Before They’re Gone by Michael Lanza is cautionary journey that explores the likely outcomes in store for our National Parks should we ignore the growing threat of climate change. And typical of most modern problems, not unlike our current economic crisis, those to be most directly effected by our generations’ failure to act won’t be ourselves but our children. Taking his two young kids on a year-long odyssey to visit America’s most iconic wild places, Lanza leads us all on an expedition through the world we stand to lose and future generations may never see.
Not to be confused with a manual on better parenting through outdoor education, Before They’re Gone has much to teach anyone who aims to preserve the National Parks we had the good sense to set aside. I’m childless by choice. In the third decade of a prolonged adolescence my decision not to have kids was first born out of the selfish desire to maintain my lifestyle without dependents and secure my role as the least mature person in my family. Mission accomplished. But now with that humanity faces the dire consequences of rising global temperatures I can only take small satisfaction in not contributing to the problem by adding to the surplus population. Even though I don’t have children I’m still eager to leave a tidy planet for those of my family and friends who do. And Lanza clearly illustrates through anecdotal and scientific evidence those environmental features we love that will probably go away.
Lanza’s travel with his children puts into direct context the true impact of climate change on our favorite recreation areas. The streams that provide drinking water for backpackers along the Grand Canyon or Yosemite Falls will likely dry up. Species of mega-fauna like the grizzly bear will lose primary sources of food. The Joshua Tree, that grows best in the national park that bares its name, will compromise its ability to reproduce and disappear. Much of the Florida Everglades will be submerged beneath a torrent of rising sea water. The list goes on. You don’t have to be a parent to mourn the loss of any one of these precious natural artifacts. And due primarily to human activity on this planet we stand the chance to lose them all.
Ironically I had the pleasure of reading Lanza’s book while on an extended National Park tour of my own. This summer I visited many of the same places he took his children, a few for the very first time. Lanza’s presentation encourages a sense of urgency to not only travel and to visit these wilderness areas but to make sustainable lifestyle choices to help preserve them. With a better appreciation for exactly how endangered each location truly was I came away with a profound sense of gratitude. Though no children of mine will ever see them I truly hope that those of others will. I’m just glad that I had the chance before they’re gone.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars