By Amanda Griffin Jacob
You know the kind of journey that’s life changing? Well, that’s exactly what this Icelandic epic adventure was for me. When my husband asked me what I wanted for my big birthday, I told him it was an expedition to Iceland. I’m not really a bag or shoes or jewelry kind of gal. I always ask for trips to see the world. My immediate intention was to see the Northern Lights and the successive motivations were for the scenery and adventure. Although we didn’t get to see the Lights (the weather did not cooperate in true Icelandic fashion), it was only a small disappointment because being able to explore the country was such an amazing gift that truly exceeded any preconceived notions I had.
I’m a nature girl. I love basking in the glory of the planet’s natural wonders. But I’ve never been so affected by a country’s environmental dynamism. I was literally stunned into silence by the sheer beauty of the volcanoes, the glaciers, the mountains, the coastlines, the waterfalls, and the lava fields. I ran out of superlatives very early on the weeklong voyage. The adjectives that kept repeating over and over were incredible…stunning…beautiful…ethereal…breathtaking. Listening to our (Swedish) guide Gunilla describes Iceland’s interestingly rich history complete with sagas and folklore was so fascinating. It truly was a joy to get to know the country from someone so knowledgeable, who loves Iceland passionately.
There was another side to this trip, one that wasn’t so happy. I do my best to advocate for us all to do our part to help save the earth. Being in Iceland really slaps the reality of global climate change into your existence. We were there last week, early February where the normal temperatures should be zero to 10 degrees in the Highlands and -25 degrees to -30 degrees in the north and the whole countryscape should be white from snow. There was no snow at all and it was a very moderate 2 to 6 degrees for our entire stay. That’s over a 10-degree difference. Gunilla told us that the kind of weather we had usually appears just before the summer months in May. I asked her if she thought this was a one off, a blip in the weather and she sadly shook her head. She splits her time between Greenland and Iceland and told us that she sees the effects of global warming every year. And every year it gets worse. I heard her say at least once a day that she was in utter shock about the temperatures and how this was almost feeling like summer in Iceland instead of winter, an effect of climate change that gets worse every year.
The sheep were out grazing instead of in farmers’ barns (unheard of for an Icelandic winter), crowberries were growing (out of season), and waterfalls were flowing instead of being frozen. When we went to see the glaciers, we were shown how much they all had receded in the last 100, 50, and even 10 years. One of the smaller glaciers in Iceland named Sólheimajökull has shrunk more in the last 10 years than it has in the last 100. To see the destructive impact that we have inflicted on the planet with your very own eyes is not only devastating and heartbreaking but life altering. This is damage we cannot undo. It is permanent. Sea levels are rising due to melting glaciers. Research indicates that there was an increase in volcanic activity after glaciers receded. Studies have also found that Iceland is actually rising due to the impacted ice melting which is allowing the land to “rebound.” This could also cause more eruptions. Many guides explained the precarious situation the world will be in when (not if) Katla, one of the biggest Icelandic volcanoes goes off. The last eruption from her (all volcanoes are named after women in Iceland and all glaciers are male) lasted 24 days in 1918. By all accounts and volcanic activity information, she or one of her sisters is overdue.
I sound like a broken record but we are wrecking our world. The damage that we have already imposed is irreversible. We are already seeing the effects of our disregard for the earth through elevated temperatures, unpredictable weather, animals going extinct (being slaughtered or starving to death), typhoons becoming fiercer and more powerful, a surge in droughts and heat waves.
You and I won’t bear the brunt of people’s indifference for our home. It will be our children and grandchildren that are going to be living in a world that is alien to us. Things we take for granted like going outside and breathing clean air, having water and food supplies will all change. We need drastic change and action now. There’s no undoing the damage that has already been wrought but you can definitely do your part and help minimize your carbon footprint. Educate your children to do the same. We need to focus our efforts on conservation. For their sake.
Thank you Iceland for the gift of your raw and magical splendor that assisted me in re-adjusting my perspective. We are all pretty tiny in the grand scheme of things. We need to show our planet some respect so that it can look after us as well.