Camping and the environment

by Ginosar  

A few months ago my wife and I were camping on the shores of a lovely lake in the Sierras Mountains.

It was just two hours drive from home. We fell in love with it last year when we, reluctantly, decided not to drive long distance to see one of my sons and his family in Idaho and later camp in our favorite place in Teton National Park. It was difficult to say goodbye to the visits to the family and Teton but we emitted so much CO2 on our way that we had to do it, at least for now.


This Sierra lake was our sanctuary for ten days, we camped out of season and we had the place almost to ourselves. After we erected the tent, filled the air mattresses and stretched the tarp over the table we walked to the lake. We could see the blue, smooth lake thru the trees as we walked leisurely towards it. The view of the mountains, the forests and the clear water was very soothing.


We camp very simply, our scratched aluminum utensils are forty years old. I finally replaced our canopy, a friend for decades that protected us from sun and rains and was ripped off its stakes numerous times in strong gusts. We eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, and much of our salads come from our own back yard: tomatoes and cucumbers galore. Our camp fires are very small, to reduce smoke and likelihood of forest fire, old towels cover the cooler so the ice lasts as long as possible. We often do not buy more ice since it is not near by and I like the challenge of conservation. I try to learn to do with less, at least during these short camping. I was surprised recently by my wife's comments that it took her years of camping before she realized why we live so simply and "frugally" during camping. I thought my family understood, it was so clear to me after all....

She realized that I wanted to teach my kids to live a more modest life than the normal wasteful American ways. This wasteful way is one of the main causes of global warming.


We Americans are so eager to surround ourselves with unnecessary things, just because we want them. May be they are our security blankets. We Americans believe it is our right to plunder the earth. We do it even when we do not have the money for it. We borrow more than any other people to satisfy our hunger for things. Just look at the amount of electronic gadgets we "must" have, the immense size of our TVs, the overpowering SUV we drive, the waste of leaving lights on for hours when no one is around. The immense size of our RV in campgrounds is staggering, more than a half million dollars some cost. Is there no tomorrow?


We inherited this wasteful ways from many "pioneers" who raped much of this lovely country we "inherited" by force. They started and we followed the destruction of much of its natural beauty and resources; we destroyed the Indians, the immense herds of buffaloes, the vast forests we decimated too. We set a very bad example to the rest of the world. Our destructive ways led to a large extent to global warming.

What caused global warming after all? It is the overuse of natural resources of our limited earth.


Decades ago I told my wife that I hope that our US standard of living will stop growing. I also wished that our national wealth would be more adequately distributed among our population. The difference between the wealthy and the poor was getting wider every year, and too many people were suffering from all the degradation of poverty.

She looked at me in surprise and asked, you do not want our kids to have more than we have? Look all around you, so many of your friends at work have so much more than we have, bigger houses, bigger, newer cars, luxury all around. No, I said, we already have more than any body needs, our kids would not need more food, more clothes, more than our moderate home, and no more than the two simple cars we had. The reason I pray our US standard of living should stabilize, I told her, is that we are already over using the world resources and we are such a small portion of the world's population. We are not alone, the rest of the world is striving to copy us and there is not way to do it. The world is small and it does not have the immense resources that would be needed to elevate many more nations to our wasteful way of life. The world's systems would collapse from over demand of natural resources, from immense air pollution, from over crowding and from wars for land and resources.

I was not thinking about global warming then although I already studied about it at the University of Washington years earlier. I could not believe then that we would be so ignorant that we would continue in our wasteful ways for so many decades before nature woke us up.


I woke up from the dreamlike setting of the lake, from the lovely sight of birds and fish chasing mosquitoes to go back a hundred feet to our vast campground. This was probably the nicest campground we ever had during decades of camping all over the Western US and Canada. The next campsite was over two hundred feet away in all directions and our little forest shielded us from sight and sound.

But, we had to think about dinner and it is quite a process when you have to keep all your food in the car between meals to discourage bears.


As I was walking between the trees I saw something I did not see at the same campground last year, holes. Many, many holes. The trees were infested with beetles. As a scientist I wanted to quantify the damage so I can tell it to others. It was too much, I could not believe it. One out of every three trees had very significant infiltration of beetles. The trees did their best to protect themselves, they oozed sap to fill the holes and suffocate the larvae and the live beetles. But it was a losing battle, too many beetles in each tree and so much damage was beyond the tree ability to kill them.


I took many pictures; close up, so detailed that you could see more than you wanted to. I thought I will show this to the national forest scientists to alert them to the damage. I understood the reasons. for the drastic changes. Normally every winter the low winter temperatures at high elevation, we were at 6500 feet, would kill most if not all the larva and the trees would start a fresh healthy year. No longer. In just one year-mind you, the beetles were able to damage a large part of the forest. It was too hot even in the middle of winter in the California mountains.


As we were leaving to go home I stood at the shore of the lake and was very sad. I was saying good by not only to this 10 days camping, in a nature I so love, but I was saying good by to the beautiful forests all around the mountain. In a few years we would not enjoy going camping in a bare landscape with just a few trees looking green, the rest covered by brown dead needles.

So sad, and we did it all ourselves.


As we returned home I read that the infestation is all over the western forests. They were caused by the warming of the winter. Not only that, in the northern parts of Alaska and Canada the immense Boreal forests were having the same problem. The Boreal forests cover much of the upper Northern hemisphere, a thick ring from Canada to Northern Siberia. It supply us fresh oxygen and absorb so much CO2 ; and they are largely infested too. Even at that northern cold climate the low temperatures are not dipping low enough to kill the beetles.

So sad, so sad.

And in Congress, right now, they are arguing how little fighting global warming should cost and how many jobs fighting this immense danger should provide.


They are unable to see the writing on the wall.


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