Greenland. Climate Change. What do locals think?
Albrecht Lange. One of the most impressive local fishermen I met during my time in Qasigiannguit. I found him by posting a request on Facebook. Film maker wants to meet experienced fisherman. Who have opinions about local climate change. Albrecht was close to 80 years of age, but still looked strong. He lived in a nice house with his wife overlloking the bay. We could see the impressive mountain range on the other side. Hard to fine a better view. He starts our conversion saying I look young for my age. I thought, should I trust this guy? But I liked him!
Albrecht moved from nearby Illimanaq back in 1962 to find new fishing grounds. His normal fishing waters were empty. He got a job at the power plant, but missed his home for years. Two years later he got his first fishing boat. But it was hard going. This was a time when the cod disappeared. The Illulisat Fiord was releasing icebergs like crazy. It made halibut fishing difficult.
I asked him about climate change?
In these recent years, it’s easy it to see how the weather’s getting warmer. The changing of it. But it’s happened before too. Some winters would be colder, much colder, with the ice thicker than usual. Whereas some would be warmer than usual – even to the point where the sea failed to freeze.
But when you first came here it was colder?
The moon lit our way in the middle of the winter. We’d travel under the moonlight. It would be so cold back then. Very, very cold indeed. The sleds in front of us would be around the same distance as these close by houses. We wouldn’t be able to see the sleds themselves, nor the dogs, we’d only see the dogs’ exhaust, forming misted clouds. That’s how cold it was. These were the conditions we had to live by and survive, so we fought against the cold. And we had warm clothes. Bless those who weren’t able to dress themselves that well. We’d sleep in a tent, only heated by a little primus lamp.
Have you noticed any change in rising water levels?
In these recent years it’s becoming more and more clear. If the weather keeps behaving the way it does. The melting of the Inland Ice happening at this rate, and the rising of the sea level… they’re quite very noticeable.
If we take the docks by the factory. It used to be that, even in high tide, we would load off upwards. By getting our footing on the cliffs above boat level and lifting the crates over our heads. It’s very noticeable how the sea level is rising. Reef’s appear and disappear with the tides… Yes, it’s very easy to see how the weather is changing. I wouldn’t find it strange if this are the results of the melting of the ice. And the currents… I don’t know their behaviour – I’m not an expert.
If you would say it yourself, is the warmer weather a good or a bad thing?
– I don’t know…I mean, it’s less costly, so that’s a positive… People here used to get their water from the well just out here. It’s been closed now, because the spring has dried up. Even outside our door, it used to swamp up but that hasn’t happened for years now. It’s clear that the sub-level freezing is becoming less and less. It’s becoming less cold compared to what used to be.
When you and your friends and family talk, does the subject of global warming come up? What do you talk about?
I mean, these days are strange. There are no blackberries out there, only small patches of berries here and there. Small ones too. I’m told there are blueberries and lingonberries here and there. There weren’t any lingonberries last year. I didn’t see any. Last year, I took went out to where lingonberries used to grow, but there weren’t any. I didn’t see any. But that’s no surprise, seeing how dry the ground is because the lack of rain. Above Napiillat, lingonberriesberries, blackberries, we had an endless supply of them there. Nowadays, there aren’t any. We hear no one talking about it. The rain came late this year, and the snow. There wasn’t much this year. There came a lot at some point.
So as you see it, changes are happening faster than before?
Well, it used to be that this country would be much colder in the winters, and the ground would freeze over. Now, not so much. Take, the river by that house over there. It’s not visible anymore, it isn’t noticeable. It used to be ever-running. There’s no other way of putting it: our country’s melting. It’s defrosting.
Why do you think that is?
That’s the result of the rising of the temperatures. I tend to think that the cause lies in the use of all these chemicals. Chlorine and so on. Chemicals the factories use. As long as the factories keep up what they’re doing. Things will keep that way. So long as they keep pouring hazardous chemicals such as chlorine. They have to be more cautious in that area. Things are like that in this country as well, the use of chlorine is too high as well. The use of chemicals in, say, cleaning agents and factories is too high. There’s no way around it.
I want to ask you being a fisherman and a hunter, what is your take is on the preservation of nature.
Preserving nature? It’s inevitable that we’re affected by it. For instance, this summer the lands south of here, Nassuttuut and so on, they had wildfires. That has got to be the results of too much use of materials that don’t naturally form or appear in nature. But, , as a civilian it is very hard to give a definitive answer or opinion.
How do you see the future for the young people in Qasigiannguit?
I have no clue. The future’s uncertain. The future is so uncertain. The way education’s changing, teachers have to take to measure to where to go on and in what field. They’ll have no choice but to look for the most suited youngsters in any areas. I have my hopes that the school system… We grew up only knowing about ABT system… we’re from that era. Our schooling was less than ideal… our teachers weren’t educated in the field but were catechists. Such were the 1950’s. It’s hard to guess what’s going to happen – of course the evolution of education is vita. The school system. Gaining new knowledge through education.
And what of the future hunters and fishermen in Qasigiannguit, how do you reckon it will be for them? Will there be fish for them to catch?
If it were up to me, I’d make it so. There’s only shallow sea fish around. The seas surrounding us here aren’t that deep in contrast to the fiord in Ilulissat. We’ve had a seminar about fish and fish go breed to shallower waters. The halibut, for instance. They breed in shallow waters. And as they grow bigger and bigger, they fare to the deeper waters still where they can evolve to full grown. They seek environments best suited to their evolution. That’s why, when you’re a land dweller, you pay attention. And move according to the movement of the fish, growing big in the depths of the sea. But the locations used to vary a whole lot. I remember from shrimping and fishing for halibut how they would dive way down to the depths of the sea. It’s the same with cod. They go after the nutrition they need. Our country is a living thing too. It’s not a dormant inanimate thing. It’s ever-changing and bound to be that way. It’s inevitable for catastrophies to happen. Like the one that happened up north this summer, in Innaarsussuit. Rocks falling, washing waves over the settlement. (A landslide) These are the inevitable results of the melting of the inland ice. It’s in some places clear to the eye how the land is changing. You can even hear loud bangs at times. The elements aren’t dormant and it’s inevitable for things to remain the same. That’s what I reckon from out what I’ve experienced. And our atmosphere is huge as well, it’s a big world we live in. Pollution is direct cause as well – catastrophes happen more and more often. As I see it. The weather’s changing now, it’s quite clear. When I was a teenager in Ilimanaq we’d use the northern lights on our trips as lighting when the moon weren’t there. We’d whistle at them and they’d start dancing, so to speak. Everything would flicker rapidly. And when sledding as teenagers we’d take advantage of the light from them. It now seems that the changing of the weather is beginning to show more and more around these parts. Our consumption, which seeps out into the air. The makers of these sorts of cleaning agents. Some people are allergic to certain soaps. We people are all very different. But when you’re not educated in the field, and know only of two plus two, it’s hard to come with an expert level suggestion.
Do you trust science?
The marine biologists keep studying and their results seem inconsistent, changing. Take the cod. From their hatching to evolving. Like in the latter years, the cod south from here – they disappeared in these areas due to the waters being too cold. But they’ve appeared south from here and the coast is now riddled with them. The migrate all of a sudden, chasing the nutrition, to places that better suit their survival. They breed near beaches during the periods where the waters warm up. Nature is the one great ruler.
You can’t put it otherwise. We, mere humans, can’t do anything about the changing of nature. We can’t make vast changes. And that’s why it’s important for us to keep from polluting it.
*Since my Greenlandic is non-existent, I used a local translator. Avaruna Mikaelsen.