Story by Nathan Erickson
Photo by Luke Nankivell
This was the parting message delivered by Iceland President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who spoke last Wednesday.
President Grimsson delivered a lecture centered on global warming and Iceland’s development of clean energy resources.
President Grímsson is visiting Des Moines as part of the World Food Prize events being held this week.
His lecture was the inaugural event for the newly established Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement.
Led by Director Marsha Ternus, the Harkin Institute seeks to provide Drake and the community at large with “opportunities for thoughtful policy discourse in a nonpartisan environment.”
The event, held in Sheslow Auditorium, filled first-floor seats to capacity and many were directed upstairs to the balcony.
Evenly split between Drake students and members of the surrounding community, the crowd was excited to hear from President Grímsson, even offering him a standing ovation.
Senator Tom Harkin introduced President Grímsson as a “citizen of the world,” who has helped Iceland to become a more “egalitarian society.”
Some of President Grímsson’s greatest accomplishments, he explained, include Iceland’s utilization of geothermal and other green energy sources for over 85 percent of its heating and electrical need, his work with the Arctic Circle Assembly and his commitment to build understanding and lay principles for future agreements around the world. Senator Harkin’s comments were delivered via video, citing volatility in Washington as the reason for his absence.
President Grímsson echoed similar praise for Senator Harkin at the beginning of his lecture, calling him “a statesman in the best sense of the word.”
Grímsson also thanked the community for allowing him to speak: “It is an honor and profound pleasure to be invited as the first lecture of the Harkin Institute.”
Grímsson began his lecture by highlighting the alarming pace at which glaciers and sea ice are melting.
“We are far from taking the necessary action,” he explained. “Glaciers and Arctic sea ice continue to melt faster than ever, and NASA issues extreme warnings. Why does the (United States) respect its remarkable space agency when it lands a man on the moon, and recently sent a rover to Mars, but ignores it altogether when it gives us alarming news about mother Earth,” queried Grímsson, “The core problem regarding climate change is one of perception.”
He also said we have all been raised in a world where the ice is thought of as peripheral.
“You have a fragmented view of our own planet. This is especially true in regards to our glaciers.”
In response to this, he explained that we need a fundamental change in our way of thinking. “England, China, Iceland and others all recognize that the ice is imperative,” Grímsson said.
A Chinese vessel recently made a journey to Iceland using the northern route through the Arctic Circle, with a sole purpose of researching the effect that melting sea ice has on Chinese weather patterns.
Using more evidence, such as “45 percent of total river flow to tributaries of [major Himalayan Rivers] is from glacier melt” and “the Chinese coast is in danger of shifting 400 Kilometers inland,” Grímsson posited that there is a new reality in the global debate over climate change.
“The melting of the glaciers and sea ice located in the Arctic Circle and Himalayas will affect the quality of life for billions of people.”
Grímsson stressed that there must be a commitment by all nations of the world, both large and small, to help meet the coming change.