Greenland’s residents grapple with global warming

Greenlanders are already adapting to a changing climate.

By Maria Caspani, Reuters - January 14, 2019
Nestled between icy peaks and lapped in frozen ocean waters, the tiny town of Tasiilaq in southeastern Greenland is home to some 2,000 people. Colorful wooden houses dot the sub-Arctic landscape battered by one of the harshest climates on the planet. But global warming is reshaping the world’s largest island, causing the ice sheet to melt at a faster rate than previously thought, according to recent research. As scientists study the threats posed by a warming climate, some of the immediate effects of climate change have been a double-edged sword for some in and around Tasiilaq. Julius Nielsen, 40, who lives about 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Tasiilaq, has been hunting and fishing in the area most of his life. “There’s no snow, it’s too hot and the water is not freezing,” said Nielsen. A thin, frail ice sheet — or lack of ice — pose a big problem for locals like Nielsen who are not able to go hunting with their sled dogs, or have to take alternate routes. Continued global warming will accelerate thawing of the ice sheet and contribute to rising sea levels worldwide, scientists have found. A United Nations report released in October urged nations to limit the increase in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels in order to minimize global sea level rise, reduce flooding and the overall impact of climate change on the world’s ecosystems. This would require global net carbon dioxide emissions to fall by about 45 percent by 2030 from 2010 levels. Nielsen said that, over the last 10 years, it has become increasingly hard to reach usual hunting grounds with sled dogs due to unpredictable weather, thinning ice or no ice at all. “Every year we see the glaciers, the landscape, the ice sheet melting and melting,” he said. “What we know from our ancestors is almost gone and we cannot take it back. We have to find new tools.” Lars Anker Moeller used to be able to take tourists out on his signature five-day sled dog ride every year when he started working at tour operator Arctic-Dream over a decade ago. Now, Moeller often has to take his clients on alternate routes because of the lack of ice. But there is a silver lining. Ice retreating earlier in the year is freeing access to areas that were previously locked away for longer, and it has allowed Moeller to kick off boat tours for tourists much earlier in the summer season, said the 45-year-old Dane. “Instead of having three months, we can go (on boats) four months or five months,” Moeller. In addition, fish such as mackerel, usually not found in the icy seawater of Greenland, are now abundant — a boon for the local fishing industry, Moeller and Nielsen said. Moeller also cited another temporary advantage climate change has brought to his tourism business: People want to see the ice cap before it is too late. “Go and see the glaciers before they disappear. That’s the thing you hear again and again,” Moeller said. A first-of-its-kind survey conducted in December by the University of Copenhagen, the University of Greenland and Kraks Fond Institute for Urban Economic Research sought to paint a picture of how Greenlandic residents view climate change. The study found that over four in 10 residents believe climate change will harm them, while just one in 10 think they will benefit from it. “Our results indicate that climate change is personally relevant to most people living here and something which the majority of residents are already experiencing now,” Kelton Minor, one of the survey’s authors, told Reuters in a phone interview from Nuuk. For many in Greenland, it is a daily reality. “About eight in 10 residents say that they have directly experienced climate change, over 60 percent think that it’s extremely important or very important to them personally… and slightly less than half the population think that climate change will harm them,” Minor said. Despite the new challenges brought by the changing climate, Greenland’s residents are known for their resilience. “The beauty is that Greenlanders have always been good at adapting, so they will survive anyway, whatever will happen,” Moeller said.