WHEN we think of climate change, it’s almost an abstract notion that’s happening elsewhere. You can follow the news and see the devastating effects of wildfires in Australia and America, or the calving of glaciers in the Arctic, but all of these consequences seem very distant when you live in the central belt of Scotland. For me, my eyes were opened to the importance of climate change related to global warming in 2019, when I was lucky enough to be chosen to go on an expedition to Greenland.
I was one of a group of teenagers who enrolled in Polar Academy, a children’s charity based in Scotland. We all trained for a year in order to be fit enough to participate in a ten-day winter sled expedition.
The expedition starts from a small hunting community in East Greenland named Tasiilaq, and we headed north, exploring the landscape – and even scaled some unnamed peaks along the way. The Polar Academy is primarily a teenage mental health charity and organizes these expeditions every year. They also work closely with the local Inuit population of Tasiilaq.
Our expedition left in March and the weather was as expected in Greenland. Winter conditions were normal and the bay leaving the community was frozen. So we skied on the pack ice on the first day. Storms regularly hit the hunting community and we had high winds a few days later, but nothing out of the ordinary.
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On day 4, the weather changed, and it changed very quickly. The temperature started to rise, and it rose so much that rain fell instead of snow. This had a cascading effect; the water resting on the ice began to accelerate the melting process much faster than it normally would at this time of year. Our expedition was cut short, and we had to quickly return to the village while the pack ice was still passable. Although we were all a bit disappointed, the consequences of this early ice melt had a devastating impact on the local community.
The town of Tasiilaq is a hunting community, and they still rely on their hunters to be able to cross the pack ice to gather enough food to feed the community during the months when the ice is scarce. In 2019, the cast iron arrived 4 weeks early. All dog teams had to be brought home and they were all kenneled a month early. While 2019 was a bit of an unusual event, as things stand I think Greenland loses one winter day a year. Those who rely on their dog teams to make a living from tourism also lost their ability to ply their trade that year.
For local Inuit, self-reliance and the ability to support each other is highly dependent on good winter conditions during the hunting season. It’s about survival and a way of life that goes back centuries. With COP26 being held in Glasgow last year, I was pleased to receive an invitation to an event hosted by Renew the World at the New York Times hub. I was joined on the panel by Polar Academy founder Craig Mathieson and other teenage climate activists. We had the opportunity to share our concerns with a wider audience than we could normally reach.
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Occasionally, I am asked what the people of Greenland can do to offset the impacts they are already feeling with the changing weather patterns. The very sad but blunt truth is that there is nothing they can do. It is done to them. They have to live with the consequences, while developed countries carry on regardless, or just waste on the edges by introducing paper straws and bigger blue bins. We must all agree to support the communities and countries that are feeling the heat the most. This is a global problem, not a local one.
There’s definitely a concern that no one is acting fast enough, and maybe that’s because we’re not yet feeling enough of a direct impact ourselves. The consequences of the loss of the Greenlandic ice sheet are not worth considering – but it is already happening, and once the ice is gone it will be everyone’s problem.
Greenland is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, but it is changing rapidly. We may be the last generation to witness the true Arctic, in all its glory, unless we do something about it. It’s time to stop feeling guilty about using plastic bags and start holding big corporations accountable for pumping endless gases into the air or mining minerals on a massive scale. We are ruining incredible communities and wonders that only a handful of us have had the privilege of seeing. By working together now, we can give nature a chance to recover. Nothing is inevitable.