Life and climate in Greenland : Chris Paton’s interview - Part 2

Chris Paton

Chris Paton

© International Polar Foundation

Chris Paton is a 35-year-old English and Geography teacher who has been living in Uummannaq for 4 years. Uummannaq is a 12km2 island located about 650 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle in the northwest of Greenland.

The second part of Chris Paton's interview is about life and the climate in the Arctic.

How is life in Uummannaq?

It is a very tough life mainly due to the weather conditions. The weather often makes it difficult to access services such as medical centers and lots of facilities.

There are almost no roads in Uummannaq because the ground is made of rocks. One third of the houses don't have running water because there are no pipes running in their house. Except for the hospital and schools, there are no flushing toilets either. We have a bucket that is emptied 2 or 3 times per week. 

Because we don't have any sewage facility, our toilets are directly emptied into the sea. The level of dioxin in our drinking water has privately been measured to be 100 times higher than the level of dioxin in the Danish water for example. Our rubbish is put on a dump and it is burned. The pollution that results from the burning of the rubbish pollutes the drinking water. Especially in the spring, when the snow starts to melt, all the pollution that has been caught in the snow starts to melt. We then drink it. That is a big issue here and we have to find a solution.

The access to fresh food can also be very difficult. Each year, we run out of food (especially cheese, yoghurt, fruits and vegetables) in April. The last ship that supplies us leaves in November, so it is very expensive to get new food flown in on helicopters during the winter. That explains why everybody has at least 2 freezers, which sounds crazy when you are in the Arctic.

The fact that light is very rare in winter is also very hard. In December and January we only have 1 or 2 hours of twilight.

Over the time you have lived in Uummannaq, have you noticed any changes you could allocate to climate change?

Sea ice comes later. It used to come late November until July. But now, it starts forming around January and it breaks up around May-June. The danger the hunters face has increased because the ice is more fragile. They can't use the ice as long as they used to.

This winter, the sun came back on the 4th of February, 2 days before it used to. I think it could be a fact of climate change. That happens because the glaciers that used to block the sun have retreated and melt, so the sun can now pop over the glaciers earlier than it used to.

There is more wind and it is stronger. The wind is critical because if we get a couple of days of strong wind when the ice is forming, the ice will be blown away and it won't form again until the water has settled. There is a period of time when you can't go on a dog sledge and you can't go in a boat, which gives a hard time to fishermen and hunters.

There are also more snow precipitations than we used to have. Our place used to be known for getting a reasonably small amount of snow compared to the east coast [of Greenland]. On the east coast, they are used to dig tunnels between the houses.

But the most significant aspect is the fact that so many researchers, journalists and people come to Uummannaq and are interested in knowing more about the experience of the hunters facing climate change. Many schools contact us to develop a project with us. We can feel that the world is very much focused on Greenland.

Is there another fact that you would like to point out?

Yes! The positive aspect of living in Greenland is that Greenlanders are very spontaneous and flexible people. You can't expect people to be punctual because of the weather so they come when they can. Everybody has experienced delays because of the weather. If the weather becomes even more unstable, the spontaneity of the people will be tested. Greenlanders are more in tune with the weather and the environment: "they are close to it, they eat it, and they live it". I can understand that people in Holland are very concerned by the increase of the sea level but I know in Greenland it is not going to bother us. The people will continue and adapt in finding very basic solutions to keep going like they always did.

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