Celebrating – and Advocating for – Our World’s Mountains with the United Nations’ Mountain Partnership
A week ago, I had the honor of addressing delegates of the Mountain Partnership at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, for a discussion entitled “Perspectives on Mountains and Sustainable Development in a Post-2015 World”. The Mountain Partnership – to which I am now an Ambassador along with Reinhold Messner – is a critical secretariat of the United Nations which aims to ensure that mountains, mountain regions, peoples, cultures, and environments are included in the development goals of the UN. It’s composed of many member states, IGO’s, NGO’s, and private sector enterprises; but, all of them have one commonality: a deep belief that mountains play a key and critical role in the success (or failure) of reaching development goals.
In celebrating International Mountain Day, I was joined at the UN by fellow mountain advocates, including María Cristina Perceval of Argentina, Pio Wennubst from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Luca Maestripieri Vice-Director General for Development Cooperation of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rosalaura Romeo from the Mountain Partnership Secretariat, and Professor Rusty Butler of Utah Valley University. We all addressed the delegates and interested parties, advocating from our own perspectives and experiences as to why mountains are critical and should have adequate protections as we go forward as a world community.
It was indeed an honor and, perhaps more realistically, a welcome duty from my perspective to do what I can to give back to the mountains, mountain environments, and mountain peoples that have given me so much passion, inspiration, and grounding through most of my life.
Below is the text of my presentation to the delegates for those who are interested. You can read more on FAO’s website here, or on The Mountain Partnership site here. And, see more images from the event here.
In his book, “The Flow of the River”, the great writer and philosopher Loren Eiseley wrote: “If there is magic in this world, it is contained in water…”
I would in no way disagree with Mr. Eiseley, but would personally adapt his words to say: If there is magic in this world, it is contained in mountains.
For the past two decades, my life has focused on mountains: climbing and guiding them, making photographs and films about them, and advocating for them, their people, and their bounty. As a climber, the might of the mountains have given me a deep respect for their power. As an artist, the sublime beauty of the high peaks has given me deep appreciation for their cultural stature and spiritual importance. As a lover of mountain peoples and mountain environments, a lover of animals and forests, wild places and scenic vistas, flowing rivers and thundering glaciers – as, I would argue, a human being – I have also developed a monumental respect for how critical the mountains are in supporting all I love, and just how fragile these areas are…despite their perceived indestructibility.
During my time in the mountains, I have witnessed firsthand how they provide: their rich soils creating arable land for farming; their melting snows and flowing rivers irrigating crops far downstream; their deep valleys providing home and shelter for diverse wildlife; their might and mystery sustaining faith and indigenous culture.
But, I’ve also seen firsthand the frailty of mountain areas, and the devastating consequences their destruction has on all who live in their shadow. In the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda – Ptolemy’s famed “Mountains of the Moon” – my Bakonjo friends told me of disappearing glaciers, limited rainfall, and increasingly difficult times. Last year in India, our cook, Sultan-ji, showed us the remains of his home and business: smashed windows, broken beams, and 6-foot tall piles of mud were all that remained after the devastating GLOF – or Glacial Lake Outburst Flood – nicknamed the Himalayan Tsunami obliterated his village, killing thousands in the process. My Nepali friend, Subash Magar, has left his family farm, searching for work in the competitive mountain tourism industry and in the crowded streets of Kathmandu, while his brothers – also in financial dire straits – have left Nepal to work through manpower agencies in the Gulf. And, even in my backyard in Colorado, recent years have seen our mountains alternate between raging and destructive forest fires to catastrophic floods, and our Colorado River kissed the sea for the first time in two decades this year.
The mountains are the water towers of our earth, and thus are a cornerstone of humanity, and of sustainable human development. For millennia, they have encouraged myth and sustained faith; they provide inspiration and sustenance in equal measure; mountains flow with water, teem with wildlife, and share their bounty generously. They are, indeed, the magic in this world. It is high time we recognize this with action.