Mountain Time

Do we really appreciate what these behemoths do for us? International Mountain Day shows why, in the fight against the climate crisis, #MountainsMatter

December 11, 2019

11:30 am

As ecosystems go, majestic mountains get fairly short shrift.

Rainforests and savannahs get a lot more love for their general contributions to the planet’s well being. But mountains — quite visible players in the environment — don’t get the widespread attention they deserve. For example, did you know that mountains:

  • cover 27% of the Earth’s land surface?
  • are home to 1.1 billion people (which is 15% of the world’s population)?
  • are home to 25% of the world’s land plant and animal species?
  • are the source upon which more than half of humanity relies on for fresh water for everyday life?

In fact, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 60-80% of the world’s drinking water comes from mountains — a commodity that will become increasingly more scarce because of the climate crisis.

Photo: Mark Koch/Unsplash

Considering how many people, animals, and plants call mountains home, and how many of those species depend on the water from mountains to survive, it is critical to preserve the integrity of mountain ecosystems for our survival. And yet mountains are facing significant threats from the climate emergency.

“Mountain landscapes are among the most complex and fragile ecosystems on earth,” notes Dr. Thomas Schaaf, UNESCO’s Chief, Section for Ecological Sciences and Biodiversity Division of Ecological and Earth Sciences. “Their very verticality and exposure to the sun and prevailing wind directions produce a range of different habitats whose composition may vary dramatically with minor variations in altitude.”

This is one of the many reasons why the United Nations has singled out the importance of mountains and their habitats by creating International Mountain Day. This social awareness day, which launched in 2002 with an entire year of observation devoted to mountains, is intended to highlight the vital role that mountains play in “moving the world towards sustainable economic growth.”

The theme of this year’s International Mountain Day is “Mountains matter for youth.”

As FAO notes, “International Mountain Day is a chance to highlight that, for rural youth, living in the mountains can be hard. Many young people leave in search of a better life and employment. Migration from mountains leads to abandoned agriculture, land degradation and a loss of cultural values and ancient traditions.”

The agriculture component is another essential one, because mountains are key players in the global food system. In fact, six of the 20 crops that supply 80 percent of the world's food — apples, barley, maize, potatoes, sorghum, and tomatoes — “originated and have been diversified in mountains.”

Another important constituent in the fight against the climate crisis that emerged from mountains? The Earth’s Call Fund itself. Earth’s Call launched this past May in Aspen, and has its roots in Colorado, the Rocky Mountain State. Along with 60 national governments, the city of Aspen is one of a handful of sub-national authorities that comprise the Mountain Partnership, which is a UN voluntary alliance of partners “dedicated to improving the lives of mountain peoples and protecting mountain environments around the world.”

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