When Susannah Meadows interned as a park ranger at Yosemite National Park in 1993, the rushing Merced River was so loud she had to close her window before making a phone call. On a return trip this year, her first since that internship, she found the same river to be "low and listless," she writes in a New York Times essay. That turned out to be the theme of her trip, one in which Meadows found the park's decline to be "devastating." She ticks off example after example: forests decimated by wildfires, trees claimed by infestations of bugs made worse by warmer temperatures and winters, "pathetic" waterfalls, extreme heat. She had hoped this trip would wow her 13-year-old son, a young hiker. "I was not expecting to leave Yosemite writing a kind of obituary for it."
Yes, all the problems she ticked off are natural occurrences, but all have been made worse by climate change, she writes. The park's last two glaciers are in rapid retreat and will likely disappear in a few decades, adds Meadows. Back in 1993, the park seemed mighty and invincible, but three decades have shown just how vulnerable it was to humans all along. "The evidence of our planet’s warming is all around us," writes Meadows. We may kid ourselves that the worst of it is still a long ways off. "What I saw in Yosemite feels like a wake-up call that’s come too late." (Read her full essay. Or read about how hikers venturing into the park had to endure 100-degree temperatures.)