Editor’s note: After 20 years as president of Iceland, Ólafur Grímsson stepped down last year as the longest-serving democratically elected head of state in the world. Under his leadership, Iceland embraced its role on the world stage as a living example of both the impacts of climate change and the promise of climate action. Now as chairman of the Arctic Circle, a network of international dialogue on Arctic issues, and a Lui-Walton Distinguished Fellow at Conservation International, Grímsson is working to advance a new model of social change — one that relies more on mass mobilization than on government decree.
Tomorrow, marchers will gather in Washington, D.C. and across the United States to raise awareness about climate change. Human Nature sat down with Grímsson to discuss melting glaciers, 100 percent clean energy — and the changing nature of political movements and local action.
Question: How is the Arctic experiencing the effects of climate change? What evidence do you see in Iceland?
Answer: In Iceland, we have the largest glaciers in Europe, and we have been studying them for more than half a century. And so we do not need to go to international conferences to realize that climate change is happening. Prior to the Paris climate conference in 2015, I flew the president of France, François Hollande, in a helicopter to one of our fastest receding glaciers. I let the helicopter land not at the edge of the glacier but where it was when I was born. And then I let the president of France walk across the black sands and the wet rocks and this area for almost half an hour so that he could personally experience how fast that particular glacier had receded just during my lifetime.