We wake among icebergs

Tags: Jonathan Dove

On our fourth day aboard the Grigoriy Mikheev, we wake among icebergs. A mysterious magical kingdom: distant grey bergs are ghostly portals to the land of the dead, while near us the ice gives off an eerie blue light. Two whales lead us for a while. We disembark for several hours in a tranquil bay on the edge of the Ilulissat glacier’s ice-field. Amidst rock and ice, it’s touching to see signs of life – grasses, birdsong, and bilberries underfoot creating bloodstains in the snow.

Jonathan Dove taking part in the global warming expedition in Greenland

It doesn’t seem as if anything’s amiss, but our Inuit guides, Ludvig and Karen, tell us that ten years ago, the glacier front was fifteen kilometres nearer. (Disko Bay has stopped freezing regularly, so Ludvig can no longer dog-sled from here to his home town, Uummannaq, along the sea-ice.)

It feels a bit like Christmas as we clamber through snow, hardly able to believe we are allowed to have this privileged experience. From time to time, we ask each other: have you thought yet of what you are going to make out of all this? I know I mustn’t make a lecture or a sermon. I don’t want to tell people what they already know, or write music to say, “See how deeply I feel for the loss of the polar ice-cap.” Perhaps a composer should try to voice our grief for what we are losing, for what we have done to our planet; but I’d like to find a more positive role, if I can.

This floating symposium confronts us with the task of re-imagining our lives. Architect and scientist tell us details of what our new life might look like, what we need to change. I can imagine making a commercial for a carbon-neutral life, or a documentary about it, but can I make a musical drama out of it? I’m not sure yet… But it seems vital to try. And it would be hard to think of a more inspiring landscape for this purpose.

This post was published in the Independent on Friday 3rd October.