A major storm is howling outside the building. The few people on the street are almost carried away by the wind. I am in Qaqortoq, in southern Greenland,— one day late due to the unstable weather. And this is how it is in Greenland. Even though the incredible Arctic nature is fragile and very vulnerable due to climate change, it is at the same time harsh and unrelenting to the people living here. If the weather doesn’t allow hunting or fishing, there is nothing to do but wait.
I came to Qaqortoq to meet with people who are experiencing climate change on a daily basis. The weather is becoming unpredictable, even for the people who have spent their entire lives here. But climate change is not the only thing changing Greenland; oil companies have their eyes set on the Arctic waters, which are becoming more and more accessible as the sea ice retreats. Scottish company Cairn Energy has drilled off the coast of Greenland for the last two years, and has in the process discharged vast amounts of damaging chemicals into the fragile Arctic waters.
I’m here to meet with the young generation —the people who have the difficult task of charting the path forward for Greenland. I’ve met with the students at the two local colleges in town — colleges in which Greenland youth from all over the country come to study. During the coming weeks, I will travel the west coast of this beautiful country and visit all eight upper schools, including the university in Nuuk. This will hopefully result in interesting (if sometimes heated) debates around the oil drillings, and the challenges and risks they bring.
Arctic drilling is unprecedentedly risky: icebergs are regularly floating on a collision course with the dirty oil rigs, and the effects of a spill are unimaginable. If a blow-out like the one we all remember from the Gulf of Mexico were to happen in Arctic waters, the wildlife here — already under pressure from climate change — will suffer immensely and the people here, who for so many years have lived in harmony with their surroundings, will no longer be able to hunt or fish and sustain themselves in a traditional way. That would be cataclysmic for these communities, and the risk is simply unacceptable.
So far my experience with the Greenlandic youth has been very positive. They are critical and interested, and they clearly have a mind of their own about oil drillings, Greenpeace and our engagement in Greenland. I am looking forward to meeting more students in the days to come and to speaking with them about the future of their beautiful and unique home. They are the ones who will make the decisions about their future. But they are not the only who cares about this beautiful place, where the nature might seem harsh, but at the same time is so fragile, and deserves our protection.
Jon Brugwald is an Arctic campaigner with Greenpeace Nordic.
Edit: since Jon sent us this blog entry, a Cairn Energy executive announced that they opened talks to sell their stake in Greenland oil exploitation due to the very bad results they had so far. Watch this space for more on this soon.