Monday, 2 January 2012

An "anthropological examination of climate change" in Greenland

Modern Greenland: Upernavik first day in class 2007 (image by Wikipedia)

An American writer by the name of Gretel Ehrlich has written a book, "In the Empire of Ice", which has been described  as an "anthropological rather than scientific examination of climate change" in some arctic areas.

According to this reviewer, the "saddest part of this book comes when Ehrlich journeys to Greenland, a place she dearly loves and has written about before". She seems to be particularly fond of the Greenland hunters, whom she has accompanied on several trips "out onto the sea in pursuit of walrus and narwhals".

Historically the sea has given up enough bounty to all but eliminate the need for cash. Now, however, the sea ice vital to these subsistence practices no longer arrives. Within just a few years it went from 6 feet thick and solidly in place throughout the winter to inches thick and intermittent at best. Men whose entire lives and sense of identity revolve around their ability to provide food for their families and communities are now unable to do so. With no cash economy to speak of, their choices will be to starve or to leave.

A proud way of life is being erased by climate change. As Ehrlich writes, “Bands of ice that protected Inuit people for thousands of years, ensuring a continuity of language and life ways and a meta-stable climate, have been assaulted from above and below, inside and out. Pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, the crushing demands of sovereignty and capitalism, war and religion have severed the strong embrace of ice.”

Ehrlich is another writer in the long line of the western "progressives" who have idealised and romanticised the "noble natives" in different exotic areas of the world.

It is quite possible that a handful of Inuit whalers are not happy with their situation, but the great majority of Greenlanders have a different view:

for the 56,000 people who live on the giant Arctic island, climate change is now being seen as an opportunity rather than a threat: a passport to prosperity, perhaps even independence.
On and off, it has been under Danish control for more than 400 years, officially becoming part of the kingdom of Denmark in 1953 before opting for devolution in 1979. But potential oil revenues have raised the prospect of Greenland being able to go it alone in 15 to 20 years.

"The development of the oil industry is one of the most important components in Greenland's effort to establish a self-bearing economy," Kim Kielsen, Greenland's minister of mines and petroleum, has said.

In the shorter term, the country is relying on the rapidly expanding eco-tourism market. Business is already booming in Ilulissat, where hotels are now booked up a year in advance and unemployment is 0 per cent.

And even the self-proclaimed leader of "the fight against global warming", the European Union, now  seems to be more interested in other things in Greenland than global warming:

Europe has over the last 30 years been happy to leave Greenland in the hands of Denmark, its former colonial master. Problems such as the woefully under-educated workforce have until now been a concern for Copenhagen, not Brussels.

Greenland is however suddenly of "increased geo-strategic importance" to the commission. Brussels wants to open negotiations on a host of polices from education to the environment, energy, food safety, disaster resilience and maritime transport.

In exchange for closer ties, the commission is prepared to hand over €217.8m between 2014 and 2020, or around €4,000 per inhabitant, according to negotiating documents. The motivation is quite simple: protectionism is on the rise, and the EU wants access to Greenland's raw materials before markets are closed off elsewhere.

"The importance of Greenland for Europe in terms of raw materials cannot be overestimated. Greenland is home to vast deposits of rare earths and other minerals", Antonio Tajani, EU industry commissioner, told an MEP last month. "The EU's interest in cooperation with Greenland on raw materials is due to Greenland's geo-strategic and economic position," Tajani added in a written exchange. Of interest is Greenland's oil, aluminium, gold, "rare earth elements", rubies and uranium.

The island government is, however, playing down talk of an imminent deal. "At the moment we have a fisheries agreement with the EU. We hope to conclude a partnership on education in the spring. There might then be preliminary talks on other areas," Minninnquaq Kleist, head of office in Greenland's department of foreign affairs, told

As of last year, Greenland controls its own mineral and oil rights, having wrestled them from Copenhagen. Around 100 exploration licenses have been issued. Initial results, says Kleist, are "very promising". There are, he says, "very big deposits". Talk of a deal giving the EU access to rare earths is, for the moment, just "speculation".

So despite the fact that the minnow will be up against a bureaucratic giant in the coming negotiations, the EU is desperate, and Greenland is well placed to strike a hard bargain. Greenlanders have already shown they are willing to say no to Brussels.

"We are talking about a partnership agreement with the EU. That doesn't mean we want to join," Kleist says. "If we implemented all the EU regulations we would need 56,000 people just to govern 56,000 people." A dislike for bureaucracy was one of the reasons Greenland distanced itself from the EU 30 years ago, says Kleist. Negotiators would do well to beware of Brussels officials bearing gifts.   

Read the entire article here


Neither does Queen Margrethe of Denmark share Ehrlich´s romanticised view of the native Greenlanders. This is what she said during a visit to Greenland last summer:

"You just cannot change the climate, when the climate changes itself. That you must understand."

"There is nothing to be done."

"You just cannot set off with a freezer in order to make new ice on a fjord. That´s how it is."


sykes.1 said...

Did the Inuit (and the polar bears) go extinct during the Medieval Climatic Optimum? Does Ehrlich know any history of Greenland?

European schools are even worse than inner city American schools.

A K Haart said...

"If we implemented all the EU regulations we would need 56,000 people just to govern 56,000 people."

I like it. Tough-minded independence - where did ours go?