Monday, October 01, 2007

More Green Areas

The brand of objectivity that equates microeconomics with Deus sive Natura usually requires reporters to be politely optimistic about the effects of climate change on Greenland's agricultural sector.

A new article in the Christian Science Monitor takes a somewhat more nuanced view of the matter. First, though, it offers up the standard palaver from one of Greenland's civic boosters:

"Spring is coming many weeks earlier now, and the last five winters have been very short and rainy," says Tommy Maro, mayor of Qaqortaq, the region's principal town. "It will be exciting to see how the land will change in the next 20 years. Maybe we will have more sheep farmers, more green areas, more things we can grow."
Mr. Maro apparently believes that the nation that dies with the most sheep farmers wins.

The CSM points out that things aren't quite that simple. What will allegedly benefit Greenland's farmers is already ruining its hunters:
[E]ven in northern Greenland, the sea hasn't frozen solidly for nearly a decade, effectively isolating thousands of Greenlanders for half the year and wiping out the livelihoods of hundreds more subsistence hunters who pursued seals and polar bears on the ice.
I find this candor refreshing. Most of the articles I've read on Greenland's looming Gilded Age don't have much to say about the loss of livelihood in the north.

As an aside, it's interesting how easily journalists can switch from sentimentality about traditional ways of life to mawkishness about Progress. In the US, for instance, the mythology surrounding truck drivers is pretty much inviolable, despite the fact that cross-country trucking is an eminently stupid and inefficient way of transporting goods. Environmentalists, by contrast, supposedly want to drag us back to the bad old days of cave-dwelling, root-gnawing, and surgical tools made of chipped flint.

It's almost as though there's some hidden criterion journalists can use to distinguish noble workers who are fighting for their traditional way of life from Luddites who'd rather bless the darkness than light a candle.

The article goes on to point out that warming a cold climate could lead to other outcomes than warmer, milder weather, and in doing so, hints at the shocking truth that warm climates are not automatically "better," locally or globally, than cold ones:
[N]obody knows for sure the long-term effects of Greenland's warming climate. Scientists expect that warmer sea temperatures will drive shrimp farther north, where they are less accessible, but they may be replaced by other species. Melting glacial ice may prove good for the country's expanding hydroelectric industry, but thinning sea ice is already claiming lives of people who rely on it for transportation.

Even in the south, the weather is proving a mixed bag. On the Qassiarsuk town landing stand a number of refrigerator-sized plastic-wrapped parcels – hay shipped in for local farmers' sheep. "In the beginning of the summer we had very dry weather, and the grass did not grow," explains Kiista Isaksen, mayor of the municipality of Narsaq, of which Qassiarsuk is a part. "Now it's raining too much."
The only correction I'd make here is that nobody knows the short-term effects of Greenland's warming climate, either.

But whatever they are, I'm sure its citizens will "adapt"...just like the citizens of Mashkan-shapir did.

(Photo at top by Poagao.)


Anonymous said...

And of course, if Greenland becomes a tropical paradise, that doesn't mean anything bad would happen anywhere else, right? It's win-win!

juniper pearl said...

i know that all of my life choices are based solely on the impact i envision them having on greenland. i mean, really, is there any other place worth considering? as long as its residents are up to their scarfless necks in sheep, the rest of you can fall into the pH-imbalanced ocean as far as i'm concerned.

does eating raw carrots count as root-gnawing? because i do like carrots.