Icelandic officials joined climate change activists Sunday in bidding farewell to the nation’s first extinct glacier in what was touted as a “funeral” service for the ice mass.
The ritual, attending by around 100 people, weaved together poetry recitation, moments of silence, and ardent political speeches about the crucial need to battle climate change, which has been blamed for the demise of the Okjökull glacier.
The service was attended by Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, Environment Minister Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson, and former Irish President Mary Robinson. Ms. Jakobsdóttir took advantage of the occasion to attribute the loss of the glacier to the climate crisis.
“We see the consequences of the climate crisis,” she said. “We have no time to lose.”
Icelandic geologist Oddur Sigurðsson officially declared the Okjökull glacier inactive in 2014 when he determined that snow was melting before it could accumulate on the cap, and there was not enough pressure accumulating to keep the glacier in motion. But on Sunday Sigurðsson brought a death certificate to the memorial service to bring attention to the “climate crisis.”
A plaque, written in both English and Icelandic, was placed at the spot by children to commemorate the event. It reads:
Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as 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 know what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.
The author of the plaque’s inscription, Andri Snaer Magnason, told the BBC:
This is a big symbolic moment. Climate change doesn’t have a beginning or end and I think the philosophy behind this plaque is to place this warning sign to remind ourselves that historical events are happening, and we should not normalize them. We should put our feet down and say, okay, this is gone, this is significant.
Anthropologist Cymene Howe of Rice University in Houston said last month that the memorial to Okjökull marks the first-ever monument to a glacier lost to climate change.
“By marking Ok’s passing, we hope to draw attention to what is being lost as Earth’s glaciers expire,” she said.
Iceland’s concern for its ice masses stands in stark contrast to its approach to other ethical issues. In 2017, Iceland boasted of a nearly 100 percent abortion rate for babies who test positive for Down Syndrome.
“My understanding is that we have basically eradicated, almost, Down syndrome from our society—that there is hardly ever a child with Down syndrome in Iceland anymore,” said Kari Stefansson, a geneticist and the founder of deCODE Genetics.
“We don’t look at abortion as a murder,” said Helga Sol Olafsdottir, who counsels women who have a pregnancy with a chromosomal abnormality at Landspitali University Hospital. “We look at it as a thing that we ended.”
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