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On Time and Water de Andri Snær Magnason
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On Time and Water (edició 2021)

de Andri Snær Magnason (Autor)

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On Time and Water is a very personal environmental book, which makes it different than the rest. Andri Magnason of Iceland is a documenter. He is all about tracing his relatives as back far as he can, preserving their stories and their photos in print. And this being Iceland, everyone seemed to have a really intimate connection to glaciers. As most readers will not have such a personal history with glaciers, the book can be captivating. It will not even occur to most that people can have personal relationships with glaciers. And soon, no one will have that opportunity at all.

Magnason’s grandparents had their honeymoon on a glacier, holed up in a small tent during a wicked snowstorm. As they pointed out (probably all the rest of their lives), they did not get cold. People with relationships to glaciers notice every little thing about them, like the color of the water that melts from them (white), the mineral content from the ground it grinds down, the presence or absence of various birds and animals, the quality of the snow (Icelandic has 70 words for snow, Magnason says).

And today it is all going away. Glaciers that had been predicted to last thousands more years will be gone in less than a hundred. For people who live and die by them, that changes everything.

And that’s how the book proceeds. It is a long, detailed and involved survey of Magnason’s family, including anecdotes about skiing and discovering a snow-buried plane, living without electricity or water a few miles from the Arctic Circle. How while they were living their simple lives, major events were happening in the rest of the world. Then how Icelanders just this short century have become the most materialistic westerners there are, with more cars per capita, more trash, lots of waste, and specifically not living within nature any longer. They have taken themselves out of the ecological matrix and balance. Icelanders have probably joined Americans as not really noticing or caring that glaciers are vanishing, visibly, and will soon disappear. It is far more important that Iceland’s aluminum can industry thrives instead.

Then halfway through the book, he switches to oceans. It goes way beyond the ugliness of ocean acidification (as much ph change in our lifetimes as in the past 50 million years) but also fish, coral and coral reefs, and wild weather associated with the upset of ocean currents and overhead weather. So it really is about time and water once readers get beyond the family.

He has some slightly different perspectives that might nudge readers into a better appreciation of the world: “We might wonder whether the full meaning of ‘ocean acidification’ in 2019 is similarly weak as the word ‘holocaust’ was in 1930 compared to its meaning 1960.” He counts the number of times acidification is mentioned in the Icelandic news media in 2019 (five - compared to Kardashian – 180) and how truly serious it is and the ramifications as it grows out of control.

He points out that half of all the plastic in the world has been produced just since 2000. He says that the energy from one barrel of oil is the equivalent of ten years’ labor by one worker. And that far from controlling the problem, we now produce 110 million cars a year. In his grandfather’s time, a car in Iceland was a trophy, and his grandfather brought one back with him to sell and finance his education, much to the disappointment of his wife after his being away six years.

Then the facts start to get more dramatic. China has used more cement each year between 2004 and 2007 than the USA did in all of the 20th century. Or that Man is the first species to produce waste that is toxic, useless, and that in fact, harms nature. The oceans provide 60% of the planet’s oxygen when the phytoplankton in the upper layers photosynthesize. As acidification reduces the phytoplankton, oceans will reach a tipping point where it will simply and totally die off. “This is a risk no one who lives on Earth can take,” he says. The end of the oceans is the end of oxygen and the end of life.

And finally, for all the astonishing speed of new developments, from the steam engine to electricity to flight to the internet to mobile phones etc., we still have no idea how to remove and sequester or reprocess all the excess carbon dioxide we continue to put into the air every second of every day. Billions of tons a year. Every year. That will do us in. He thinks every available resource should be refocused to tackle that problem, right now and until it is solved. Nothing else matters.

While many scientists have recently fabricated the date of 2050 as the cutoff for reducing CO2 emissions to zero, the truth is we have long passed the point of no return. The Earth does not turn on a dime, and it will take hundreds of thousands of years to undo the damage already caused by burning so very much carbon in such an intensely short time. At the rate we are reducing the carbon load – which is zero – it doesn’t matter anyway. But it’s nice to have a goal, a purpose, I suppose. Magnason is along for that ride; I am not.

In a small bit of irony, Magnason seems to spend all his time in airplanes. He tells stories about land and sea flora and fauna all over the world, coral reefs, sea birds, alligators … his life is the having the time of his life. He interviews the Dalai Lama in Iceland and is invited to continue the talk in Daramsala, which he does. He is out there promoting his previous book, giving lectures, collaborating on films, and networking, on a global scale. All the while complaining about carbon footprints.

In the last chapter, it all comes to a screeching halt due to COVID-19, with a lockdown the very night of his film premiere he has been promoting so assiduously. But there is no hint he will change his own ways. He seems eager to say he has made his own contribution by doing small things at home less.

This is precisely the conundrum facing humankind. Reducing carbon emissions to zero means a complete change of lifestyle, not selective, incremental and totally minor changes as convenient. Not using plastic straws won’t do it. Same for plastic bags. Or short-haul flights. Or even electric cars. It doesn’t make him less passionate, but it does point directly to the central weakness of climate-change worriers. They aren’t exactly setting a great example.

We can make thirty pounds of pasta for the same energy it takes to make one pound of beef. But beef is winning by a seemingly insurmountable margin. Chickens are by far the most populous of the remaining bird species. There are only 3000 tigers left in the world, but one billion pet cats, draining the oceans of fish and killing birds by the billions every year. We have issues we won’t even consider to save ourselves.

Nonetheless, On Time and Water is nothing if not passionate, and is the reason why it is being translated from the Icelandic for all to appreciate. Magnason works hard at telling a good story really well. The message that comes along with them is worth treating.

David Wineberg ( )
2 vota DavidWineberg | Jan 1, 2021 |
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