The Norwegian Centre for Advanced Study (CAS) recently released a video of an interview with Ben Orlove, the editor of GlacierHub, focusing on a lecture which he gave earlier this year in Oslo. The journalist Karoline Kvellestad Isaksen, who is affiliated with CAS, conducted the interview and produced the video. Orlove, an anthropologist, is a professor at the School of International and Public Affairs and the Earth Institute at Columbia University.
The lecture, “Glaciers in Nature and in Public Life: Science and Society in the Anthropocene,” was jointly sponsored by CAS and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. It was held on April 28 in the Academy’s main building, a nineteenth-century mansion overlooking the Oslo Fjord.
In the interview, Isaksen and Orlove discussed the themes of the lecture. They opened with the broad significance of glaciers as signs of climate change around the world, and the ways in which glaciers cut across the divide between wealthy and poor nations. They recognized the direct economic impacts of glacier retreat, particularly on water resources and natural hazards, but they pointed out that the importance of glaciers extends beyond these economic concerns to issues of human identity.
Citing pilgrimages in the Andes and the Himalayas, Orlove stressed that glaciers are cherished by indigenous people. He reported on a conversation with a group of Quechua alpaca herders in Peru, who said that they had wondered whether the glaciers on a nearby peak were shrinking because the mountain–recognizing the growing lack of respect for the earth on the part of humans–was angry or because it was sad. They decided that the latter was the case. It was this point that led Isaksen to title the interview “The Mountain Is Sad.”
Orlove added that glaciers matter greatly to people in other, less remote, settings as well. He offered Seattle and Yerevan, Armenia, as examples of modern cities where specific glaciers are also valued, and commented that glaciers touch even the people who live far from mountains, because of the way that they allow people to recognize the deep importance of the natural world. These esthetic, emotional and spiritual connections with glaciers allow them to build awareness of need for rapid, effective action on climate change.
Isaksen and Orlove discussed other threats to glaciers besides climate change, particularly from mining, whether the direct removal of glacier ice for sale, as in Norway, or the destruction of glaciers by mining companies seeking access to ore, as in Chile and Kyrgyzstan.
Closing the interview, Orlove said that when we look at glaciers, “we see this beauty, we see this fragility, above all we see this urgency.”