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Environmental Injustice in a Warming Arctic

January 31, 2019

Author:

Eunice Lee

With human activity accelerating climate change, it is important to acknowledge the vast impacts climate change has on the environment and humans. Climate change impacts are different around the world, but many of the issues that arise concern humans and the environment. Greenland, like many Arctic regions, is particularly vulnerable to climate change. Warming temperatures in the Arctic contribute to more glaciers calving ice into the ocean and more melting, as well as less snow and ice cover. This creates barriers to food security and food sovereignty to those in Greenland, and these changes also threaten indigeneity and culture. This leads to an environmental injustice, whereby those in Greenland contribute little to climate change, yet bear significant consequences to integral aspects of their livelihood and well-being. These environmental and societal burdens are not prevalent just in Greenland. Melting glaciers will contribute greatly to global sea level rise, which will lead to many other global issues. As an example, the Philippines is projected to be threatened with sea-level rise and intensified typhoons. As a developing country, the Philippines, much like Greenland, has contributed relatively little to climate change. Climate change will cause significant societal, economical, and environmental stresses – not just in the Philippines but globally. It is imperative to address that there are multiple lines of evidence that show climate change is not slowing down; many of the issues that arise are interconnected and cause global environmental injustice.

Humans contribute to, and are affected by, climate change on a global scale.  However, some communities are disproportionately exposed to higher levels of impacts. Such communities tend to have less resources to respond and adapt to climate change; this highlights how environmental injustice and climate change are interconnected. Environmental injustice creates disproportionate levels of environmental and societal risks. The Arctic is vulnerable to climate change as the region is highly sensitive to temperature change. Small changes in temperature can result in more intense environmental and societal impacts compared to the rest of the world. Warming temperatures have societal and cultural implications. Accelerated melting threatens food security and food sovereignty, both of which rely on a healthy Arctic environment. Loss of food security and food sovereignty further leads to the loss of traditional knowledge surrounding hunting, which poses implications for Inuit and Greenlandic culture. Meltwater from Greenland is currently the largest contributor to sea-level rise. As sea-level rise is a global issue that will affect coastlines around the world, it is essential to understand changes in Greenland when looking at climate change.

It is imperative to address this environmental injustice issue as the environmental issue itself will create global environmental and societal impacts. Climate change in the Arctic should be an international concern as there will be issues extend beyond the Arctic. In moving forward, international involvement in climate change action and goals is important. With international interest in Greenland on the rise, it is important to consider economics and politics in connection with climate change. Additionally, it is important to give a political voice to regions directly impacted by climate change. This will hopefully not only shed light on environmental issues but also societal issues, and highlight environmental injustices that occur in the Arctic. Furthermore, there should be increased research in the Arctic. Ice cores drilled in Greenland hold valuable data that shows past climate conditions; such data is important as it can be used to help understand future climate conditions. This would help people better prepare for future climate conditions, and may allow for the appropriate international response to minimize further environmental injustice. We need to act now because even small changes can lead to long-term positive outcomes in an environmental and societal sense, especially for the country of Greenland and these policies could be adapted to other regions.

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