Subtitled ‘bearing witness and finding meaning in the path of climate disruption’ The End of Ice by Dahr Jamail (The New Press, 2019)* is another of the many climate change publications appearing on a regular basis. The fly-leaf blurb described the work as a “passionate, emotional ode to the wonders of our dying planet and to those who, hopelessly or not, dedicate their lives to trying to save it.” Of course the planet is not dying but life as we know it may well be if we do not make a major effort to combat the climate emergency.
Part of the problem for me is that I have been reading, and sometimes reviewing, books in this genre for more than 10 years. The structure and often the content of these works is similar. The End of Ice has the usual chapters covering, obviously, melting ice and retreating glaciers (Time Becomes Unfrozen) coral bleaching (Farewell Coral) and sea level rise (The Coming Atlantis) but does so from an intriguing personal perspective.
I have followed the author for many years and was most impressed with his courageous and independent award winning journalism during the Iraq war when he worked for Al Jazeera and I frequently quoted him or repeated his articles in full in my little ‘peace’ newsletter. What I was unaware of until now was that he was also an ‘accomplished mountaineer’ and had worked in a voluntary capacity as rescuer on Mt Denali in Alaska. And it is Denali that becomes the first chapter which opens with the author experiencing a blizzard high on the mountain.
He later notes: “There has been evidence of dramatic climatic shifts in front of us all for decades. Most people in the so-called developed world are not connected enough to a place on the planet to notice. They are unaware of the dire ramifications of what this means, both for the planet and our species.”(p.21) Whilst most of the book concentrates on various parts of America including a visit to the Amazon rainforests, Jamail travels to Queensland for his chapter on coral bleaching where he records “The 2016 bleaching event that killed more than one-fifth of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef could have been far, far worse if it had not been for a tropical cyclone. Cyclone Winston brought massive amounts of cloud and rain to the southern two thirds of the reef, dramatically cooling the overheated waters on top of the reef.” (p.93)
The book ends where it began on the slopes of Mt Denali where Jamail notes that “Indigenous cultures teach of ‘obligations’ that we are born into: obligations to those who came before, to those who will come after, and to the Earth itself.” (p.225) He then asks rhetorically “what are my obligations” with regards the climate emergency he has outlined with example after example throughout the book. The answer of course is that it is everyone’s obligation to do what they can – to sound the alarm bells loudly and continuously. As I write these words Alaska has again experienced record shattering heatwaves and bushfires have burned across the countryside.
*copy in the East Gippsland Shire Library