‘The snow disappeared’: living on the frontline of global heating
From extreme weather obliterating homes to rising sea levels ruining crops, climate breakdown is a terrifying daily reality for many
Throughout the 2021 United Nations climate change conference, the Guardian will be publishing the stories of the people whose lives have been upended – sometimes devastated – by the climate breakdown.
Rasmus Poulsen, eastern Greenland
We’ve already started having problems with snow and ice cover and we know it’s going to get worse. It used to be that March was a good sledding month and April a very good month. In 2018 some people were still mushing in the first week of June, but in 2019 I could only take the sleds out twice in the whole of April: it rained, the snow disappeared, the ice became unstable. Then this year I was busy until May … And the season is starting later, sometimes much later. It’s the unpredictability that’s hard for a small business – you don’t know when you’re going to have to cancel.
There’s a long-term worry here for the dogs. This is a protected breed of working dog that has one purpose: pulling sleds. If there’s less need for sleds, there’s less need for dogs. There are half as many Greenland dogs on Greenland now than there were 20 years ago. Guys who rely on their dogs for a big part of their winter income, they’re putting older ones down now in a bad season, and buying new ones when they need them again. Because it’s a huge budget, keeping a team of dogs – mine cost more than 31,000 Danish kroner (GBP3,550) a year just for food, and if you can’t offset the cost … The problem is we need a large population to avoid illness and in-breeding.
Climate change is clearly endangering the traditional ways of life. It’s not something we talk about a lot every day here, but certainly we see it every day. We look at old photographs and we see that now there is less and less ice, less and less snow. We see new species of animals arriving: there are pilot whales up here now, that’s new, and also humpback salmon and halibut. I’m not a wildlife expert but even I can see that these things, too, are changing, and fast.
My business – and my prices – will not be able to stay the same. When the ice no longer comes up to the shore in the town here, and you need to travel kilometres overland to reach it … it’s more time, more effort, more money. There will be new activities, for sure: there have been people seriously prospecting for gold up in Kangerlussuaq this year; that was pretty much impossible before, because of the permafrost and the ice layers. But now gold mining on Greenland is looking feasible. So Greenlanders will adapt. They always have. I will adapt. But yes, climate change is really affecting us all a lot, already – and it will affect us more.