The ice is the age-old story. As everyone learned in school, Iceland is green and Greenland is ice. But now the story is how Greenland is becoming green. In the south, quite a distance from where I travelled, they are planting forests and growing potatoes, and Ole’s laissez-faire attitude about it seems typical among the Greenlanders I meet. It’s not that they’re climate-change sceptics but that they take a different view. In a settlement called Ilulissat, I meet another fisherman named Ole, a 27-year-old who learned English during three years of a bible study in Norway. I ask if warmer weather has any downside for him. He shrugs. “I don’t take my dog sled out anymore because the rivers here aren’t freezing. I take my boat.” He’s out for long periods. It takes six hours to put down 900m of line and two hours to pull it up, which is done with a hydraulic lift. This, he says, is when a fisherman is most vulnerable to the immediate effects of climate change. The icebergs are breaking up and sending out sharp, fast-moving blocks of ice, which are like torpedoes that can splinter a boat – and in this cold water, falling in is certain death. Despite all that, the younger Ole isn’t that concerned, and shrugs as if to say, what will be will be. I want to see the Jacobshavn, another great glacier, and walk back through town to find a trailhead that runs over meadows carpeted by luminous grasses and wildflowers, purple mountain avens, yellow poppies, willows and buttercups. The settlement, with modular houses painted in bright reds, yellows, blues and greens, feels fantastically isolated; here at its edge that feeling gives way to an expanse that is wonderfully open and free. This feeling is what Greenlanders cherish, and it may also offer some insight into the attitude about climate change: as many glaciologists will tell you, climate change will produce winners as well as losers. Greenlanders want independence from Denmark, with whom it has a relationship similar to that of Scotland to Britain. But apart from fishing, prospects to develop a viable economy are limited, and their best hopes –
namely natural resources including rare earth minerals, gold and oil – are trapped under all that ice. In short, warmer temperatures may unlock the gate to statehood. Towards the end of our journey, in Kangerlussuaq, a town that was once a US military base, I ask Salik Hard, 44, who has worked as a government official in tourism and recently came aboard the Fram as a lecturer on Greenlandic topics, if access to the resources influences how people see the issue. “We know the climate is changing, but we aren’t worried because we know it is always changing,” he says. “People in Europe and America have mass hysteria. It’s useful for politicians and the media. Listen, there are good things about the hysteria. Maybe it’ll get the West to stop poisoning the seas and oceans. That would be a good thing.” As for Greenland, Salik says, “The ball is rolling for independence and you cannot stop it. Even if there is another Ice Age we will have it. And if global warming speeds up the process, so be it.”
ABOVE: Greenland is becoming greener, but there’s still plenty of yearround ice in glaciers like the Russell Glacier, or Sermeq Kujalleq glacier, near Ilulissat. The glacier produces around 10 per cent of all Greenland’s icebergs.
ABOVE AND LEFT: A beach can be a dangerous place in Greenland, as the notice at left shows – a warning of extreme danger from tsunamis caused by calving icebergs; young Greenlanders, living a unique lifestyle at the top of the world but connected by the internet to the rest of the globe.