Iceland Holds Funeral for Glacier Destroyed by Climate Change

"Only you know if we did it." | JEREMIE RICHARD/AFP/Getty Images
"Only you know if we did it." | JEREMIE RICHARD/AFP/Getty Images

To put things into perspective, if the Antarctic ice sheet melted, it would raise global sea levels by around 200 feet. We’ve already seen a noticeable loss of mass on the west end of the glacier, one of the many reasons why we should all be screaming. And Iceland most certainly is: Locals there just held a politically charged funeral for a 700-year-old glacier called Okjökull.

Jökull is Icelandic for glacier, so that portion of Okjökull’s name has been removed, and what remains is now referred to as Ok. But Ok is not OK. What once was an ample, 15-square-mile chunk of frozen history is now a half mile speck of dust on your Google Maps.The glacier was technically declared inactive in 2014, meaning the ice was no longer moving.

For now, ice covers about 10% of Iceland, so severe losses lead not only to rises in sea level, but to changes in the country's infrastructure and accessibility to water. 

At the funeral in Borgarfjörður on Sunday, Icelandic geologist Oddur Sigurðsson presented a death certificate and a plaque was planted. The plaque read:  

"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."

Iceland's Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, and former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, joined a crowd of around 100 to mourn the loss. 

Anthropologists from Rice University have created a video called “Not Ok.”

“We created this film about a small glacier in a small country in order to bring the huge and often abstract problem of climate change back down to a human scale,” said anthropologist Cymene Howe. “So that we can better understand how it touches our everyday lives.” 

In the same way, the funeral was held to make personal and human that which is sometimes impossible to grasp. The plaque was an additional statement. Anthropologist Dominic Boyer told the BBC that plaques recognize human accomplishments and events. 

The passing of a glacier is also a human accomplishment, Boyer said, “if a very dubious one -- in that it is anthropogenic climate change that drove this glacier to melt.”

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Ruby Anderson is a news writer for Thrillist until Manhattan is fully submerged.