GREEN­ING LAND

World - - MAGAZINE -

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.

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