A Visit to the Cemetery of Glaciers

Dear Readers

This week in Copenhagen representatives from 192 nations have gathered to discuss the future of our small and imperiled planet.

The crisis of global climate change lingers over most of us in gauzy and unseen ways that make it easy to still ignore. Easy for us to still live in ways that turn up our planet’s temperature more each year. Easy for us to let our governments act as if tinkering and rhetoric is all that is needed. Easy for us to pretend that radical action is not needed now. Easy for us to still believe that a global environmental crisis is the stuff of Hollywood disaster movies and not current reality.

So now we welcome you to reality. We welcome you to the Andean highlands where the planet’s crisis is not tomorrow – it’s now.

Bolivia’s glaciers are melting. Vast mountaintops of ice older than the human race have disappeared and are disappearing. If you want a preview of what is happening to our planet don’t go to a multiplex, look to Mount Chacaltaya, look to Mount Illimani.

That’s what two members of the Democracy Center team did in late November. Anders Vang Nielsen (from Denmark) and Jessica Aguirre (from the U.S.) traveled to the melting slopes to talk with the people who live in the shadow of monumental environmental loss, video camera in hand.

The result is the short film above. Please take seven minutes and watch it. Please listen to what the people of these Andean slopes have to say. Please send a link to this page and video to your friends and family. Please take in the full measure of the disaster underway across our fragile planet. And then decide, as we all must, what you will do to take action now.

Jim Shultz

A Visit to the Cemetery of Glaciers

Written by Jessica Aguirre

When we arrived at the community of Khapi after a lurching three-hour truck ride along tortuously pitted dirt roads, it felt like stepping into a church. The central field of the village stretched out like a velvet carpet between a border of humble houses. The green vein that snaked down from Mount Illimani – a gash of verdant agriculture in the harsh rock mountainous landscape – culminated here before giving way again to dark crags that pointed to the sky and to the awesome Illimani that stood like some omnipresent sovereign or a stalagmite to god.

After a week of trudging up and down the vertical streets of La Paz, rushing from interview to presentation in the rain, the arrival to Khapi seemed incongruously calm. Set against the expansive panorama of the distant mountains, a small central building squatted at the edge of the village in front of which a community meeting was taking place as we roared up. The village men sat in a circle on meager wooden benches in from of the building, garmented in used American clothes and colorful hand-woven accessories. They seemed unimpressed by our arrival and continued speaking in low measured voices until they were ready to address our appearance, some forty minutes later.

We were introduced to Don Alivio, Don Max, and Don Severino: three community leaders who have had experience speaking to foreigners about climate change. Khapi has received a moderate amount of attention in international media as a terrifyingly stark example of the water shortages that could become common with global warming. The three men were patient in explaining to us the changes to their environmental, but their tone was urgent. They are anxious to see the results of their openness, of their advocacy.

Their anxiousness is not unfounded. Earlier in the week we had gone up to Chacaltaya to get some footage of a dead glacier. The trek was eerie: the mountain was frigidly cold and swirling clouds covered the landscape and whipped around our group. We rounded a point, and our guide tersely motioned toward a dip; “that’s where the glacier used to be,” he remarked. Looking out at jagged brown rock at the tiny dirty patches of snow (where three years ago skiers would have been speeding past), I felt like I was looking at a cemetery.

To be in the presence of landscape so staggering is to feel humbled in a holy way.

When Felix and Javier at CONOMAQ explained to us that the mountains were Achachillas, it didn’t require knowledge of Aymara to understand what they meant. Or to understand that climate change is about much more than physical survival.

[Note: If you would like to publish this video on your own Web site we gratefully encourage you to do so. You can find the YouTube post and embedding information here.]

Browse all Blog From Bolivia, Climate posts. Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to A Visit to the Cemetery of Glaciers

  1. Averill Strasser says:


    Thanks for sharing this important message. 40 years ago I was skiing the 25-foot-thick glacier at Chacaltaya with the Club Andino Boliviano. It's sad and alarming to see it completely gone.

    Averill Strasser
    Water Charity

  2. Ryan Maxey says:

    Thank you for helping make clear the crisis that we are facing NOW and the weight of the discussions happening in Copenhagen. So well done. I've been really impressed by the strong presence that Bolivia has had thus far in the talks in Copenhagen, or at least from the coverage I've heard. They are such a strong and inspiring nation. I would one day love to join the Democracy Center and help tell these stories. You all are livin' right. Thank you.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thank you!!

  4. Stephanie says:

    Amazing Video! It's amazing how much has changed so quickly. Time to wake up! S

  5. Jeffrey says:

    This perspective gets lost in the relentless stream of media bombardment that serves to keep us engaged in well meaning, but ultimately in effective actions to stop and reverse the conditions and processes that so do us the greatest harm. This, like so much else, is a simple matter of right and wrong. We, as individuals need to confront what is wrong in our daily lives, and stop going along with the wrongs done around the world in our name.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Glaciers melting? Less rain in some places or more rain in others? Oh, boo-hoo! Have long have the interviewers/interviewees been alive in this world, a couple of decades? That's not even considered a blip in the radar of human history. What did the glaciers look 100 years ago? 200? 500? Were they larger or smaller when the words "global warming" weren't fashionable?

    The truth is nobody knows nor understands for certain how climate works, especially those thousands of bozos in Denmark protesting.

    (Jim, by the way, I hope your interviewers were climatalogically and environmentally responsible/compassionate/aware and they made they long travel from the US and Denmark in a man-powered raft. Heavens forbid they flew in an airplane and contributed to the toxic fumes that are melting Bolivia's glaciers!)

    Glaciers have melted and expanded throughout history, waaaaaaaay before industrialization, which is supposedly causing now "global warming." Climate changes, OK? It is and has for millions and millions of years. Glaciers melting today, glaciers expand tomorrow. It has always been that way.

    The "global warming crisis" is just another example of how 3rd world countries want to take advantage of 1st world guilt to raid their hard earned tax dollars and stuff it for themselves. Since they didn't rake enough $$$ they demanded in the 70s for the "colonialism" guilt trip, they realizsed the "global warming crisis" fiasco means $$$ for them.

    It's called PVS. Perpetual victimology syndrome.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The U.N. estimates the 12-day conference will create 40,584 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents, roughly the same amount as the carbon emissions of Morocco in 2006.

    Instead of using shuttles or hybrids for the events, delegates will ride in more more than the 1,200 limousines. The airport is too small for the 140 private airplanes. That's just a small example of this Global Summit of Hypocrisy.


  8. Anonymous says:

    Despite claims from the parasitic right wing, the truth is that we understand EXTREMELY well that the earth is warming at an alarming rate due to CO2. Any honest, fair minded and rational person accepts this fact.

    Mr 9.03 is a classic example of a person who is primarily politically driven, wanting to protect his own self interests at all costs. His agenda is to rid himself of blame by portraying "the developing world" as opportunistic thieves of some sort. This emotion driven debate is typically the type stirred up by right wing politicians.

    This debate requires you to be first and foremost a neutral rationalist, suppressing emotive feelings of what the political implications may or not be if climate change is true and focusing solely on the scientific evidence. We should therefore ignore the politicians and look to the scientific community to guide us. A survey carried out this year reported that 75 out of 77 climatologists polled believe that global warming is real and man-made. If this isn't an overwhelming consensus, I don't know what is.


  9. Anonymous says:

    Let's add some perspective: Mount Kilauea emits 10,000 tonnes/day of CO2. Why don't we go after this volcano and shut it down? Developing countries want to have it both ways, put limits on emissions from rich countries, while they themselves can still pollute as much as they want. Why, just look at Evo how he openly advocates for the destruction of the Bolivian Amazon with things like the Bala project or adding more coca fields, oil exploration in Apolo, etc. etc.

  10. Anonymous says:

    As many times as you can throw links of those who support "global warming," I can throw in as many links of those who think it's a whole fiasco, so your boring and predictable rants are irrelevant 10:55.

    Again nobody can answer the question (least of all you): what caused the shifts in climate (warming and cooling) centuries, thousands, and millions of years ago, much before industrialization?

    Nobody has a consensual answer, but valid questions from skeptics like myself drive the establishment crazy, a perfect example being leading climatologists deleting e-mails from skeptics that might disprove their own data or e-mails where they would like to beat skeptics to a bloody pulp.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I see the staff at Shell and Chevron are still posting comments to this Blog (see above).

  12. AJ La Paz says:

    What an illuminating video. World leaders should converge on places like Khapi not Copenhagen to discuss climate issues, thereby forcing them to confront the effects of global warming directly. Of course the lack of 5 star hotels, landing space for private jets and first world technology would make this option untenable to the ruling elite…. oh the hypocrisy!

  13. Anonymous says:


    I'm not a scientist, and lest you forget, neither are you. Your question is therefore irrelevant because you have no idea what your are talking about.

    The fact is that ALL scientific academies of any worth are signed up to the truth about global warming. Please feel free to submit a link showing CONSENSUS amongst scientists that global warming is not man made. I would be genuinely interested in reviewing it.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Its not about links, ________, its about science and overwhelming consensus amongst serious scientists, not consensus between _________ who are paid to deny global warming or who thinks that science is some kind of conspiracy and the world was created in seven days…

    So sad, our Chacaltaya destroyed by the greed of the North and its alienated conformist people who still don't realize how much their governments and their industries are destroying our world.

    To those visiting Bolivia, there is a wonderful eco-lodge near Mt. Chacaltaya which offers gorgeous landscapes, crisp mountain air, lagoons and interaction with the community… albeit the main attraction- skiing- is no longer available thanks to a couple of extra GDP points and a few extra "holdings" in some rich bastards "portfolios".

  15. Anonymous says:


    The uneducated masses, such as you and I, should consider very carefully the quality of the expert opinion that we use to form our personal opinions on a subject. We should also, given the fact that we have imperfect knowledge, also accept the possibility that we may be wrong. Having carefully researched the topic of climate change I am certain that the vast majority of neutral scientists have overwhelmingly proved the link between man made CO2 input into the atmosphere and global warming. I can back up my views with evidence comprised of many "links" to trusted sources available to all on the internet.

    Climate deniers therefore, in the interest of fairness in the pursuit of truth, should present for inspection the scientific sources they have used to reach their non-climate change conclusion or quite frankly shut up. What I'm sure we will find if they do this is that their opinions are based on the views of a very very small minority of serious scientists. However, like I said, I might be wrong and am willing at all times to remain open minded.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I like 12:27. Despite his calling for us climate skeptics to "shut up," he keeps open the possibility he might be wrong and keeps an open mind. Same here. There is a possibility I might be wrong and I like to keep an open mind. What I refuse is to drink the kool-aid we're being bombarded with year after year about the upcoming climate aplocalypse and that certain people should feel guilty about it.

    I've been a climate skeptic even before that term became fashionable. Two main reasons:

    – Nobody has been able to answer me this: if (to quote 12:27) "neutral scientists have overwhelmingly proved the link between man made CO2 input into the atmosphere and global warming," what caused the countless climate fluctuations (warming and cooling) centuries, thousands, and millions of years before there even was a link between man made CO2 and global warming? Does anybody really think the "cemetery of glaciers" has always been the same size than rather expanding and receding throughout thousand of years?

    – The apocalypse is fashionable, tres chic (and very profitable for the apocalyptse mongers). If it's not global warming, it's global cooling. If it's not global famine, it's too many people getting fat. If it's not our natural resources are being depleted, it's that the discovery of more natural resources are destroying our planet. Overpopulation, Y2K, "megahurricanes," aliens from Mars…you name it, all possible warnings that will result in the end of the world have been laid upon the trembling masses throughout history. There's a limit for how many times you can cry "Wolf!"

  17. Anonymous says:

    so what if Chacaltaya no longer has a glacier? Aymaras will no longer be able to sky? (in my 35yrs of life in Bolivia, I've never met anyone who did that) Why should the vast majority of humanity suffer so that Mr. Severino can stay put and not have to adapt his lifestyle? Even if emissions by man are somehow greater than those of nature, global warming is not necessarily a net negative. It's simply a change that will most likely make Bolivians better off relative to others. I say we should welcome it and see how we can profit.

  18. Anonymous says:

    To clarify, the sceptics need to provide EVIDENCE OF SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS THAT CLIMATE CHANGE IS FRAUD OR SHUT UP (note the selective use of quotations!!). 1:02 continues to ask questions that only highlight his personal ignorance on the topic. He doesn't actually provide any scientific evidence to back up his scepticism. Perhaps that's because tens of thousands of the world's greatest scientific minds through ALL the major National Academies of Science have agreed that there is scientific consensus behind man made global warming. Here's another piece of evidence from the US National Academies, the leading US scientific institution:

    "Human Activities Are Contributing to Climate Change

    The physical processes that cause climate change are scientifically well documented: both human activities and natural variability are contributing to global and regional warming. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose documents are considered the most authoritative source for information on the "state of the science" on climate change, it is very likely that most of the observed warming over the past 50 years is the result of increased greenhouse gases generated by human activities. Numerous expert reports from the National Research Council have supported this conclusion as well. "


  19. Anonymous says:

    You still fall short because they say only that it is "very likely" not confirmed and also only over 50yrs, which in context of over 4.5 billion years of earth history, means absolutely nothing.


    Besides, a warmer planet could be a good thing.

  20. Anonymous says:

    NYTimes article on Bolivian Water and Ice issues.


    To the above contributor.. thank you for your spectacular contribution to the debate from bastion of scientific knowledge that is the Jamestown Rhode Island website! I think it's "very likely", although not confirmed, that you are below average intelligence.

  21. Anonymous says:

    From above article:

    "If the water problems are not solved, El Alto, a poor sister city of La Paz, could perhaps be the first large urban casualty of climate change. A World Bank report concluded last year that climate change would eliminate many glaciers in the Andes within 20 years, threatening the existence of nearly 100 million people."

  22. Anonymous says:

    so what if Chacaltaya no longer has a glacier?

    glaciers are aesthetically pleasing and when they melt naturally, the people of El Alto and La Paz obtain water for their homes, also many Bolivians ski and many more foreigners pay good money to do so. for 35 years, do tell how you used such trolling energy before the intertoobs

    Why should the vast majority of humanity suffer so that Mr. Severino can stay put and not have to adapt his lifestyle?

    The vast majority of humanity does not enjoy the spoils of industrial "progress" and waste, nor does it share the need to fill up meaningless lives with ever increasing wealth to buy more useless junk and enough prozac to convince oneself that yes, the "American way of life" must be protected by bombing anyone who disagrees.

    Even if emissions by man are somehow greater than those of nature

    they are, again the whole scientific consensus and credibility thing

    global warming is not necessarily a net negative.

    you're not getting the point, are you? could it be you're a troll…

    It's simply a change that will most likely make Bolivians better off relative to others. I say we should welcome it and see how we can profit.

    yep, definitely a troll. quick, take some prozac, you might start to believe some of the spin

  23. Anonymous says:

    I'm still waiting for any of the "warm-mongers" above to explain the the innumerable climate changes before "man made CO2" became part of the chic lexicon. In the meantime, 3 brief examples of the hypocrisy and disarray of the cultists of "global warming":

    – "The Copenhagen climate talks will generate more carbon emissions than any previous climate conference, equivalent to the annual output of over half a million Ethiopians, figures commissioned by hosts Denmark show.
    Delegates, journalists, activists and observers from almost 200 countries have gathered at the Dec 7-18 summit and their travel and work will create 46,200 tonnes of carbon dioxide, most of it from their flights."


    (Maybe elite "warm-mongers" such as Obama and Morales could have traveled to Denmark in a sailboat and a totora, respectively. They would have spewed less toxic fumes in the atmosphere and left the governing of their countries infinitely better)

    – Lead cultist figure of the "warm-monger" religion, Al Gore, admits that his apocalyptic scenario for the Arctic to lose its ice in 5 years wasn't based in science. Somehow I believe this is the rule rather than the except regarding Gore's research.


    – For the icing on the cake: Despite the best attempts for "warm-mongers" to silence them, global warming skeptics grow year after year. Over 700 prominent international scientists, some former IPCC members, don't agree with the global warming hysteria.


    You know, I had no idea that disproving the "rock solid" global warming "consensus" was so easy.

  24. Frank_IBC says:

    I don't claim to be a meteorology expert, so I was hoping that someone could explain something to me: The glaciers are there because of precipitation over the course of the years and decades, and then they melt slightly in the warmer seasons each year and then release water into the local watersheds. So if there is no glacier, why doesn't the same precipitation end up in the same watersheds, in the same amount, but just more evenly distributed throughout the year?

  25. Anonymous says:


    extra-credit if the global warming crowd can be a little honest and explain why the hockey stick (in balck) is regarded as incorrect even by the IPCC.

    and yes…a warmer planet in the recent past did lead to a better world.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Global Warming = Mamada y media

  27. Anonymous says:

    Global Warming, nothing a little Nuclear Winter can't cure

  28. Anonymous says:

    (Frozen) crickets chirping…

  29. Frank_IBC says:

    Is it just a coincidence that the first glacier to disappear in Bolivia is near the country's largest urban area? Is it really due to a purely global phenomenon, or could it be caused by a more local phenomenon, the combination of the urban heat island and soot from open fires?

  30. Anonymous says:


    i like this one, very sad. Either way its all about money, who can get funding to tell us all that the world will one day blow up? Do you really think that these people in Copenhagen leading these talks will change their lifestyle, will not drive cars, will not………..

  31. Anonymous says:

    First, China is capitalist and participates in a very large global capitalist market. An example from industrialist USSR would have been a better example for the above. But the fact is that you are embellishing and exaggerating things, or at least taking them out of context. True Evo is a populist and says things to get a rise, but he's not an idiot.

    And to explain for Frank_IBC, glaciers are moving bodies of snow that metamorphoses into ice, true that all of which is H2O. But no precipitation does not provide the same amount of usable water to a watershed if it falls as rain rather than accumulating up high as snow. Snow holds water for a steady release throughout the year, whereas rain falls and runs off. And increased rain actually increases glacier melt (more than sunshine or air temp). Glaciers have been their natural reservoir (check out the NY Times article and video posted above). Without proper reservoirs the water washes away and, when it is increased as in flooding induced by climate change, it actually cause even more damage the more rain there is by erosion. If Bolivia had better reservoirs the issue would be different, and this is one demand that poor countries such as Bolivia argued at Copenhagen – to make money available for water infrastructure projects such as more reservoirs around La Paz. That way we don't have dozens of thousand more fleeing the highlands and seeking their fortune in the lowlands growing coca, cattle ranching, fighting with other landholder, causing more deforestation, intensified climate change, etc.

    Interconnected and circular, as all things are.

    As for your other comment about the La Paz urban area and wood fires shrinking Chacaltaya's glacier, there may be some truth to that, micro-climate is important too and cities do generate more heat, but I don't think that you could make the same argument for the fact that, say, the arctic ice is also disappearing. Not too many cities near the north pole, unless you believe in fairy tales.

    Thanks Jim and the DC, you rock, and make for engaging conversations and fun reads. Some people here are out of their heads, but voice is empowering and illuminating.

  32. Anonymous says:

    The Global Warm-Mongers are silent. Could it be they're freezing they're arses off in the frigid NOrthern Hemisphere?

  33. Anonymous says:

    sure evo is an idiot.
    a big racist one

  34. Pingback: Climate Change in Bolvia « ameliaspreadstheword