Translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith
This book is a mostly interesting, frequently terrifying meditation on environmental degradation and the inconvenient truth that true, irreversible climate disaster may be closer than we like to think.
Andri Snaer Magnason is well-known in Iceland as a best-selling author and an environmental activist, as well as a former presidential candidate. He also has some spectacularly long-lived adventurer grand-parents, who traversed enormous glaciers and explored the far-reaches of the landscape during their youth. A glacier that they ascended in 1956, which seemed permanent and immutable, has begun to melt away over the course of the subsequent 70 years, to such an extent that the Iceland Glaciological Society’s annual trips to the glacier are no longer able to take place, thus providing a concrete and terrifying example of the pace of climate change.
We are told that, as glaciers melt in some parts of world, an initial increase in water supply, will, with the disappearance of melting glaciers and their resulting rivers, lead to a desperate lack, potentially making parts of Peru, Tibet and India uninhabitable.
Alarmingly, Magnason writes that:
“It is the official policy of the Trump government … to remove words related to climate change from public records and web sites. The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, talked about the melting of Arctic ice as ‘a new business opportunity’. Commercial sailing routes to Asia could be shortened by up to twenty days.”
Magnason also succeeds in effectively condensing our notions of time to put into perspective the timeline that we’re working within when we discuss climate change:
“The history of Iceland is, in a sense, the continuous story of twelve women like my Grandma. Twelve girls who were born and lived lives that each felt like a flash. … The earliest written records of humans date back five thousand years, events that happened practically yesterday. Humanity first emerged the day before that, in comparison to the ocean’s fifty-million-year history.”
Rather than being a straightforward polemic, Magnason incorporates family history and fascinating miscellaneous facts (for example, he notes that humankind has filled the world with chickens while wiping out so many other species), to provide what is an engaging call for action.