DID YOU CATCH IT?
Observations on watching the calving episode of the film Chasing Ice
December 5, 2012
THE GLACIERS are metaphor and reality, both at once, of our crumbling world. We watch them melt, like Civil War soldiers, lining up in ranks, facing an enemy lined up in ranks thousands of miles away. hThe command goes out:
and the first rank falls down, mowed down by the opposition’s bullets. We watch them fall.
They begin to crumble. Tors, stalactites, like Bryce Canyon carved in ice. Tor by tor, they tip—the tipping point—they rush headlong into the sea. White tors, white sea, the first rank falls, pulling the second rank behind it. They tip, they fall, they rush into the sea.
It is the invisible fire, the extra-arctic fire of car exhausts, of cars whose owners are driving around the block looking for a parking space, who leave their motors idling. Of coal burning and oil burning plants producing steam to drive the turbines that run the lights of cities so bright at night they can be seen from space efflorescing like poison fungi in the dark. They say you can tell from space, where the industrial countries are: they effloresce the brightest. The “developing” world lies in darkness.
In the frozen north comes the great thawing. The Industrial Revolution’s smoke stacks have left their markings, striations of soot zebra stripe the blue of ice marking the years since 1750, like layers of an onion. The arctic winds have rattled time, upthrusting the stripes into geological strata, tilting crazily in the struggle: ice against the depredations of man, man’s factories, man’s cars, man’s wanting to have more, more comfort, more to burn up, more to fill insatiable needs.
But the ice won ‘t go silent. Boom goes the first rank. It is the boom of the avalanche that warns too late. The arctic is booming. The ice has issued its warning, but in New Orleans in 2005 no one can hear it. Boom. In 2011, in New England, the people can’t hear it. Boom. In 2012, in Staten Island, in Rockaway, on the shores of New Jersey, the people can’t hear it. They will drive. They will keep the lights on.
In Mindanao, the people can’t hear it. 477 of them will drown.
In Doha, the Climate Negotiators can’t hear it.
Boom. This is the sound of the ice, melting, the infrasonic rumble. Listen. Listen now. The rumble of the deep. Listen. Here it comes, gathering speed. Can you hear it? Can you feel the ground move beneath your feet? Here it comes, opening its great jaws. This moment, when the rumbling gathers speed. Louder. It gets louder now. Yet louder. Can you hear…
But no. You are in your soundproofed halls of power. You too, line up in rows, disguised behind the names of your countries here in Doha where the hostess of this global event has dropped them like giant place names. You cannot hear it. The earphones block your ears as you take in the simultaneous translation in your country’s language. You cannot hear it as you prepare to speak. You cannot hear it under the factory lights of the great hall in which you sit manufacturing lies and delay.
You are meeting in Doha—of course—capital of the richest per capita nation in the world, whose every citizen receives an annual subsidy from the oil you extract—of course—that will be transported in pipes, in ships—of course—belching smoke from its stacks—where it will be used to burn—of course—making more light. So the earth can be seen from space, so the efflorescence of its light can delineate the littorals of its most developed countries, of its cities bathed in street light so bright it can be seen from outer space, so it can send out its SOS in space: we are burning. We are on fire, the fire which is at war with the ice.
Boom. Our oceans are rising. The fist rank of ice goes toppling, falling, falling into the deep. Boom.
But the night of space does not hear. And behind their place names, the delegates wrap their heads in their earphones, listening to the simultaneous translation of the speeches in their languages, sitting under the industrial lights whose power is being generated by the coal burning, oil burning furnaces—of course—of the turbines that make the power that guarantees that they won’t hear, that they won’t see the infinitely small moments in time when, amidst the cascading ice sheets, a whale heaves its great weight into the light, into air, for this brief moment—to look at us earthlings with its great accusing eye.