The image above was taken near Greenland, during the Arctic Symposium 2007, the seventh voyage organized by the Orthodox Patriarch, His All Holiness, Bartholemew, as part of Religion, Science and the Environment, a symposium conceived in 1988 to study the fate of the world's largest bodies of water. Prior symposiums have focussed on the Aegean, the Black Sea, the Danube, the Adriatic, the Baltic, and the Amazon.
Like many of us, I'm often too weary and depressed about climate change to read new articles about it. This piece by Neal Ascherson, in the London Review of Books, is a notable exception: fine writing, and an unusual setting featuring an Orthodox patriarch and Greenland villagers.
Before us, on a motionless turquoise sea, the icebergs towered in the evening light, each vast as a city. I looked at the spectators and saw that every one of us, the Greenlanders as well as the patriarch’s retinue of scientists and theologians, stood like a row of Caspar David Friedrich solitaries, facing the ice as if facing their judge.
Climate change is already changing nearly everything about Greenland and its inhabitants, most of whom are descended from the Inuit with some Danish and Norse genes. Some changes are welcomed: the improving economy -- due to greater opportunity because of less cold and ice, and better fishing -- will mean independence from Denmark. Other changes, like not being able to trust that the ice sheet will hold a dog sled, will alter Greenland's culture forever.
Some of us climbed the hill until the group around Tjodhilde’s chapel was a dab of colour on the grey-green shore. Up here, a flock of redpolls swooped about drying cod nailed to posts, and a raven croaked. Inuits have another belief, not quite translatable, in what they call ‘Sila’: the force that brings alarming, unexpected things. Sudden storms are part of it, and disastrous changes in the ice, and caribou migrations shifting out of reach. Sila is also a spirit, and occasionally warns shamanic children that it is coming.