It’s one thing to hear about the Greenland ice sheet; it’s another thing to see it.
It’s one thing to read about the impacts of global warming on the native people there; it’s another thing to have them look you in the eye and tell you.
These were the highlights of our trip to Greenland.
Words like “awesome,” “majestic,” “incredible,” don’t go far enough as your boat rides alongside the icebergs that are as large as coliseums – and the color of turquoise. These icebergs -- average age 9,000 years – have broken off an ice stream that is five miles wide and is fed by ice that travels hundreds of miles from the center of Greenland. They are heading to the Atlantic Ocean at a speed twice as fast as in 1985; melting at a rate that will lead to sea level rises with disastrous consequences unless we act to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide that have already caused the temperature in Greenland to rise 4 degrees since 1988. The entire Greenland ice sheet at risk is 1200 miles long by 500 miles wide.
Why does it matter to Greenland? And why does it matter to us?
Here it is, straight from Arkalo Abelsen, the Greenlandic Minister of the Environment, who spoke to us on Saturday morning:
“Looking back at my own life, I can only confirm that the climate in Greenland today is very different from the time when I was a child. I was born and raised in the southern part of Disko Bay. The sea ice closed the bay… from December until the end of May. The hunters went on the sea ice with their dog teams to catch food. These days the sea ice is formed in March, and disappears just a few weeks later. Some years it is not possible to go by dog team on the ice at all.”
“Until 15 years ago, the hunters in the Thule region could hunt walrus on the sea ice during a period of 6 months each year – today if they are lucky they can hunt on the sea ice for just 2 months. [W]e have had to give permission to kill polar bears, and polar bears with cubs, because they have wandered into towns and villages to seek food, because they cannot hunt on the sea ice.”
And to us? Rising sea levels are cited by our own military as a cause of unrest and desperate migration as low-lying areas are inundated. Our Pentagon ties future wars to global warming. Similarly, other results of global warming, such as droughts, floods and dangerous insect-borne diseases will bring misery. If we do nothing, 40% of the plant and animal species on Earth could disappear.
Greenland holds 10% of the world’s ice. Scientists can measure the ice and learn the secrets it holds about the impacts of human activity on climate and sound a warning bell.
For me, this bell has sounded even before I went to Greenland.
After this trip, with ten of my colleagues, and scientists, and experts, I know I have a responsibility to move now to lessen the impacts of severe global warming.
We can do it in a way that actually makes us stronger as a nation and that is my goal.
Energy independence as we switch to clean renewable energy will be increased;
Clean air will be a benefit.
Thousands of American jobs will be created at home as new energy technologies are used and exported.
National security will be enhanced.
The good news is that meeting the challenge of global warming will benefit the American people.
Perhaps Arkalo Abelsen, the Greenland environment minister said it best:
“Climate change is a global problem, but the consequences can be reduced if we take on the responsibility globally. A manmade problem should have a manmade solution…we have to cooperate to preserve our wonderful planet, Earth.”