Farewell To The Arctic

SLIDESHOW: The plan was to venture out on the icecap with dog sledges, sleep out, explore the glacier’s edges and the impact of climate change on the Arctic.

Most of us living in cities are sheltered from the day-to-day reality of climate change. Our future, not our present, is at stake. Not so for the Inuits of Greenland, central to the Planet’s monumental meltdown.

“Immaqa, Immaqa,” says our dog-sledge driver looking out beyond the immaculate, frozen horizon. As a foreigner entering the icy kingdom of Greenland’s giant ice cap, it takes a new mindset to understand the broad meaning of the word ‘immaqa’; in Greenlandic it means something like “maybe, let’s see”, “maybe, let’s wait”, or a combination of both. Everything in Greenland is ruled by uncertainty — the weather is unpredictable and with it goes flight schedules, deliveries and so on. And, as climate change steps into the bigger picture, the seasons are not what they used to be.

Landing in the small town of Ilulissat on the west coast of Greenland, 250km north of the Arctic Circle, our expedition started under the guidance of Active Philanthropy. The plan was to venture out on the icecap with dog sledges, sleep out, explore the glacier’s edges and the impact of climate change on the Arctic. Since its inception 10 years ago, the Berlin-based consulting agency has teamed up with experts and scientists to advise its clients on investment in social, sustainable, renewable energies that have a positive impact on the future of the planet. “To teach ‘impact’ we offer families and decisions makers a chance to join us on an expedition: there is no better way to learn first-hand about climate change, biodiversity and local culture than to venture out for a couple of days into the mountains of Botswana, the Amazon rain forest or Greenland’s glaciers. We facilitate shared understating and a reflection on challenges, as well as opportunities emerging from today’s burning issues,” says Felicitas von Peter of Active Philanthropy.

In Greenland, in particular, the issue of climate change is a huge one. Its ice cap contains around 10 percent of the world’s supply of fresh water and it is melting at increasing speed. Yes, Greenland’s annual thaw and freeze is cyclical, but last year the melt arrived early. By April, 12 percent of the ice sheet’s surface was melting; in an average year the melt doesn’t reach 10 percent until June, according to Science. The accelerating surface melt has doubled Greenland’s contribution to global sea level rise, between 1992–2011, to 0.74 mm per year, said the journal.

Greenland’s massive Ilulissat Icefjord is a Unesco World Heritage site and one of the few glaciers through which the Greenland ice cap reaches the sea. It is also one of the fastest — moving 19m per day — and most active glaciers in the world. Flying over it, we came to understand the sheer size of it. The more we stared at it, the more it seemed to expand, for the Greenland ice sheet extends about 1.7 million square kilometres to cover most of the island. We were surrounded by a world of extremes — extreme nature, extreme richness, extreme emptiness, extreme cold, extreme emotions. “Time is different in Greenland; it is linked to our survival instincts, to understanding the unknown, to accepting that we depend on others," says Bo Lidegaard, historian, diplomat and journalist. "Out there, we are all confronted by a feeling of helplessness.”

As our group started to cross the ice cap on dog sledges, it became clear that understanding Greenland’s vastness and the glaciers’ behaviour was key to understanding the bigger picture of climate change. “Out there, it’s like living in a giant freezer,” said one of the participants. “Thick ice, in our present times, is a good sign,” our guide added, “for the dog-sledge drivers it means that venturing out is safer, and that more ground can be covered in one day. The thickness of the ice defines infrastructure, conditions and transport.”

Having left all our certainties behind, one thing was certain: beyond Greenland’s borders, there is a need for a huge ‘green’ transition. Von Peter says: “We should all feel a sense of responsibility, as we cannot afford to fail. Today, there is no clear benchmarking of green initiatives; no standards or guidelines. There is a great opportunity to define a new economic model. It will of course be complicated and disruptive, but there are ways. For example, investments in renewable energies will play a decisive role; the more we invest in them, the more expensive fossil fuels will become until we simply have to abandon them. Sharing strategic knowledge is key to defining a better, more sustainable future. There is always room to make a difference.”

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