I spend an uncomfortable part of my life thinking about the death of the Arctic. Whether it be covering studies, writing on the the tundra explodes, or try to find the perfect photo to illustrate a story on the sudden melting of the Greenland ice sheet, the Arctic is a big part of my professional life.
Yet for all of the coverage I had no contact with the world above 66 degrees north, the latitude of the Arctic Circle. That is until last week when I received a bottle of Greenland Melt Water while attending United Nations climate talks in Glasgow.
Water was brought to the talks courtesy of Arctic base camp, a group of scientists who want to raise awareness of the collapse of the Arctic, which is warming nearly three times faster than the rest of the world. Receiving a bottle of water from Greenland, which basically suffers from the planetary equivalent of the flesh-eating disease, is an odd feeling. It is, literally, liquid death. (My apologies to Liquid death.)
Yet bottled water is also a ubiquitous facet of American life, with industry numbers showing that the country consumed 15 billion gallons of it in 2020 alone. The options for bottled water in any given bodega are plentiful, not to mention the choices in higher end markets or what you’ll find on the market. water menu composed by the only people in the country water sommelier.
With these two tensions, I did what any average American climate journalist would do. I threw away the water — which was put in glass bottles in Scotland, making it less damaging to the environment accordingly – in the refrigerator for a day, then opened to taste the end of the world. Watching the water spurting out of the bottle was reminiscent of what was happening on a much larger scale in Greenland.
The, the melting of the ice has accelerated and is now six times faster than in 1980. Large-scale collapses have hit the ice cap in recent years and a weird rain fell for the first time in history recorded at the top of the ice cap almost 3 kilometers above sea level. The ice cap also flows through holes in the surface, well, the list goes on. The point is that what was once solid is more and more liquid. And there I watched the end result pour into a glass. (Technically two drinks since intrepid Terran journalist Molly Taft joined me on this journey to the Arctic via bottled water.)
The water having finished spurting out of the bottle, I tilted the glass now rimmed with condensation on my lips. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe a hint of grain from the soot ends up on the ice cap thanks to massive forest fires. A kiss of salt from where glaciers meet the North Atlantic. Or maybe I would be hit staggered seen how melting ice alters the planet’s crust.
Instead, I didn’t taste anything. It was almost like distilled water. No taste or aftertaste. Just a drop of crispy liquid, then emptiness, my slightly icy teeth being the only sign that I had even taken a sip.
Arctic Basecamp’s water comes with a label and a campaign demanding that world leaders cut their emissions in half by the end of this decade. It would put the world on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). (Other estimates called even steeper cutsThe campaign also highlights that 17 million water bottles, just like the now half-empty one on the counter, were pouring into the ocean every second.
It was visceral to endure the consequences of a century or more of uninterrupted burning of fossil fuels, to be able to raise a glass. And yet, the lack of taste and the fact of seeing all the countries, a few days later, agreeing on a watered down climate pact felt a bit anticlimactic.
I had the pleasure (“pleasure”) of drinking another climate-inspired concoction, Fat Tire Scorched Earth Beer from the future. The beer was made from drought tolerant grains, sour dandelions, and smoked malts to mimic wildfire tinted water. Tasting the harsh future of failure was a punch. With the cold, harsh death of the Arctic in my mouth and the state of climate talks, I couldn’t help but think about how much more is needed to prevent the planet from falling off a cliff or, more precisely, being pushed back.