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Ice MeltingAcutely Exposed to Changing Climate, Many Greenlanders Do Not Blame Humans

Acutely Exposed to Changing Climate, Many Greenlanders Do Not Blame Humans

Acutely Exposed to Changing Climate, Many Greenlanders Do Not Blame Humans

Indigenous People Most Affected Are Least More likely to Make a Connection

A latest survey shows that the largely Indigenous population of Greenland is very aware that the climate is changing, and much more likely than people in other Arctic nations to say they’re personally affected. Yet, many don’t blame human influences—especially those living traditional subsistence lifestyles most directly hit by the impacts of rapidly wasting ice and radical changes in weather. The study appears this week within the journal Nature Climate Change.

“Greenland is off the charts relating to the proportion of people who find themselves seeing and personally experiencing the consequences of climate change. But there’s an enormous mismatch between climate science and native awareness of human-caused climate change,” said lead writer Kelton Minor, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University’s Data Science Institute and the Columbia Climate School. The researchers suggest that educational and cultural aspects play a job.

Arctic regions are warming as much as 4 times faster than the world average, and Greenlanders, who depend on frigid seasonal conditions for hunting, fishing and travel, are on the front lines. Snow and sea ice, once predictable platforms for getting from place to position and making a living, are declining; rain storms are increasing, even in winter; permafrost is melting; and the mighty central ice sheet is rapidly losing mass. These changes are contributing to creeping sea-level rise on faraway shores, but for Greenlanders the consequences are immediate.

The town of Ilulissat, North Greenland. Many individuals live in such small coastal towns and smaller villages, where climate change affects each land and sea. (Kelton Minor)

The authors of the study surveyed some 1,600 people, some 4 percent of Greenland’s adult population. They found that 89 percent consider climate change is occurring—much like other nations with at the very least some Arctic territory, including Sweden, Canada, Russia and Iceland. (The exception: the US, at only 68 percent.) That said, the proportion of Greenlanders saying they’re personally experiencing the consequences is greater than twice that of other Arctic nations—nearly 80 percent. Amongst fishers, hunters and folks living in small, rural villages, the proportion is near 85 percent.

Yet, when asked whether humans are causing the changes, only about 50 percent made this connection, and in rural areas it was only 40 percent.

The researchers say the study suggests that education plays a robust role, noting that many individuals in rural areas don’t have a secondary education. “Villages don’t have the identical access to formal education, particularly past elementary school, and that will explain numerous it,” said Minor. He points out that climate researchers from world wide have been converging on Greenland for a long time, and that much of the evidence pinning climate change on humans has emerged from their work. “Considered one of the core insights of contemporary climate science, derived partially from the Greenland ice sheet, is probably not widely available to Greenland’s public,” he said.

Greenland’s fast-changing environment is a significant center of climate research, yet many residents seem out of touch with the outcomes. Here, researchers cross the melting surface of the Russell Glacier. (Kevin Krajick/Earth Institute)

Warming climate works its way into nearly every aspect of life, in sometimes surprising ways. As an illustration, many individuals live to tell the tale narrow strips of ice-free coastal land nestled up against the towering interior ice sheet. In some areas, the ice surface is melting so fast that it’s perceptibly sinking, just like the top of a mountain being bulldozed off; in consequence, people in some settlements are getting more hours of daylight, because the sun rises over a newly lowered horizon. And, unlike many of the world, sea levels listed below are mostly sinking, not rising. That is due partially to the incontrovertible fact that because the ice wastes, pressure is taken off the land, and the land is rising. In a largely roadless land, this presents potential blockages to navigation in heavily used but already often shallow coastal waters—the topic of a separate investigation by Columbia scientists.

Climate change is probably not all bad, within the minds of many residents. For one, melting glaciers are depositing vast stretches of sand, an increasingly worthwhile commodity that could possibly be exported. Here, the estuary of the Qinnguata Kuussua river on the southwestern settlement of Kangerlussuaq. (Kevin Krajick/Earth Institute)

Cultural historian Manumina Lund-Jensen of Ilisimatusarfik Greenland University and a coauthor of the study suggests an extra dimension to beliefs about humans and the environment. “In Greenland, most individuals interact with Sila, [the] Greenlandic spirit of the air, the weather, [which] also describes our consciousness, and connection to the universe,” she said. “Knowledge about Sila has been transmitted through generations by oral traditions and observations, and might make the difference of survival for oneself and others.” This view may “increase the psychological distance to the anthropogenic signal within the climate system,” she writes within the study. “Humans is probably not viewed as powerful in relation to Sila.”

People’s overall views of nature could have practical effects, the researchers say. Minor says that even though it was not part of the present study, plainly those that discount human influence could also be more prone to view changes as mainly harmful—shorter hunting seasons, more dangerous storms, more unpredictable weather. Alternatively, those that make human the connection might even see it in another way. Working example: the world is running wanting sand, a key ingredient in concrete. Greenland is now swimming in it, as glaciers pull back, forsaking vast deposits of it. Previous research indicates that those aware of human influence on climate are more likely to think about human motion to adapt, said Minor, and favor exporting this suddenly available commodity.

“Perceptions of climate change impacts and causes are key drivers of societal climate mitigation and adaptation,” said study coauthor Minik Rosing, a geologist on the University of Copenhagen. “Understanding how perceptions are shaped is prime for each climate change research and informing climate motion.”

The researchers write that policymakers and civic institutions should “support the convergence of highly adaptive Inuit knowledge of Sila and native climate variability with climate scientists’ knowledge,” and that climate projections and historical insights derived from the ice sheet “be widely disseminated and integrated into Greenland’s primary school educational curricula in concert with Inuit knowledge.”

Media Inquiries Media Advisories

Kevin Krajick
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Caroline Adelman
(917) 370-1407


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