You wouldn’t describe Andri Snær Magnason as a climate radical – as a former Icelandic presidential candidate, he’s much more pragmatic. His main concern is that the barrage of environmental news is starting to fall on deaf ears, leaving many climate scientists exasperated by a reception of inactivity. So, how do we move people to action?
In On Time and Water, Magnason discovers a poetic answer, using family history to construct a portal through environmental time. We follow Magnason’s grandparents through slower, carefree days; witnessing young love in pristine Icelandic fjords, watching wildlife undisturbed by large-scale industry and marvelling at the first of NASA’s space flares launched in the Arctic Circle.
Magnason argues that the failure to comprehend the climate crisis can be attributed to our relationship with time. While the past is honoured for its sculpting influence over the present, the future is more obscure. ‘People live inside their own realities, locked in the prevailing language and power systems of their contemporary movement,’ he argues. His reflections on his grandparents’ glory days unbuckle us from the relentless pace of the modern day. At the same time, he shows us how quickly the seemingly distant decades and centuries of climate models can unfold. Many of Magnason’s beloved Icelandic glaciers, once heralded as eternal forces in Nordic mythology, have already lost glacial status due to accelerated melting.
Magnason explores a disconnect unique to our present generation, when nature no longer exists as an immutable force of its own governance. His solution is to adopt a more romantic reverence for nature’s beauty and power. Decisions on environmental protection should not be based on economic imperatives, but instead on our elemental affinities with the natural world.
For all the loftiness of the subject, the book is written with wonder, care and the intuition of human experience. With each memory recounted, Magnason brings us into a world more aware of the unerring ebb and flow of time.