A chilling account

Icelandic author laments human-driven climate change in call to action


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Earth watchers, like the author of this compelling book, are hoping that the same unified effort launched by world leaders against COVID-19 can be applied to an even more ominous existential threat.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/04/2021 (653 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Earth watchers, like the author of this compelling book, are hoping that the same unified effort launched by world leaders against COVID-19 can be applied to an even more ominous existential threat.

This clarion call to action on the climate issue, coming from award-winning Icelandic poet and novelist Andri Snær Magnason, should be required reading for deniers of the greatest crisis humans have ever faced.

On Time And Water, originally published in Icelandic in 2019 and translated by Columbia University alumnae Lytton Smith, is a memoir and polemic featuring mythological stories, Icelandic folklore, cultural histories and science-driven extrapolations which effectively combine to send a strong message about the planetary damage humans are causing.

Felipe Dana / The Associated Press files People walk on snow atop the Ok volcano crater on their way to a ceremony by the area which once was the Okjokull glacier in Iceland. Author Andri Snær Magnason’s latest combines Icelandic folklore, cultural histories and science-driven extrapolations to send a strong message about the planetary damage humans are causing.

It’s a timely publication already widely acclaimed abroad, and follows his philosophical tale A Casket of Time, which helped raise awareness of his literary talent, garnering international recognition and critical acclaim in North America.

Referencing his newest book’s apt title, Magnason writes, “Over the next hundred years… glaciers will melt away, ocean levels will rise. All this will happen during the lifetime of a child born today and lives to be 95.”

His climate activism includes documentary films and intellectual contributions towards Iceland’s attempts to decrease its carbon footprint, propelling a run for the nation’s presidency in 2016.

Losing the political opportunity to make a difference has only refocused his fight against rising temperatures affecting not only Iceland’s glaciers, but glacial fields worldwide, especially in the Himalayan Plateau, where excess melt will have dire consequences for an entire continent.

Magnason laments that the 2015 Paris Agreement, designed to limit the world to only 1.5 degrees of warming, has been ineffectual thanks to leading polluters such as China, India and the United States. Citing recent scientific data, he shows we are headed towards three degrees of warming and a global catastrophe.

Concerns over melting glaciers should alert readers to other ominous signs, such as the increasing frequency of deadly hurricanes and typhoons, record temperatures, prolonged droughts and, recently, a wildly gyrating polar vortex which left sun-tanned Texans shivering in the dark.

Messages about imminent dangers to the air we all breathe are often nuanced by mythological stories of destruction and rebirth, instilling a deep appreciation of our partnership with nature.

They offer a contrast in style to the tech-based messages found in Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ recently published How To Avoid A Climate Disaster, which touts plans for using advanced technologies to bring the current 50 billion yearly tons of greenhouse gas emissions down to zero by the year 2050.

The hopeful view that evolving technology will be Earth’s saviour is tempered by Magnason’s quest for greater wisdom which he finds in an especially profound interview with the Dalai Lama, who reminds him “no matter how sophisticated our technology is, ultimately we are subject to nature.”

Decades-old calls by environmentalists to protect our rainforests and wetlands are echoed again, and shown to be immediate priorities because of their roles in capturing carbon and protecting the atmosphere.

While climate-change deniers jokingly posit the effects of dinosaur flatulence over millions of years, Magnason’s adept coupling of mythology and science clarifies the concept of time.

“Human time,” he explains, is a mere fraction of “geologic age time,” warning it’s not going to take millions of years for a three- to five-degree rise in temperatures because “the Earth has abandoned geologic speed; it is changing at human speed.”

His own family’s generational experiences document the comparatively short time it has taken for Iceland’s natural landscapes, flora and fauna to be affected by carbon emissions.

In his opinion, the world’s reliance on fossil fuels, coupled with a begrudgingly slow acceptance of renewable energy, maximizes pleasure while sacrificing future generations, ensuring that the human species which launched the current Anthropocene age will bear responsibility in making it one of the shortest geological ages in Earth’s history.

It’s a legacy our children won’t appreciate.

Joseph Hnatiuk is a retired teacher.

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