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Glacial Melting

Climate Change and Arctic Indigenous People

The Arctic is currently almost always under discussion when climate change is mentioned. In mid July satellite images pictured the rapid melting of the ice sheet in Greenland, and on the BBC’s website alone more than 700 people commented on an article about the melting. The user Dragonwight believes that, given the fact that Greenland’s existence is under threat, humans have to adapt to the current change and must try to conserve as many species as possible. If humans want to survive despite of the changing planet and climate they have to adjust technologically. His/her comment was not rated as high as others, but the basic question which I came up with (in my head) is:

Do cultures which are threatened to diminish due to environmental change belong to these various species which have to be conserved?

This issue was not mentioned until recently. More often discussions on economic possibilities in the Arctic were more imporant (e.g., The Guardian 31 July) and UNRIC even thought that Greeland could be “the first independent country of indigenous people in modern times”. (Currently, Greenland still depends on financial support from its ‚mother‘ Denmark)

However, the article „Alaskan Arctic villages hit hard by climate change“ by Juliet Eilperin in „The Washington Post“ puts a different perspective on climate change. In her article she illustrates

  • to what degree the Inuits‘ food source is already threatened,
  • how severely villages and towns are affected by stronger storms and
  • that villages which rested on permafrost were forced to relocate due to rapid melting.

The reason for these consequences is not only climate change but also offshore development.

Villages/Towns have to choose:

  1. to adapt to the changing circumstances as much as possible in order to stay where they have been for centuries
  2. to leave your/their home and relocate somewhere else together with the whole village/town or
  3. to cut off your/their cultural roots and migrate to other (often urban) areas.

Funding or compensations from the state still seem to be missing.

Economic development driven by large investors from international companies does not seem to comply with the interests of indigenous peoples (see for example the construction of dams “More dams“).  The question is whether states, companies and international organisations have learned from previous experiences worldwide and would like to make use of the potential which is offered by the centuries old knowledge of indigenous people. In order to do that guidlines for best practices have to be developed. They must include right from the beginning interests, knowledge and culture of the people directly affected. Communication strategies have to consider indigenous cultures and in the best case scenario adapt their decision-making processes, given that everyone agrees on that. If the Arctic wants to profit from its ressources decision-making bodies have to actively seek a direct dialogue with indigenous people (without providing the dialog’s requirements) and have to offer them the possibility of (financial) support in order to preserve their culture.

Without these basic requirements, I believe, that it is not possible for these two different sides – economic development and cultural conservation – to find a solution and cooperate peacefully in the future. Otherwise one of these sides will possibly lose the struggle and vanish. Due to the recent past, I do not believe, that these will be the economic representatives.

(Aha)

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