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How much this change is directly attributable to greenhouse gas emissions is an issue still being studied by climate researchers. Some snow disappears for reasons other than global warming. 

In fact, Dr. Mote recently analyzed the glacial retreat atop East Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro and determined that it’s not linked to global warming. The temperatures there rarely rise above freezing, even in the summer, and the declines started before the beginning of the 20th century. In fact, the only thing that could save the snows of Kilimanjaro, he says, could be global warming. More frequent snowfall would change the reflective nature of Kilimanjaro’s snow, altering its energy absorption and causing it to disappear more slowly. 

This in no way means that climate change in the Pacific Northwest is not real. The annual snowfall declines in the mountains around the Columbia River valley are reflected in the data and are clearly linked to increased temperatures, Dr. Mote says. But researchers are still learning more about the causes of the increased temperatures. 

As for what to do about the problem, Dr. Mote remains optimistic that a solution can be found, though he doubts we can count solely on a technological one. A cautious reading of the history of large-scale human interventions in climate is not terribly promising, he says. 

More likely, a workable solution would be a multifarious approach, implementing changes in global patterns of fuel consumption, carbon output, emissions and energy usage. Such an approach is doable, but it would require a massive global effort by governments, industry and consumers, and it would demand a rare combination of political will, technological innovation and public support. 

Nonetheless, “all solutions applied vigorously could get us there,” Dr. Mote says. 

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