply placed the whole of the previously-counted-and-assured-to-be-adequate monies into his large hand. My father chided me, instructed him to return it, that I might count it out, to the penny, in the proper form.

            “A great lesson was learned, a distinctly unique form of punishment, (restoration of the buildings, paid for by us, who had done the deed), and an education as to the larger world impact our lives actually can generate, by even so innocent an act. I believe that experience planted the seed which opened my eyes to the righteousness, (in many cases), of the Restorative Justice concept and eventually successful program, here in Canada.”


Michael Jensen was one of many who simply said thank you, and then added, “A friend of mine worked in a similar program for adolescents. It worked in a great many instances.”






If you want to comment on something, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca. Or just hit the ‘Reply’ button.

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                       You can now access current columns and seven years of archives at http://quixotic.ca

                       I write a second column each Wednesday, called Soft Edges, which deals somewhat more gently with issues of life and faith. To sign up for Soft Edges, write to me directly at the address above, or send a blank e-mail to softedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

                       And for those of you who like poetry, I posted a new poem a few weeks ago on my webpage https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetryrecently. It’s about driving across the prairies west of Winnipeg. If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to poetry-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca(If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)






To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some links constitute spam.)

                       Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on YouTube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8

                       Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The website for this project has closed but you can continue to order the DVDs by writing info@woodlake,com

                       Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.

                       I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures.

                       Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet



                       The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.



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