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  The peoples of the Arctic, the first victims of global warming

We forget perhaps too easily that the Dolgans, Inuits, Saami, and all other the native peoples of the Arctic (1) are the first victims of climate change.

Kangiqliniq-Rankin Inlet, Hudson Bay, at the end of spring. Inuit men prepare their sledge for a hunting journey.
Kangiqliniq-Rankin Inlet, Hudson Bay, at the end of spring. Inuit men prepare their sledge for a hunting journey.
© P. Visart/Expo-colloque ULB, March 2005
The ACIA (Arctic Climate Impact Assessment) report has now spoken on their behalf. Their testimony is slowly being integrated within the context of polar research. At the same time, through the stories told by these direct witnesses, the rest of the planet is becoming aware of the true impact that climate change can have on people’s ways of life.

For the peoples of the North, there is a clear impact on their economic and food-producing activities. For example, hunting and fishing are no longer as productive as they once were.

Ice which appears increasingly late and which disappears much earlier considerably shortens the hunting season. In the north of Greenland, this has already forced hunters to kill their sledge dogs because they are unable to feed them when unstable ice prevents them from hunting seals, bears or walrus. It is not difficult to imagine what that could mean in such regions. Reindeer farmers in the north of Europe also face problems. The Saami can only stand and watch as their animals, which normally graze on lichens by digging in the snow, struggle to break through the layers of ice that form after rain has fallen during warmer periods.

What’s more, these climate changes are occurring in a context of a loss of identity as a result of the growing influence of western lifestyles.

Unexpectedly, and further aggravating the situation, is the fact that words do not always exist to describe these changes, making it difficult for these people to communicate what they are seeing or experiencing. Previously unknown events now occur, such as lightning and thunder. Species which were previously restricted to temperate regions are now taking up residence in the North. The people of the Arctic have been stunned by the arrival of … wasps! What can they call these insects, when they have never seen them before? These are some of the other, unusual aspects of global warming.

(1) Native communities in the Arctic total some four million people. They live on the eight million square kilometres of the habitable Arctic landmass, i.e. in Greenland, North America, Europe, Siberia and various archipelagos (see Arctic and Antarctic research: what makes them different? [ http://ec.europa.eu/research/rtdinfo/special_pol/02/article_2595_en.html ])