Format Hardcover
Publication Date 02/07/23
ISBN 9781639363438
Trim Size / Pages 6 x 9 in / 336

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Chasing Icebergs

How Frozen Freshwater Can Save the Planet

Matthew H. Birkhold

A deeply intelligent and engrossing narrative that will transform our relationship with water and how we view climate change.

The global water crisis is upon us. 1 in 3 people do not have access to safe drinking water; nearly 1 million people die each year as a result. Even in places with adequate freshwater, pollution and poor infrastructure have left residents without basic water security. Luckily, there is a solution to this crisis where we least expect it. Icebergs—frozen mountains of freshwater—are more than a symbol of climate change. In his spellbinding Chasing Icebergs, Matthew Birkhold argues the glistening leviathans of the ocean may very well hold the key to saving the planet.

Harvesting icebergs for drinking water is not a new idea. But for the first time in human history, doing so on a massive global scale is both increasingly feasible and necessary for our survival. Chasing Icebergs delivers a kaleidoscopic history of humans’ relationship with icebergs, and offers an urgent assessment of the technological, cultural, and legal obstacles we must overcome to harness this freshwater resource.

Birkhold takes readers around the globe, introducing them to a colorful cast of characters with wildly different ideas about how (and if) humans should use icebergs. Sturdy bureaucrats committed to avoiding another Titanic square off against “iceberg cowboys” who wrangle the frozen beasts for profit. Entrepreneurs selling luxury iceberg water for an eye-popping price clash with fearless humanitarians trying to tow icebergs across the globe to eradicate water shortages.

Along the way, we meet some of the world’s most renowned scientists to determine how industrial-scale iceberg harvesting could affect the oceans and the poles. And we see firsthand the looming conflict between Indigenous peoples like the Greenlandic Inuit with claims to icebergs and the private corporations that stand to reap massive profits.

As Birkhold shepherds readers from Connecticut to South Africa, from Newfoundland to Norway, to Greenland and beyond, he unfurls a visionary argument for cooperation over conflict. It’s not too late for icebergs to save humanity. But we must act fast to form a coalition of scientists, visionaries, engineers, lawyers and diplomats to ensure that the “Cold Rush” doesn’t become a free-for-all.

Matthew Birkhold is a professor at The Ohio State University, focusing on law, environmental humanities, intellectual property, and Indigenous studies. He is the author of Characters before Copyright and his essays and op-eds have appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, the Washington Post, the Paris Review, and Indian Country Today. 

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Endorsements & Reviews

“A fascinating exploration of the potential use of icebergs to help solve the world’s fresh water crisis. Simultaneously compelling and alarming.” Kirkus Reviews
“As lively as it is fervent, Chasing Icebergs is a playbook for a creative solution to an environmental quagmire.” Foreword Reviews
"Chasing Icebergs is a deep dive into the current ‘Cold Rush’ to bring polar ice to the water-starved regions of the world. In telling this story, Birkhold touches every aspect of this little known, potentially crucial element to combat climate change, seeking answers to how giant icebergs could be transport and sold, to the environmental impact of moving such large masses of polar ice to temperate climes and to what, until now a mostly ignored question, who actually owns polar ice. A thought-provoking and well-written and deeply researched account of a subject that is destined for the headlines, Chasing Icebergs is a must-read for anyone who is concerned with dealing with climate change and about the future of society itself.” John Dvorak, author of How the Mountains Grew
“Entertaining. Spirited explorations of the conflicting interests of entrepreneurs, glaciologists, engineers, and Indigenous people of the subarctic regions provide a far-ranging view of the challenges and possibilities involved in harvesting icebergs. This is a thought-provoking take.” Publishers Weekly
"Chasing Icebergs by Matthew Birkhold is a wonderful book full of captivating anecdotes; a book that at first glance seems so small, in its focus if not its size also, and yet reveals itself to contain so much. Don’t be put off by the seemingly limited scope of its subject matter – whether icebergs can be used to avert water shortages elsewhere on the planet – as this book should be mandatory reading for any creative writing class: its witty, engaging and packed with information. You come away from it with a smile on your face: not necessarily from the book’s conclusion, but from how much you have enjoyed the journey getting there." Lloyd Spencer Davis author of A Polar Affair