Robyn Hitchcock in the Arctic
This post is part two of an ongoing commentary on the arctic and the general environmental disaster facing the world. Robyn Hitchcock really cares about climate change and he focuses his unique artistic style on his writing about the subject. You can read the first part of his dialogue on climate change here [www.sundance.tv].
Two standard responses to the problem of global warming are that
either it’s not really happening or, if it is, there’s nothing we can
do about it now so why not leave all the lights on? Well, it is
happening, and the sooner we tame our energy emissions, the sooner
the earth can return to being habitable for the citizens and other
creatures of the 22nd century. Time is unlikely to stop when we die,
it just seems that way sometimes. It’s true that we on this Cape
Farewell expedition used aviation fuel and diesel to get here, but we
will take the story back with us and spread it like butter on the
toast of our item-rich society. As the scientists aboard research the
effects of ice-melt on the ocean bed, and trace the possible mutation
of the Gulf-stream through salination tests, we artists are being
exposed to a landscape that cannot fail to affect our work.
Slugs leave trails, sheep leave droppings, bees make honey, and
humans leave two things: art and garbage. Where these meet is called
entertainment. Like others on this ship, I am an entertainer. Last
night some of us played in Murphy’s bar in Illulissat, a small
Greenlandic town which has a post office, fire station, and much
laundry out to dry, despite being under a foot of snow. Some young
local musicians played a fine set of blues rock, aided by KT
Tunstall, Feist and myself with a couple of scientists from the
expedition on backing vocals.
Earlier in the day, I was lucky enough to see Marcus Brigstocke half
way up a snowy crag, doing a stand-up routine in his corduroy suit.
As this was for the cameras, we were told not to laugh, which made
his show even funnier. As his fingers froze, Marcus ranted on the
malevolent spirit of Londoners in traffic, cursing into mobiles about
other cell-phone users at the wheel. In the distance behind him
stretched miles of slowly crumbling blue icebergs, a terrain most of
us had never seen before and, if we leave it more than 10 years, will
never see again.
Just prior to that, as we reached the summit, we discussed The Edgar
Broughton Band and the 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival: the more majestic
the ice-scape around us, the more we sheathed ourselves in pop culture.
We are stardust, we are golden, and we make one hell of a mess.
Greenland has been assaulted by alcohol (‘mad water’) and
Christianity, now it has the chance to make some money selling its
oil. This would be like giving a terminal lung-cancer patient a
consignment of duty-free cigarettes.
The great Isfjord is home to a glacier that has lost 15 kilometers in
as many years. The icebergs shed by this float around Illulissat
harbour, shot through with a luminous blue and looking edible,
somewhere between ice cream and cheese. Like those other endangered
killers, the polar bear and the human, the icebergs can look very
attractive. Scattered on the sea or washed
ashore, each one has a shape that suggests something: a pie on the
horizon, a body under a sheet, a giant nose set free from its face,
or a grinning frog’s head. Deep blue veins run through them, water
that has entered the cracks as the glacier sheds itself and then
frozen. The ever-shifting Arctic light gives the colours of the
icebergs a range from pink to grey, but the blue luminescence that
suffuses them is their most magical quality. The purpose of human
existence may now be simply to go shopping, but a glint of meaning is
to be found by anyone lucky enough to see these floating apparitions.
Look but don’t touch.