The name Greenland owes its existence to early Scandinavian settlers. Sadly, the old stories about early sailors seeing a giant sheet of ice and naming it ironically are just that: old stories. The more widely held explanation, according to Norse histories, is that Erik the Red briefly settled the new land after being exiled from Iceland in 982 AD. He is believed to have named the new land Grfnland to encourage more settlers to move there. He deliberately gave the land a more appealing name than the reality, explaining that, “People would be attracted there if it had a favourable name.” He lived through two winters on Greenland without respite, and knew the long-term survival of any settlement there would hinge as many people as possible. Ironically, sustained famine and consistently hard winters in Iceland convinced many would-be settlers to do exactly that.
Only now, more than a full millennium later, Greenland is threatening to become, if not green year-round exactly, certainly free of ice, its defining feature, in mid-summer.
The Arctic is burning. Satellite evidence suggests the wildfires burning across the far north this uncommonly dry, hot summer have created a cloud of smoke larger in area than the European Union. It’s a sight not seen in 10,000 years, climate scientists warn. This isn’t global warming. It’s global scorching.
The UN climate summit next month has been described as being potentially decisive, but the die is already cast: The world’s leading democracies are led by climate-denying populists and despots, and they have been put there by voters — citizens and residents, educated and uneducated — in the very democracies they claim to represent.
We didn’t need a survey to tell is that Greenland’s islanders are struggling to reconcile the impact of global heating with their traditional way of life, but we now have exactly that.
The first-ever national survey examining the human impact of the climate emergency in the far north shows that nine in 10 Greenland residents accept that the climate crisis, oddly enough, is not a Chinese hoax. Nor was the study some half-assed cold-call survey conducted by a call-centre sweatshop in the Philippines. The Greenlandic Perspectives Survey was carried out by the University of Copenhagen’s Center for Social Data Science in association with the University of Greenland and the Kraks Fond Institute for Urban Economic Research.
Experts, in other words.
And on this issue, the experts are not divided.
The study sampled 2% of the population over an area nearly three times the size of France. And while 2% of the population might not sound like much, an equivalent study in the UK would have sampled nearly 1 million respondents.
Greenland residents are often overlooked by data science; island residents are scattered across roughly 20 small towns and 60 villages, nearly all of them situated on a narrow coastal strip. As with many northern Inuit communities in Canada, Greenland faces some of the most acute social issues in the world. Alcoholism and disproportionately high rates of suicide play an outsized role in the day-to-day struggle for survival.
The UN Climate Change Summit, hosted by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, will convene in New York on Sept. 23. The race is on, advance banners for the summit declare. It is a race we can win. It is a race we must win.
Not for the first time, people can no longer rely on their elected leaders to do the right thing — to the extent they could never rely on the Donald Trumps and Jair 34t5 of the world to do the right thing about anything.