Are Glaciers More Than Just Ice in the Human Psyche?

by Jassmin Del Rio

There exist cultures in which glaciers and mountains are associated with deities and hold tremendous spiritual importance to the people that live near them. Climate change itself has cultural and spiritual ties that are, unfortunately, often overlooked by scientific communities. By holding scientific information regarding climate change above all else, spiritual data are left out and, often, not even thought about. Allison points out that there may be considerable value in looking at the climate change issue through humanistic lenses instead of just scientific ones. It is a moral and ethical issue as well as a scientific and economic one, especially for those most directly affected by the changes. Spiritual affiliation could prompt more people to actually take action and educate themselves on the climate change crisis, which would be helpful in alleviating it.

According to Allison, the Quechua, who live in the Peruvian Andes, worship the glacier on the nearby Mt. Ausangate and believe that when the glacier completely melts, a new epoch will begin. Similarly, Tibetan Buddhists in the Himalayas believe that the melting of glaciers is punishment for angering the deities that lie in the mountaintops. In Yunnan, China, more Tibetan Buddhists speculate that their “material greed” may be why the Mingyong Glacier is decreasing. All of these societies, and many others not mentioned, are terrified of the alarming deterioration of their environment. Should all glaciers disappear, there are likely to be serious repercussions for those whose daily lives revolve around their existence, and although it may seem as if mountain communities are a special case when it comes to the decline of glaciers, all other societies are tied to changes in nature as well. Because these emotional and psychological connections exist, acknowledging these people and shedding light on their situations should be a priority as well. More importantly, however, these spiritual connections can be used to motivate people to educate themselves and contribute to the fight against climate change. Some people choose to deny climate change but everyone on the planet is, or will be, affected by it and getting more people to be environmentally conscious can only improve our standing.

Allison, E.A., 2015. The spiritual significance of glaciers in an age of climate change. WIREs Clim Change, 6:493-508.


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