Climate change melts ice, enables broccoli to be grown in Greenland,
and brings wildlife for which the locals have no native names
Selling ice-cream to Eskimos used to be the definition of a tough sales pitch
- but now it has been put in the shade. For as the world heats up, the Inuit
are scrambling to install air conditioning, and electricity prices north of
Quebec have been slashed specially to enable them to do so.
The new need to chill out in the Arctic is just one of the bewildering changes
being forced on one of the world's last remaining hunting peoples. Their snowmobiles
have been falling through the melting ice, and the Inuit are finding themselves
lost for words as new species for which they have no names in their language
appear. And, in places, they have had to dig wells, as they can no longer rely
on snows for water.
Temperatures in the Arctic have been rising twice as quickly as in the world
as a whole. Sea ice has shrunk by a quarter in area and a half in thickness
since 1978, and its decline is now accelerating. Last May and June a heatwave
sent temperatures soaring into the low 30s Celsius in the 2,000-strong village
of Kuujjuaq, 2,500km north of Montreal, which has just installed 10 air conditioners
to cool 25 office workers. "It is getting pretty hot here, even though
we are in the far north," said its mayor, Larry Watts. "When I was
growing up, I did not notice these kinds of temperatures."
And this followed a winter in which the Inuit of Pangnirtung, Baffin Island
- right on the Arctic Circle - basked in February temperatures of 9C, when they
should be -30C. "We were just standing around in our shorts, stunned and
amazed, trying to make sense of it," said villager Donald Mearns.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, said: "The
far north now has to have air conditioners to function." The Inuit's buildings
- originally constructed "airtight for the cold" - are now turning
into heat traps.
Hydro Quebec, the province's electricity utility, has drastically cut its prices
as a result. They used to be set very high at a "dissuasive rate"
to stop people from using electricity to heat their homes as it has to be generated
from expensive diesel in the far north. But now they have lowered them for air
conditioning in schools, hospitals and offices.
Farmers in Greenland are beginning to grow broccoli, cauliflower and Chinese
cabbage. Salmon are also appearing in Inuit waters but the people have no name
for them - or for such other newcomers as the barn owls, hornets and robins
- in their language, though they have more than 1,000 words for reindeer.
In Chukotka, northern Russia, Inuit have drilled wells for water because there
is too little snow to melt, and everywhere the people are finding it hard to
hunt as their traditional prey disappear. Metuq, a hunter and fisherman from
Baffin Island, whose fishing shack fell through unexpectedly melting ice last
February, said: "The world is slowly disintegrating."
And Simon Kohlmeister, a hunter from Labrador who lost his snowmobile in the
same way, added: "Some day we won't have any snow. We will no longer be
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