On August 18, Iceland held a ceremony to officially mark the passing of a glacier.
In 1901 Okjökull glacier spanned 24 square miles. By 2005 it had almost disappeared, and in 2014 it lost its status as a glacier. Jökull means “glacier” in Icelandic, so now Okjökull is is just Ok, a volcano with no ice mass at all.
The ceremony was held to acknowledge the solemnity of the demise of this natural feature. Iceland’s prime minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir, placed a copper plaque on the mountain containing a brief “letter to the future” written by Icelandic author Andri Snaer Magnason. The plaque includes the date of the ceremony and the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide: 415 parts per million, the highest level in modern human history.
As Magnason explained in an interview, “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.”
Whenever there is an act of violence in the United States and many other places around the world, people create spontaneous markers of grief and remembrance. They visit them, tend them, freshen the flowers laid there, and share grief with strangers. Iceland’s example shows us that we need to begin thinking about creating memorials for other victims of destructive forces, victims like white rhinos, mountaintops lost to coal mining, and glaciers.