Iceland commemorates the first glacier lost to climate change
Climate change takes Okjokull away
Iceland honoured the passing of Okjokull, its first glacier lost to climate change, as scientists warn that some 400 others on the subarctic island risk the same fate.
As the world recently marked the warmest July ever on record, a bronze plaque was mounted on a bare rock in a ceremony on the former glacier in western Iceland, attended by local researchers and their peers at Rice University in the United States who initiated the project.
Many attend the event
Iceland's Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson also attended the event, as well as hundreds of scientists, journalists and members of the public who trekked to the site. "I hope this ceremony will be an inspiration not only to us here in Iceland but also for the rest of the world because what we are seeing here is just one face of the climate crisis," Jakobsdottir said.
A letter to the future
The plaque bears the inscription "A letter to the future", and is intended to raise awareness about the decline of glaciers and the effects of climate change. "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," the plaque reads. It is also labelled "415 ppm CO2", referring to the record level of carbon dioxide measured in the atmosphere last May.
'The first monument to a lost glacier'
The plaque is "the first monument to a glacier lost to climate change anywhere in the world", Cymene Howe, associate professor of anthropology at Rice University, said in July.
Power of symbols
Howe noted that the conversation about climate change can be abstract, with many dire statistics and sophisticated scientific models that can feel incomprehensible."Perhaps a monument to a lost glacier is a better way to fully grasp what we now face," she said, highlighting "the power of symbols and ceremony to provoke feelings".
Iceland's glaciers in danger
Iceland loses about 11 billion tonnes of ice per year, and scientists fear all of the island's 400-plus glaciers will be gone by 2200, according to Howe. Glaciers cover about 11 per cent of the country's surface. "A big part of our renewable energy is produced in the glacial rivers.... The disappearance of the glaciers will affect our energy system," Prime Minister Jakobsdottir said. Glaciologists stripped Okjokull of its glacier status in 2014, a first for Iceland.