As my cousins and I made our way up Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, Maine, we wondered what the view looked like at the top. Would it be another mountain range? An aerial view of a large river that reflected the sunlight? We stumbled our way through cracks in the rock, carefully making our way to a ledge, our legs aching. Finally, we could see what we came for! Looking out expectantly, we saw… nothing. Nothing but a thick, depressing fog obscuring the view beyond it. Was it all for nothing? Or worse, was the fog the main attraction? I decided it was a case of unfortunate early morning weather, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was pollution.
According to the National Park Service, visibility conditions at Acadia are less than half of what they should be at “natural background” levels, due to upwind sources that contaminate the air. Air pollution does more than just obscure the view, however. It poses a threat to our health and Acadia’s water quality and vegetation. Two major effects of this air pollution are acid rain (a result of nitrogen and sulfur compounds deposited from the air), as well as mercury contamination, which affects birds, fishes, lakes, streams, and more. Mercury contamination also affects human health through the consumption of fish that contain higher than safe concentrations of the toxic substance. Another pollutant that plagues the park is ground-level ozone. Ground-level ozone, according to the NPS, is formed when other pollutants react in the presence of sunlight. The ozone makes it difficult for plants to reproduce, store food, and resist diseases and insects.
Climate change is impossible to ignore, even when you’re on vacation. An incident that stands out to me was the day we visited the Bar Harbor sandbar. As we walked across the vast stretch of land, my cousins and I couldn’t help but wonder…would we even be able to walk across it in a few years? By 2050, sea levels are expected to rise ten to fourteen inches on average in the Atlantic, and even more along the Gulf. And even these small numbers would wreak havoc on the environment. Beaches would begin to erode, towns would flood, and many fishes and birds would lose their homes.
All this has led me to realize that no matter where we are, climate change will follow us, the product of decades of ignorance towards the environment. If I had been able to see the real view of Cadillac mountain from where I stood, then it would have meant so much more than a successful hike. It would have meant that we were one step closer to being free of climate change.