In a large classroom of UAA/APU’s Consortium Library, a small group of Anchorage citizens gathered to hear Dahr Jamail hawk his acclaimed book, ‘The End of Ice’, reportage about the state of the planet. Attendees (majority over 60 yrs.) puzzled over Jamail’s motto, “Mountains are where I go to listen to the Earth (Jamail 18).” It was mid-November with outside temperatures a balmy 48° F. Most in the audience had lived in Alaska over fifty years, and remembered late autumn to be snowy, in the low twenties. When Jamail concluded his talk, several listeners chastised him for dismissing any hope of the Earth recovering. Others conceded that motivating by fear has been proven unsuccessful. Jamail confidently finished by encouraging grassroots approaches, as governments worldwide are in denial.
Briefly ‘The End of Ice’
Jamail’s book starts with quick references, along with a short narrative, about being rescued, by climbing colleagues, from a crevasse. He’s an avid mountaineer, where working together is vital for survival, which could be a metaphor for all joining-in to clean up the Earth. Jamail begins, “The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, both greenhouse gases, has been scientific fact for decades, and according to NASA, ‘There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the earth to warm in response (Jamail 4)’.” This is Global Warming 101: increasing global temperatures, droughts, wildfires, along with hurricanes, coastal flooding and permafrost melt. Jamail remarks, “Alaska’s glaciers are losing an estimated 75 billion tons of ice every year (Jamail 35).”
Jamail takes readers to the Pribilofs where decreasing oceanic food supplies due to warmer water temperatures, contributing to shellfish poisoning mean, “Thousands of common murres are dying of starvation (Jamail 61).”
Jamail then reports from the Rock Islands of Palau where death of coral beds (coral bleaching) is another indication of Climate Change. According to University of Hawaii marine biologist, Dr. Mark Hixon, “The situation is dire, but not hopeless…there are already corals living today that have adapted to warm, acidic waters that will be typical of future oceans (Jamail 80).”
Trees, storehouses for water and atmospheric poisons, are reacting to warmer temperatures, droughts, deforestation, fungus and beetles. According to Dr. David Peterson, US Forest Service biologist at the Pacific Northwest Research Station, “we have time before things go completely off the rails (Jamail 138-139).” Of note: dead trees release CO2 and thus lose their function as nature’s sponges, becoming polluters too (Jamail 146-147).
The Amazon, a global necessity, is the largest rainforest in the world with its multitude of rivers, birds, insects, fish, and medicinal plants. According to biologist Dr. Rita Mesquita with INPA, an Amazon research institute, “By 2016, activists were being killed at a rate of nearly four people every single week worldwide. Brazil saw the highest rates, with forty-nine killings, many of them in the Amazon, where timber industry production has been linked to sixteen of these murders as deforestation rates have risen by a staggering 29 percent (Jamail 164, 170-171).”
‘The End of Ice’ concludes in Utqiagvik (Barrow) where Jamail engages with KBRW’s radio announcer/photographer Cindy Shults, who has seen nuthatches and hummingbirds, common to Anchorage, flying near the Chukchi Sea. According to geophysics professor Dr. Vladamir Romanovsky, with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, “ as the permafrost thaws the land sinks lower, and so for villages near coastal zones, like Utqiagvik and other northern villages across Alaska and Siberia, this will combine with rising sea levels to form a serious threat to their communities (Jamail 190, 192).” Jamail also talked with Elder Richard Taalak, who has witnessed shrinking sea ice without using scientific instrumentation.
‘The End of Ice’ is like a semester in a science class. However it’s interspersed with adventures like scuba diving with specialists, which made poignant data less dry. Some experts expressed hope, as Earth has proven to be self-healing throughout its catastrophic history when encountering earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. According to Dr. Dan Fagre of USGS’s Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, “the Earth has a resilient system that has been through much worse than what we’ve caused: ice ages, volcanism, etc. ‘So many of these things will recover.’” However in response to glaciers and forests vanishing, Fagre surmises they will return, “But not in a time frame that includes humans (Jamail 36, 41).” Jamail is the most pessimistic of the bunch interviewed, writing “disrespect for nature is leading to our own destruction. By desecrating the biosphere with our own pollution and having caused Earth’s sixth mass extinction by annihilating species around the planet, we are setting ourselves up for what I believe will ultimately be our own extinction (Jamail 212).”
Climate Change is real and depressing. In the last chapter Jamail talks about nursing a seriously ill friend, and compares this experience to tending to the welfare of Earth. Maybe it just boils down to Jamail being spiritually centered when mountain climbing explaining, “These forays into the mountains are my way of being with the Earth in order to remain connected to my sorrow for what is happening, as well as to honor her (Jamail 217-218).” For me, the 1964 film, ‘Doctor Strangelove’ with its satirical humor about the Cold War’s potential catastrophic apocalypse, contains visual tropes, therapeutic for reacting to planetary extinction. Jamail sensibly offered no solutions. I thought of Heidegger’s book, ‘Being and Time’ or his intense explanation for verbally describing what it means to be alive, and be a part of Earth. No one has answers which don’t involve going on a severe planetary diet. Humanity’s disconnection to the environment and thus its preservation, becomes a major theme meandering through this book.
The Sleuth recommends putting ‘The End of Ice’ on your gift list. However, if you give it to teens, I strongly suggest parents (caregivers) read along and discuss, thus avoiding misconceptions and depression. I am acutely aware that Climate issues are scary to my Dimond High granddaughter, Averyl.
Jean Bundy aica-usa is a writer/painter in Anchorage