02/04/2014 05:32 EST | Updated 04/06/2014 05:59 EDT

Look to the Mountains Before It's Too Late

While the whole world is watching the Arctic melt, there is special significance for Canadians as our country includes extensive Arctic territory and simultaneously has an energy policy at odds with responsible aims. Consider how Canada maybe under reporting its carbon emissions, which are set to increase at least 30 per cent by 2030.

Meanwhile Europe aims for carbon cuts of about 40 per cent in 2030. This is to achieve the 80 to 90 per cent cuts by 2050 as suggested by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for developed countries, in an effort to avoid what the IPCC calls "catastrophic climate change." As a developed country with a history of responsible international behaviour Canadians might wonder what is going on in Canada now...

Mountains have not captured public attention like the Arctic yet, but the UN Food and Agriculture Organization states they "host the most visible and sensitive indicators of climate change -- the melting of glaciers" and consider "mountain ecosystems are essential building blocks for long-term sustainable global development, poverty alleviation, and the transition to a green economy."

Mountains are also characterized by extraordinarily diverse ecosystems, and the current adaptations of these complex and fragile ecosystems to climate warming can help scientists predict how lowlands will react to climate change. As well as being one of the environments most highly affected by climate change they are 'water towers' of the world, due to their key role collecting and storing this valuable element of life.

Traditionally mountains are also sacred sites and their altitude may offer potential for us to experience unique physical and psychological well-being when compared to in the lowlands (see my earlier blog). As we become more attuned to the damage done to the natural environment, increasing numbers of people seek to experience pure nature in remote locations and mountains have become some of the most popular landscapes for tourism, to a degree which requires management in some mountain areas.

Canada's natural gas extraction is not an issue that will be resolved quickly. While this conflict between short term economic benefit, and sustainability or responsible behavior continues in Canada, there is a comparatively simple positive step we could take to help counter the negative history currently being inscribed in the annals of time. Many of Canada's mountains are still intact or relatively environmentally healthy.

If Canada had a fully active, national mountain research centre integrating the work and harmonizing the data collection of the diverse mountain study centres and mountain organizations across the country, we would have a base from which to advise and shape mountain policy in Canada. Then we could play a role internationally through the Global Mountain Forum and other international mountain partnerships. Our mountains are an environment where we are often looking less at patching up errors of the past, where we can make a huge 'contribution' to the natural wealth of Canada instead of further 'extraction'.

How will the next generation describe what is happening today to their children? Let's hope they can say despite grim history that was made, enlightened initiatives to help combat climate change also occurred; preserving mountains in a sustainable manner for the future.