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Updated Sunday, 28th September 2008

Is climate tourism hitting Greenland, Joe Smith asks in a blog from his Arctic climate change expedition?

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Stop in Qeqertarsuaq (Big Island) on Disko island for walks to warm springs (1 to 6 degrees? - warm a relative concept), and a chance to walk in the town and surrounding hills and black basalt beaches.

There are a couple of Greenlanders with us as guides throughout the trip, Karin and Ludovik. Both are Greenlanders who have a Danish education. Karin works in tourism, but also has a geology background.

House by an iceberg Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Nathan Gallagher
House and iceberg

A good contingent head for church (L's grandfather is the Pastor). The big draw is that the Lutheran service is in Greenlandic - a rare  chance to engage directly with Greenlanders on the trip, though the turnout per head of population turns out to be not much over the average English midlands C of E crowd. But engage we do with a perhaps misplaced have-a-go attitude to singing along with the hymns.

Karin suggests that the second-wave German missionaries who converted much of Greenland won the communities over with the quality of the storytelling in the bible, and the chance to gather to sing. They had a canny sense of what mattered locally in other ways too. In a modest amendment to the Lord's prayer the Greenlanders were taught to pray that the Lord might 'give us our daily meat' and the Lamb of God became the Seal of God.

Karin talks of the rapid rise in climate tourism - i.e. 'see the ice while you still can'. Big improvements in transport infrastructure mean they can meet growing demand (12,000 cruise ship passengers in the area in 2007, 17,000 in 2008). A steady flow of news film crews
come to illustrate the complex and abstract ideas about climate change as a story of e.g. glacial retreat or disappearing sea ice as 'the canary in the coalmine of climate change'. All this further helps to stoke interest around the world.

Most locals are, Karin suggests, delighted to have visitors come to experience the place they love. On such an enormous land mass a  population of just over 50,000 tend to offer a very warm welcome.

But climate change is also raising new questions for Greenland: warmer temperatures are making it easier to search for and exploit mineral resources. This is one of the issues in play in a forthcoming referendum considering independence from Denmark.

A question for my OU colleague Matthew Kurtz: 'climate tourism' is a phrase I think we've used in talking about how the Arctic is represented in the media. Is it one that's being used in Inuit communities in northern Canada or in Yupik Alaska? I can't avoid reading the phrase negatively - a very slow motion version of the rubber-necking you get passing a roadside crash. Of course the phrase rings bells with this expedition of urbanites from way South. We are well aware that we're just the latest in a long line of journalists and green-vote seeking politicians. What do you make of it? [read Matthew's answer]

Finally a competition that any readers of the Cape Farewell blogs can participate in: the naming of the Argo buoy that's being launched from the ship. Last year's winning entry was 'Arty Bob' (work it out).

Winning entries will have the name written on the buoy and I guess it'll be launched by someone suitably starry in a few days time. Post a comment to the Cape Farewell blog for Kathy Barber who designs and runs the excellent Cape Farewell website.

 

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