Recently, in western Iceland, a funeral was held on a barren side of volcanic Ok mountain. Once it had been covered by the Okjökull glacier.
The glacier’s birth date was not immediately available but the cause of death was assumed to be global warming.
A memorial was set in the rock. It reads:
Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier.
In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path.
This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done.
Only you know if we did it.
It is elegiac and almost spooky, but it also seems commonsensical in the age of climate change. It brings to mind the line from Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man,” “Something is happening here but you don’t know what it is/Do you, Mr. Jones?” – except, of course, we do know what is happening. As for what needs to be done, it seems clear we need to move away from fossil fuels as soon as we can.
We just do not know how.
One way is to put a tax on carbon, although if we expect the consumer to pay it, we should keep in mind France’s Yellow Vests movement, which began as a protest against fuel taxes last October and has since become the most pointed threat to the centrist government of President Emmanuel Macron, who was following the best advice of all the best economists when he imposed it.
Another way to do what needs to be done is to develop much better batteries to store renewably-sourced energy. If you know a researcher in this field, please give them all the encouragement you can.
In the meantime, we are getting a clearer look at what climate change already may have wrought.
A report at the beginning of the year, published by the University of East Anglia, in England, is the first “to offer an empirically established causal path from climate change to conflict to cross-border migration,” according to the online magazine Pacific Standard.
“Like other Mediterranean regions, Syria typically receives nearly all of its precipitation during a six-month span over the winter,” Pacific Standard noted in an earlier story. “But between 2006 and 2010, rain and snow failed to materialize in the high country, and the Tigris and Euphrates rivers – lifelines in an unforgivingly dry land – dwindled to a fraction of their normal flow.”
This has a kind of catalytic inevitability: Farmers lost their subsistence livelihoods to crop failure. This prompted as many as 1.5 million of them to flee to Syrian cities that could not accommodate them, which created a volatile political situation.
That led to the 2011 uprisings and civil war in Syria, and triggered the outflow of five million refugees, that in turn destabilized – and is still destabilizing – parts of Europe as well.
Israeli researchers have had some promising results with sea water desalination, using new filtration technologies. Politics aside, it may be possible now to step up irrigation projects in the Fertile Crescent, spanning parts of Syria, as well as Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Iran – but the demand for water will also grow, the seas are not infinite and you cannot un-ring a bell.
Holding a funeral for a glacier may not be the most effective path to reducing our outputs of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but when it comes to mustering the global political will to do something more economically and technologically profound, it is at least as good as Macron’s failed fuel tax.
We will support whatever works.