Before I Met Them and Talked About Climate Change

Posted by on Sep 28, 2016
Before I Met Them and Talked About Climate Change

As a PhD student in socio-cultural anthropology, seeking to construct a research around climate change mitigation, I used a good part of my time in my home country Iceland this summer, talking to people who have a particular understanding of the topic. But then there was the time when I was not talking to people about climate change. In this blog I want to focus on some of the moments in between, the moments when I was tuning into talking about climate change, the moments right before I met them.

1. A still and bright Saturday morning in May. I am standing outside a café/bistro/nightclub in downtown Reykjavík where an open meeting on climate change has been organized by a local environmental group. I am early, the door is locked and I am the only one there. On the street, trash from the night before, plastic beer cups, broken bottles, and in the distance, the hum of an electric street sweeper.

2. At a coffeehouse in the business district. My favorite, because you can sit as long as you like, and serve yourself as many refills as you like from the coffee dispenser. The person is still not here, so I stand up and pick for the second time–Sumatra or Columbia?

3. Walking into the Ministry for Environment and Natural Resources: One of two or three buildings in the tiny street Skuggasund, or Shadow Alley, and painted in a bright yellow that hints at orange. Remembering that I have been here once before without going in. When we were planning a protest that never happened.

4. It’s June and I find no bike racks in front of the National Energy Authority of Iceland. So, I lock my bike to one of three flagpoles in front of the entrance. I signed up for this and get a name-tag when I come in:
Magnús Örn Sigurðsson
///Rice University

5. Today at the University of Iceland the lunch special is a vegetarian dish. Veggie Indian Stew. The main cafeteria is in a glass building. I am filling two glasses with water from an automatic dispenser. My person waits at a table with both our stews. It doesn’t look good.

6. Ark. The name of the child that has to be put to sleep, before we can meet to talk.

7. The sun is shining outside the big window on the fifth floor. I sit on a little blue sofa. Having said yes to coffee, I wait.

8. Three meetings on the same day and I race my bike between postal codes. 101, 105, 108.

Reykjavík, Iceland.

Reykjavík, Iceland.

9. I am the only person in the lobby of the Icelandic Meteorological Office. While I wait for a receptionist I flip through some of the Nature Geoscience issues–so many authors on a single article. What can I ask about?

10. Again, the sun is shining. Again, I am waiting in this little blue sofa, having said yes to coffee.

11. Askja is a caldera in the Icelandic Highlands with a deep lake in the middle. Askja is also the name of the bio- and geo-science building at the University, and I am walking around the hallways trying to find a specific office with a specific person, but don’t have access to any doors. I glimpse labs with strange equipment and glass cases with petri dishes. His number must be in the email. There are a lot of conference posters on the sides of the walls. While I try to call him I look at one that examines rising temperatures and arctic moorland vegetation.

12. I have never been to Casa Grande, a new-ish restaurant by the Reykjavik Downtown Harbor. It’s one of the trendy tourist spots, and I think my person picked this place because it’s close to the guided viking ship tours he manages. The sun is shining and I smell the sea.

13. The phone rings as we enter his big office on the third floor. While I wait for him to end the phone call, I look at the artwork on the walls, some classical, some modern, some textual: SOMEWHERE SOMEBODY IS DOING SOMETHING

14. It’s a bright day in July when it suddenly starts raining.  It never rains like this in Iceland. This is Houston rain, I think to myself, as I start running–and why does it have to happen exactly now!? “Tropical rain”, says the security officer when I enter the Parliament building.

15. I swim a couple of laps and then lay down on my back in one of the shallow hot pools and let the sun bake me while I wait with my eyes on the entrance to the pool.

16. I order a beer and take a seat at one of the tables they have put outside the student bar. It’s late in the afternoon and the sun is about to disappear behind a wall, so I clumsily carry one of the tables into the last part of sun. I take out my notebook and start writing a header for the meeting to come, but my pen won’t work, no matter how much I circle it round and round on an empty sheet of paper. I dig into my backpack and find a blunt pencil.

Askja caldera and Víti geothermal lake in foreground.

Askja caldera and Víti geothermal lake in foreground.

17. I’m outside on one of the two camping chairs he has unfolded in front of his house in the unusually hot morning sun. A person from the insurance company shows up and needs to look at some damage inside the house. I listen to the morning traffic on one side and smell the sea on the other.

18. Reykjavík Energy is a municipality-owned energy and utility company, providing electricity and geothermal water for heating. Their headquarters remind me of the Zeppelin airship. I park the car that mom and dad let me sometimes use, and when inside I find her name on a touchscreen. A sticker gets automatically printed, which I then stick onto my shirt.

19. Again, I have the car, and now I am looking for the stables on the outskirts of the city. This must be it. I have to park on a grassy spot.

20. It’s August, and I enter one of the tall black apartment towers in downtown Reykjavik. They face the mountain Esja, the city mountain and a popular hiking destination. I take the elevator up eleven floors and get excited about the view from the apartment at top.

Magnús Örn Sigurðsson is a PhD student in the Rice Anthropology Department and a predoctoral fellow at CENHS. His research focuses on climate change mitigation practices and expertise knowledge, responsibilities of nation-states and renewable energy.