5 Things I Learnt From Icelandic Writer Andri Snaer Magnason On Time And Water

Emergence Magazine held a podcast with Icelandic writer and documentary filmmaker Andri Snaer Magnason. The podcast was full of hidden gems and words of wisdom about how we talk about climate change, who we should be talking to and how we need to change the way we think about the future. Here are my key takeaways from the podcast because sometimes we like to have things summed up!

1. People respond better to storytelling than facts and figures

Magnason wrote a climate change book called On Time and Water. He describes how this title engages people more than telling people he is writing a book about climate change.

"I say I'm writing about time and water, and people open their eyes and ears and say, "Wow, what do you mean?" And I say, "In the next one hundred years, all the elements of water on the planet are changing." So the glaciers are going down. The sea level is going up. The pH, the ocean acid level, is reaching a level that we haven't seen for fifty million years. This is happening in a single person's lifetime. And then people seem to rethink and re-understand things. And I think much of the rhetoric about climate change has gone through the same channels in our minds for a long time, like polar bears. Instead of polar bears, I use my grandmother."

He explains how the words "ocean acidification" have no meaning to many people because they are not connected to any experience that we have in our lives. They're not rooted in the present or the past in an accessible way. So, he uses "time" and "water" because these are concepts people can place in their lives.

"When you hear a word like "ocean acidification," it's not connected to anything. It has no cultural significance. It's just "ocean acid-i-fi-ca-tion." What is that? It's not connected to the Beatles. It's not connected to any president. It's not connected to any experience that we have. It's not connected to Hitler. It's not connected to the Second World War. It's the biggest word in the world, because it's about the biggest change that has happened chemically to the planet for the last fifty million years."

2. We have an inability to "see ourselves" in the future. We need to think about time differently.

Andri Snaer Magnason describes a slightly convoluted experiment he conducted with his 10-year-old daughter and his ninety-five-year-old grandmother. He got his daughter to calculate when she would be ninety-five, which she calculated to be in 2102. And then if she had a ten-year-old grandchild she would be ninety-five in 2170 (or something like that). That is the span of time you can connect to, not just your own lifetime. So when we think about how life might be in the future, we need to think beyond our own life too.

"The time that you connect with, personally—that you can touch with your bare hands—is almost 250 years. My daughter can touch 1924 with her bare hands and 2170. That's almost 250 years. That's the arm's length. That's the personal connection to people, the intimate time of my daughter."

3. Talk to your elders because they hold decades of information and insight in their minds

Think about it, your grandparents have lived through the decades with the most change ever. They'll have a different perspective. But be sure to ask the right questions. Ask them what nature meant to them when they were younger. Or how they used to do their grocery shopping. Then spot the differences from your own life.

"Then I asked my grandfather, "When do you feel the world changed the most?" And he said, "During the last ten years." And that is actually statistically true. The world changed the most during the last ten years, that is, or since 2000. I think half of the carbon dioxide that has been pumped out happened in the last twenty years. Half of the plastic produced on the planet has been produced since 2000."

4. If we don't act we might have plaques on glaciers and other natural landmarks like this one:

Magnason placed a plaque on the first glacier to lose it's glacier status in Iceland because it's ice melted. He is trying to show that this could become ubiquitous in the future if we don't act now.

"Ok is the first glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years, all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it. August 2019, 415 ppm CO2."

5. Optimism always wins! And the younger generation has the power to create change!

Magnason talks about how the technologies are there to create real change and with younger generations speaking up, so is the drive for change. When talking about trying to change the path we are on Magnason states -

"It is technically possible. We know that. We can scale down all sorts of wasteful industries and scale up lots of renewable technologies. I tell them that when I was choosing my path, it didn't feel like a purpose. We just got all this infrastructure, all the highways, the hospitals, everything, and our purpose was just studying something to place ourselves in a well-paying job somewhere to have a good life. Now you could say the paradigm has shifted. What needs to be done is obviously in front of us, and it's not essentially negative to be a generation that has to rethink and reinvent and redesign almost everything."

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