Book Review: Glaciers – The Politics of Ice

Author Jorge Daniel Taillant and his newest book, Glaciers: The Politics of Ice.
Author Jorge Daniel Taillant and his newest book, Glaciers: The Politics of Ice.

“This book is several books in one,” clarifies Jorge Daniel Taillant in the introductory pages of his newest book, Glaciers: The Politics of Ice. A melding of narration, primary sources, and vivid characters, Taillant’s Glaciers recounts the formulation of the world’s first national glacial protection law in Argentina in 2010, from the first inklings of growing public awareness and protests to roundtable discussions with stakeholders and overcoming presidential vetoes.

As one might guess from the title, Taillant hopes to tell a more nuanced story of the world’s majestic icy peaks and disappearing landmarks. Implicit in the work’s title is the idea that ice, science, and nature are all inherently political. As the planet warms, the very existence of glaciers depends on social awareness and the politics of their protection.

CEDHA's documentation of the mining industry's harmful impacts on South America's glaciers (courtesy of CEDHA).
CEDHA’s documentation of the mining industry’s harmful impacts on South America’s glaciers (courtesy of CEDHA).

The odd numbered chapters of the book tell a sequential narrative of the debates and negotiations behind the law– a saga in which Taillant had plenty of first hand experience. As the co-founder of the Center for Human Rights and Environment (CEDHA), Taillant worked with and knew many of the major human forces behind the enactment of the world’s first glacier protection law.

The even numbered chapters talk more generally about glaciers, beginning with basic definitions. Science is always explained in laymen’s terms, as well as both chronologically and in excerpt form, allowing for ease and accessibility in reading. Thanks to its layout, the book is not “designed” for any one type of audience (a scientist might skim over introductory science chapters, while a nonscientific reader curious about the buzz surrounding climate change might more thoroughly read these chapters to catch up to speed).

Glaciers: The Politics of Ice
Courtesy of Amazon

The Politics of Ice opens up the world of glaciers and dispels the notion that only the well-known glaciers (such as of Antarctica, Norway, or Greenland) are worth protecting. He reminds us of smaller glaciers in unexpected places – such as those in Argentina, that are incredibly vital to their surrounding communities and are equally important to study and protect. They provide a considerable proportion of water supply to local populations for both drinking water and agriculture during the drier months.

Taillant reminds us that more often than not, sheer conflicts of interest and simple ignorance are what allow glaciers to melt under our inaction. Taillant cites a few reasons for this – glacier’s “obscure nature, their faraway location, and our societal ignorance about the roles glaciers play in our ecosystem,” to name a few. Before the passage of this law, glaciers weren’t even on the world’s environmental protection radar.

However, the debate over glacier protection is far from over, as countries such as Chile are still battling out the fate of their country’s glaciers that remain under threat from both rising temperatures and industries such as mining.

The book’s eleven chapters go by quickly – a mishmash of narratives of political entanglement, science and climate change, and new vocabulary (glaciosystems, cryoactivism, anybody?). Taillant’s book provides the opportunity to read not only about a fascinating world of ice, but about the political maneuvering necessary to protect it.

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