Underland

The Old English word unweder means bad, bad weather, a storm or tempest “so extreme that it seems to have come from another climate or time altogether” writes Robert MacFarlane in Underland. Exploring the rapidly shrinking ice of Greenland near the end of his new “deep time journey,” he’s in the thick of this uncanny weather.

“A ‘glacial pace’ used to mean movement so slow as to be almost static. Today’s glaciers, however, surge, retreat, vanish. The recession of Himalayan glaciers threatens the livelihoods and lives of more than a billion people in Asia, who depend on the water that is seasonally stored and released by these ice rivers.” India is already experiencing crushing heat. As is Europe, which saw all its records (the longest climate history in the world) shattered late last month.

There’s an awful lot in this book. The section on fungal tree interactions and communication is particularly fine. It will make you sad to see a street tree, which is basically an orphan. The section on nuclear waste, and efforts to warn future life-forms AWAY from it, is particularly horrific. The nuclear industry and its acolytes still push more power plants, but the problem of radioactive waste remains. They are trying to figure out a warning systems that needs to understood for as long as the human species exists… and beyond. The nonhuman needs to know, too. But by what right do we poison the future?

MacFarlane has an eye for the telling quote, too. “Are we being good ancestors?” asked Jonas Salk in the early 1990s. “What we excrete comes back to consume us,” wrote Don DeLillo in Underworld.

2 Responses to “Underland”


  1. 1 alaspooryorick August 4, 2019 at 8:19 am

    yes, “glacial” now connotes something else. thank you.

  2. 2 Sherry Felix August 6, 2019 at 7:05 am

    This looks very interesting. I went and bought the book. Thanks for the tip.


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