Since 1922, over 300 mountain climbers have died attempting to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest and most deadly mountain. As Rasoul Sorkhabi wrote for Earth Island Journal in August 2019, “The crisis on the world’s highest mountain is acute, and intensifying,” not only because of the mountain’s extraordinary popularity with climbers but also because of human-induced climate change.
Sorkhabi connected significant increases in climbing deaths on Everest over time to climate change. “The Himalayas are one of the fastest warming regions on the planet,” he wrote, and a warmer climate destabilizes the mountains glaciers and icefalls.
According to a 2018 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the USA, warmer winters and early springs—which are hallmarks of climate warming—contribute to wet snow avalanches in the western Himalayas. These risks are not limited to Mount Everest, of course; mountains around the world that are popular among climbers are also subject to similar consequences of climate change.
The Nepalese government has not responded adequately to these new dangers, Sorkhabi reported, in part because mountaineering generates considerable revenues for it. He recommended that Nepal (and China) put stronger caps on the number of climbing permits issued for Everest. The Nepalese government should also evaluate more rigorously the qualifications of the professional climbing companies that offer guide services to people who want to climb Everest. For their part, climbing guide companies should ensure that their clients are qualified to climb the mountain, and that they should have equipment in place to make sure that climbers climb safely.
Although Mount Everest and the professional climbing companies that offer guide services have received a fair amount of news coverage, few such reports note how climate change will likely make mountaineering on Everest and other popular, high mountain peaks even more deadly in the future. For example, in May 2019, the New York Times reported that, after “one of the deadliest climbing seasons on Mount Everest,” which resulted in at least eleven deaths, the government of Nepal intended to change its regulations for climbing permits on Everest. However, the Times’ coverage made no mention of climate change or global warming as factors contributing to climbing fatalities in the Himalayas.
Source: Rasoul Sorkhabi, “Death on Everest,” Earth Island Journal, August 13, 2019, https://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/articles/entry/death-on-everest-climate-change/.
Student Researcher: Jianxin Zhang (City College of San Francisco)
Faculty Evaluator: Jennifer Levinson (City College of San Francisco)