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Iceland Holds Its First Funeral for a Glacier
Iceland's Okjokull glacier lost its glacier status in 2014, as AFP reported, and scientists fear it will only be the first of many to melt away. The country could lose all of its more than 400 glaciers by 2200.
"The symbolic death of a glacier is a warning to us, and we need action," former Irish President Mary Robinson, who was one of around 100 people to attend the event, told The Associated Press.
The funeral attendees hiked for two hours up a volcano, where children laid a plaque in honor of the glacier that used to spread for about six square miles. The plaque, unveiled in July, is titled "A letter to the future" and includes text in both Icelandic and English, according to CNN.
"This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done," it concludes. "Only you know if we did it."
The Okjokull glacier has now been stripped of its last two syllables, which mean "glacier" in Icelandic, and is merely called "Ok," according to The Associated Press. In 2014 it was declared dead because it no longer had enough snow and ice to cause it to be moved by its own weight, AFP reported. While it stretched 6.2 square miles in 1890, it only spread 0.7 square kilometers (approximately 0.3 square miles) by 2012.
"We made the decision that this was no longer a living glacier, it was only dead ice, it was not moving," Icelandic Meteorological Office glaciologist Oddur Sigurdsson told AFP.
Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, who attended the funeral Sunday, also wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times calling for climate action.
"On Sunday, we pay tribute to Ok," she wrote. "At the same time, we join hands to prevent future farewells to all the world's glaciers."
Almost half of World Heritage Sites could lose their glaciers by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, AFP reported.
Currently, Iceland is aiming to do its part by going carbon neutral by 2040 at the latest. It has already achieved carbon neutral energy production, but the loss of more glaciers, which currently cover around 11 percent of Iceland, could also threaten the country's clean energy.
"A big part of our renewable energy is produced in the glacial rivers," Jakobsdottir said, as AFP reported. "The disappearance of the glaciers will affect our energy system."
Iceland isn't the only country that will be harmed by the disappearance of glaciers. CNN gave a rundown of some of the potential impacts of global ice melt, from Antarctica to the Himalayas.
- Sea level rise could displace as many as two billion people by 2100.
- Islands like Tuvalu, the Maldives and the Marshall Islands could be entirely swallowed by rising water levels.
- The drinking water of millions of people who depend on glaciers like those in the Andes or Himalayas could be threatened.
- The warmer temperatures and flooding associated with sea level rise could disrupt the global food supply.
- Increased coastal flooding could overflow sewage treatment plants, spreading disease.
- Rising sea levels could harm the economy as they threaten the trading activities and maritime industries of the world's ports.
- Melting ice sheets could exacerbate global warming, since open water tends to absorb the solar radiation that ice reflects.
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Poverty and violence in Central America are major factors driving migration to the United States. But there's another force that's often overlooked: climate change.
Retired Lt. Cmdr. Oliver Leighton Barrett is with the Center for Climate and Security. He says that in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, crime and poor economic conditions have long led to instability.
"And when you combine that with protracted drought," he says, "it's just a stressor that makes everything worse."
Barrett says that with crops failing, many people have fled their homes.
"These folks are leaving not because they're opportunists," he says, "but because they are in survival mode. You have people that are legitimate refugees."
So Barrett supports allocating foreign aid to programs that help people in drought-ridden areas adapt to climate change.
"There are nonprofits that are operating in those countries that have great ideas in terms of teaching farmers to use the land better, to harvest water better, to use different variety of crops that are more resilient to drought conditions," he says. "Those are the kinds of programs I think are needed."
So he says the best way to reduce the number of climate change migrants is to help people thrive in their home countries.
Reporting credit: Deborah Jian Lee / ChavoBart Digital Media.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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