December 11th is designated as International Mountain Day 2020. It feels strange to write about it in a year when access to the mountains has been so restricted. Infact, one of our expedition groups had just descended Morocco’s Jebel Toubkal when the pandemic started chokeholding the UK in early March. I (Paul) wrote about the challenge of returning from that trip in my blog post Social Distancing. Please have a read of it here.
For anyone passionate about the mountains the lack of opportunity to freely access them has undoubtedly been a challenge. Having said that, humans are very adaptable and many have found newfound joy in adventures closer to home. But International Mountain Day 2020 is about far more than our own mountain adventures. For many of us the mountains of the world may be vital to our personal mental and physical health. They are equally important for so many other reasons too.
The health of the planet
The mountains are also intertwined with the health of the planet. Of the 20 plant species that supply 80% of the world’s food, six originated and have been diversified in the mountains. These are maize, potatoes, tomatoes, apples, barley and sorghum (a group of grass species cultivated for grain). Similarly, over half the world’s population relies on mountain freshwater. The mountains are also home to about 1.1 billion people, or around 15% of the world’s population.
So International mountain day must be, as well as celebrating the beauty and life enhancing opportunities the mountains offer, a chance to also raise awareness about the issues they face. Many mountain regions may rely on tourism income, but the areas are also under threat.
The mountains are under threat
Threats from both the climate emergency and over exploitation. Rising temperatures are melting glaciers at an unprecedented rate which in turn affects the water supply for millions. Nearly 70% of mountain land is used for grazing. Grazing land that is threatened by logging, mining, poaching and unsustainable farming methods.
The mountain populations in many areas are being exposed to rapid change. Unfortunately, as they also represent some of the planet’s poorest populations, they are poorly equipped to finance adaptations.
And so, International Mountain Day 2020 should be a chance to celebrate these special places, but also a chance to educate, to raise awareness, to take stock of where we are up too and a chance to action change. Many have likened the pandemic to an X-ray. An X-ray exposing the fragility of the way we are living on our planet.
A chance to heal itself
It has also highlighted the planet’s capacity, providing we don’t leave it too late, to heal itself. Reduced air travel has caused drastic drops in pollution in some areas. Maybe, for an international example, you saw the photos showing the Himalayas visible from Kathmandu after the polluted air cleared over the city. Closer to home in the Peak District National Park, as I saw reported in other areas of the country, the spring felt particularly vibrant and nature seemed to thrive as human activity decreased. We have the power to initiate positive change and the planet is ready to respond.
Celebrating the magnificence of the mountains
The majority of the facts we have used to illustrate this post come from the United Nations (UN) website. It is full of great information and you can find it here. The UN site also offers ideas that we can all implement. Whether it is changes in our own lives, changes at organisation levels or change driven by policy. In particular, please have a look at the UN’s 15 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) detailed here. Please also take the time to watch the video below. It’s a bit of a heavy in places, but it also offers positive ideas too.
On International Mountain Day 2020 let’s celebrate the magnificence of the mountains. Let’s also celebrate the special bonds we create with the communities that live there. But, let’s also look to how our choices help or hinder the urgent fight against global catastrophe. We are, after all, all in this together.