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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Trash-Covered Slopes of Mount Everest

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Ruth Page sounds off about the tons of trash left behind by visitors to Mount Everest. . . and looks hopefully towards emerging solutions to the problem.


PAGE: Anyone who's been around for over 70 years ought to be shock-proof.

NUNLEY: Unfortunately, says commentator Ruth Page, humans continue to challenge her resistance.

PAGE: Recent news tells us huge amounts of garbage and litter have been dumped with abandon on Mt. Everest. Mount Everest, for heaven's sake, the highest point on earth. That snow-crowned, poetry-inspiring mountain, its heights unconquered until 1953. Nine thousand people visit the glorious mountain each year, climbing portions of the great slopes and leaving their empty food containers, broken equipment, and personal wastes behind. Last year, in July alone, 33 tons of trash, 550 yak-loads, had to be carried down from the mountain.

So a new system for climbers has been established. They must leave a cash deposit with Nepalese officials based on the weight of the stuff they bring in. Their gear is weighed again when they leave, and they forfeit funds for the difference.

Everest is home to magnificent animals that are being harmed by all the metal and plastic trash: Himalayan mountain goats, black bears, musk deer, wolves, red pandas, wild dogs, and the rare and beautiful snow leopards. Visitors and climbers have been helping themselves to the scarce wood supply in the wild, too, without considering the erosion that will follow. Villagers in the park area have formed a cooperative to try to control pollution and protect woody growth. Nepalese working on the Everest clean-up are testing various methods. They don't want to lose tourists, but if the tourists spoil the mountain, local Nepalese will have nothing of value left.

When humans conquer anything, they're almost sure to leave it filthier than they found it. Should we give up the human race as a bad job? Maybe not quite yet. When the Nepalese discover the best techniques for cleaning and protecting their great mountains, they'll share the knowledge with others around the world, including people in the homelands of the Alps, which also have Herculean clean-up jobs facing them. So, maybe dark clouds still have silver linings.

NUNLEY: Commentator Ruth Page lives in Burlington, Vermont. She comes to us from Vermont Public Radio.



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