Greenland was on the headline globally for quite some time. Not only because the ice melted so fast and massively but also when President Trump expressed interest in buying it, but the Danish prime minister dismissed the offer straight away. The missing part was what local Greenlanders thought about presidential real estate aspirations, migrations of the polar bear, and Greenland’s sudden emergence as a trending topic for the severe effects of climate change.
Greenland, an autonomous territory of Denmark, is home to 56,000 people, mostly Greenlandic Inuit. A group of Danish and Greenlandic researchers recently completed a nationally representative survey published in August as Greenlandic Perspectives on Climate Change on what residents think about climate change, climate impacts, and policy solutions.
The responses gathered from July 2018 to January 2019 by the researchers before the summer of 2019 when Greenland faced an early breakup of sea ice, wildfires, a widespread heatwave, and not to mention the record-breaking glacial melt. Climate change had already made a striking impression on the locals even before these events occurred. “Climate change is our vulnerability, and it is bad for us,” said a resident of Qeqertalik during an in-person survey.
Comparison of views of Greenlanders with Those of Americans
As the same format was used by many of the questions in the study similar to the polling conducted on Climate Change Communication by the Yale Program, the attitudes of both Greenlanders and Americans can be directly compared. Although public opinion is not fixed mainly on factors like extreme weather and high-profile political events, U.S. data from April 2019 and an interactive dataset were used to explore shifts in Americans’ views over time. However, it is evident in many of the responses that these two cultures are worlds apart.
Climate Change Is Occurring
The climate is changing according to the majority of people living in Greenland with substantive effects.
“We don’t have solid sea ice in the winter anymore and the ice is melting quickly,” a resident said in Avannaata of northwest Greenland. “Some of the glaciers are becoming smaller than before, and glaciers now release icebergs all year round.”
Greenlanders Witnessed the Climate Change Impacts
The Greenlandic Inuit highly relies on nature for their livelihoods. Around 76% of Greenlanders eat wild foods they hunt, fish, or gather. Last year one-quarter went out on the sea ice, and many live within sight of a glacier. One resident explained, “It is really bad because my parents are fishermen. If the weather is not stable, their economy is unstable.”
An Important Issue in Greenland is Climate Change
Despite decades of concern from scientists in the U.S., climate change has only recently become a pressing issue among voters, but Ice, snow, and weather are central to the lives in Greenland. Climate change matters to 82% of Greenlanders, as compared to 64% of Americans.
Greenlanders spoke about local impacts: “The fish factory closed down in 2012 because the sea ice from the fjord side stopped forming.” And they also talked about the widespread problem: “The ice sheet is melting and will be bad for both us and the world.”
Climate Change is the Matter of Frequent Discussions among Greenlanders
Greenlanders frequently discuss climate change. “We talk about the big changes in the weather almost every day,” said one respondent. Whereas one-quarter of Americans never discuss climate change, while nearly half (45%) discuss it weekly or monthly in Greenland.
Greenlanders Overlook Human Accountabilities
The surprising part is that only a narrow majority in Greenland blame human activities for the warming climate. It is because Greenland residents are disconnected from the driving causes of climate change and have no idea about smokestacks, vast industrial sites, and gauze of pollution in the air. Instead, natural forces dominate their daily lives. The scale of pollution in industrialized countries bears the same importance in the Inuit culture as polar bears are to most Americans.
Risks, Impacts, and Perceptions of Greenlanders
The Inuit are substantially exposed to the hazards and severity of a rapidly changing environment as subsistence hunting and fishing are part of their life. Their view on climate change, their observations, and worries differ markedly from those of Americans.
A resident in Qeqertalik of West Greenland, raised a local concern, “The food-chain is becoming unpredictable, and animals in the Arctic are getting closer to towns, which is uncomfortable.”
Top Problems: Unpredictable Sea Ice and Violent Weather
Regarding specific climate impacts, the observations of people describe their particular circumstances. In southern areas of Greenland, increasing storminess as well as unpredictable weather has become the top concern. “More frequent, very powerful storms are very worrisome,” said a resident in West Sermersooq. In the northern and eastern regions of the country, a vast majority (79%) of Greenland residents feel traveling on sea ice has recently become more dangerous as they say: “Due to climate change, we get less sea ice in the winter, making it harder to make a living from [it].”
Sled Dogs Will Be The Worst Victim of Climate Change
Two-thirds of Greenlanders think their sled dogs will be harmed by climate change, as opposed to 50% who feel Greenlanders themselves most likely to suffer harm.
One respondent said in an interview, “I used to dogsled a lot when I grew up. My children didn’t experience this because they were too late for sea ice.”
The Changes Are Still Not Bad to Many
In the Arctic, a longer or warmer summer has some alluring appeal. Almost 50% of the population feels the changes are neither bad nor good.
“It is nice that the climate is warming but bad globally,” said one resident. Others mentioned the possibility of saving money on heating oil and electricity.
Melting ice may have benefits for navigation and agriculture. “It might make the Northwest passage more sailable, which could be good for Greenlandic society’s economy and infrastructure,” said a resident of Greenland’s most populous region, West Sermersooq. A respondent in Avannaata, situated well north of the Arctic Circle, said, “I’m not sure it is going to harm us. In the future, I would like to try farming after we move south. It should benefit farming.”
One West Greenlander reflected on a consequence of the melting ice that would reap local benefits along with global concerns, “We may get greater access to gas, oil and natural resources.”
Greenlanders Support Limited Greenhouse Emissions
Greenland is a negligible contributor to the global greenhouse gases, about 40% of residents say they prefer protecting the environment also if it costs jobs while 26% say they favor economic growth over environmental protection. Although Greenland did not enter the Paris agreement as resource extraction is one of its few options for economic development, around 75 % of them support emissions reductions and favor investments in renewable energy as well as regulation of industrial greenhouse gas emissions.
“Because of the climate change, it can be challenging for the fishers but we always adapt,” said a Qeqqata local. “We have to contribute to spreading awareness and preventing pollution.”
Inuits face a first-order challenge for Greenland’s harsh climate even in the best of circumstances. Nonetheless, many have a broad view of the problem. “It has been very cold in Greenland the last months, while it is so hot in the other countries. The people in other countries are dying due to the fires. If global warming happens everything will be rotten.”
For many people around the world, the bottom line remains the same, whether uttered by someone in Albuquerque or Avannaata: “If people stop polluting earth, maybe climate change won’t be as drastic.”