Trickling down: Latin America's glacier problem

A new study shows glaciers in the tropical Andes have shrunk 30-50 percent in the past four decades, affecting water sources in Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, and Argentina.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.

I'm fairly certain there are no glaciers in Brazil, but that doesn't mean South America's largest country doesn't have a melting glacier problem on its hands.

A new study shows glaciers in the tropical Andes have shrunk 30-50 percent in the last four decades. Glaciers provide a vital water source to parts of Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. In fact, the Amazon starts with glacier water in Peru, though by the time it gets to Brazil the Amazon has plenty of other water sources to keep it going. Additionally, Brazil is investing in hydropower in Peru and that power source is likely to be impacted significantly by reduced glaciers. That means higher electricity costs for Peru and less chance that Peru will be able to export energy to Brazil.

The bigger problems for Brazil will be political. For Peru and Bolivia in particular, the loss of glaciers is likely to dry up drinking water supplies and harm agricultural output, which can affect political stability. For a Brazilian hegemon hoping to lead the continent, that sort of systemic political risk becomes their problem rather quickly. A crisis in either country will impact Brazil's trade, transportation lanes, migration and border security.

It's not as if Brazil doesn't have its own environmental challenges, but part of its leadership role means it needs to start planning for these sorts of challenges in other countries that will affect all of South America. That means that a country known best for its tropical forests and beaches and without a mountain over 10,000 feet must add melting glaciers to the list of problems it faces.

– James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.