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Image / Editorial

Iceland held a funeral for its first glacier destroyed by climate change


by Hannah Hillyer
19th Aug 2019

@dlfnova Instagram

With 11% of its landmass covered by glaciers, Iceland is famous for them. But last week saw the country mourn its first glacier to be stripped of its title as a result of global warming


With the globe facing increased temperatures as a result of carbon emissions, we know the world’s ice is melting at a rapid rate. Whether you engage with this news or ignore it, you can’t help but be aware it is happening.

This weekend saw Iceland hold a funeral for its first glacier to officially be stripped of its title. Iceland’s prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir and former Irish President, Mary Robinson were in attendance along with many civilians who hiked to the top.

Related: No toilet, no shower and seasickness:
Greta Thunberg sets sail for New York

The glacier called, Okjökull, or affectionally dubbed ‘Ok’, is in the west of Iceland. This is the first glacier to be destroyed as a direct result of climate change; something experts warned about and say could have been avoided. It was declared ‘officially dead’ back in 2014, but with little being done since to counteract its melting, this weekend saw a ceremony and plaque installed to commemorate the lack of action.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

?? Iceland just lost its first glacier to Global Warming. Ironically enough it was called the “OK Glacier”. Turned out it was far from OK. ?? ?? Right now there is a fierce heatwave all over Europe. This is serious. And yet our politicians are busy sending military ships to Iran to protect oil ships from the UK. I’m repeating oil ships… ?? ?? I shot this image at Solheimajokull Glacier in 2014. These kids may be the last generation to see glaciers. ?? ?? #actnow #glacier #savetheglaciers #stopclimatechange #ExtinctionRebellion #FridaysForFuture #RebelForLife #ecowarrior #risingsealevels #globalwarming #climatechange #globalwarming #environmentart #environmentalartist #stopclimatechange #sealevelrise #nordicnoir #contemporaryart #climateart #okjokull #solheimajokull #iceland #goecco #chasingice #klimakunst #jfthorsteinsson??

A post shared by Jonas F. Thorsteinsson (@j.f.thorsteinsson) on


The future of Iceland’s glaciers

Wondering why ‘Ok’ can no longer be titled a glacier? To meet the requirements, it must be a body of ice that is constantly moving under its own weight, which also continues to accumulate snow and ice as it moves. Unfortunately, ‘Ok’ was melting faster than it was accumulating. Instead of moving forward, it was retreating backwards, meaning it was no longer a ‘living glacier’.

With 11% of Iceland’s landmass covered in glaciers, it’s feared this won’t be the first time we see this occur. And with so much of Iceland’s thriving tourism industry dependent on its glaciers, it will have a huge effect on the country’s economy as well as massive changes in the environment.

Related: Greta Thunberg tells MPs that her
generation’s future has been ‘stolen’

It is thought in 200 years time there will be no ice left in Iceland at all due to global warming. The rate at which ice is melting globally is frightening, as it makes sea levels rise and releases more CO2 into the atmosphere.

At the same time, we are seeing a heatwave across mainland Europe; with this July becoming the warmest month ever recorded on planet earth.

When we can directly see the results of our excess carbon emissions, how can we not make changes?

A letter to the future

After Iceland’s ‘glacier funeral’, a plaque was erected to commemorate the glacier and stamp this moment in time. It reads:

“A letter to the future. 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. – August 2019.”

This plaque is like something that would be uncovered in a sci-fi movie, its words being both prophetic and apocalyptic. The idea of us right now, knowing exactly what needs to be done and what will happen if we do nothing, is terrifying. Especially as so many global companies and world leaders are not making climate change their number one priority. It should be, as if we do nothing, there will be nothing left.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

This is a text I wrote In memory of Ok – glacier – the first glacier in Iceland lost to human related climate change. The text is on a memorial plaque to be placed on top of Ok mountain. This is a project initiated by Dominic Boyer and Cymene Howe researchers from Rice University in Texas and Oddur Sigurðsson Geologist. In statement from Houston Howe says: “This will be the first monument to a glacier lost to climate change anywhere in the world,” Howe said. “By marking Ok’s passing, we hope to draw attention to what is being lost as Earth’s glaciers expire. These bodies of ice are the largest freshwater reserves on the planet and frozen within them are histories of the atmosphere. They are also often important cultural forms that are full of significance.” Here are the words I wrote for the memorial plaque: A letter to the future Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as glacier. In the next 200 years all our main 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. August 2019, 415 ppm CO2. #riceuniversity #climatechange #ontimeandwater #andrisnaermagnason #okglacier #notokglacier

A post shared by Andri Snær Magnason (@andrimagnason) on

Take action

We need to act on this sad news, as our own former president, Mary Robinson wisely said, “The symbolic death of a glacier is a warning to us, and we need action”.

Now is not the time to ponder over what is happening. Time is running out. As the plaque so eloquently puts it, we already know what to do and what will happen if we do nothing. We need world leaders to come together and act.

If you’re wondering how you can make a change, it can feel overwhelming. Apart from the (now obvious) lifestyle changes you can make, such as carrying a KeepCup and consuming less, you can help to make a bigger difference in other ways. Write to your local TDs; join in on any climate protests that are happening in cities near you; and most importantly, don’t vote for anyone who doesn’t have climate change as their number one priority.

Nobody quite sums it up better than the awe-inspiring Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old activist who is currently on her ‘carbon zero’ sailing trip to the UN Climate Action Summit in New York.

“Our house is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire. […] I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” – Greta Thunberg

Header Image: @dlfnova


Read more: 10 easy switches you can make to live a more sustainable life

Read more: New research finds 90% of bottled water contains micro-plastics

Read more: 10 things we learned from our visit to the recycling centre

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