The Guardian has no less than three articles out this week claiming that climate change is driving us doo-lally, with headlines like: “Mental health at the heart of the climate crisis” “Ecological grief” and “How the climate emergency could lead to a mental health crisis”
The articles report “increasing social anxiety and trauma… connected to the climate crisis,”“unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety to people… who are struggling to reconcile the traumatic impact of global heating to their traditional way of life,”and claim that “the intersection between the climate emergency and mental and physical health will become one of the world’s major issues.” They ask: “How long will it be before political systems collapse and we turn against one another in a frenzy for the last scraps of sustenance?”
So far, so utterly, predictably Guardian. What’s slightly odd is that all three articles are based on one public opinion survey – conducted in Greenland.
The survey is available in English (and also in Greenlandic) here. By chance the Guardian also has an article this week on how to assess whether opinion polls are trustworthy. It recommends only trusting polls with a sample size of a thousand or more (The Greenland poll has a sample of 646) and checking that the questions were put in an unbiassed fashion. This might prove difficult. Did the questions concern “global warming”and “climate change,”or, as the Guardian articles – following Guardian style rules – call it, “global heating”and “climate crisis”? Since the interviews were either in Danish, Kalaallisut or Tunumiitoraasiat, we may never know.
Cultural factors no doubt played a part. One Guardian article reports the difficulties the journalist had in interviewing a Greenlander:
An interview with Rassmussen proves more emotional than anticipated… his face is contorted. Instead of the Greenlandic way – long silences and monosyllabic answers – there comes an outpouring…
As a former market researcher I know the problems caused by outpourings. And the long silences must have been a problem too, given that the interviewers had to be shipped round Greenland by plane. One imagines flights are not frequent between settlements averaging a few hundred people.
Monosyllabic answers are what we researchers like best, though the examples of Greenlandic given in the Guardian articles suggest that monosyllables are in short supply, which is not surprising, given that, according to Wikipedia, “Greenlandic is a polysynthetic language that allows the creation of long words by stringing together roots and suffixes.” One of theGuardian articles gives an example:
The north Baffin Inuit have the word “uggianaqtuq”to describe the unpleasant feeling caused by a friend behaving strangely, or even a sense of homesickness experienced when one is actually at home.
I know just how the north Baffin Inuit feel. The left-of-centre Guardian used to be home to me, and to thousands like me, who wanted to believe in a rational leftwing alternative to rampant capitalist greed and selfishness. For years now it’s been a friend behaving strangely. “A sense of homesickness experienced when one is actually at home”is exactly my feeling. I haven’t moved. The world has moved under me.
According to the Guardian‘s report on the Greenland survey, 79% of respondents think that the local sea ice has become more dangerous to travel on (which is hardly surprising, given that it’s been a particularly warm summer.)
Many of the ice fishermen we met were teaching their children to float if they fall through the water, their limbs jutting out in a star shape. The frozen sea is now a threat.”
One hopes that teaching their children to float didn’t start with current global heating. Whatever the sea temperature, there’s always a bit of the ice that’s less thick than average, just as there’s always a part of the readership of the mainstream media that’s less thick than the average. Do Guardian journalists understand this?
Even the sound of Greenland is changing. Villages once echoed to the howl of sled dogs, but hunters are now turning to desperate measures to keep their family’s heads above water.
(That’s figuratively above water, not necessarily in a star shape. And one sympathises with the villagers who no longer have to listen to howling dogs.) Mr Rassmussen‘s outpouring was about one of the main problems associated with global warming: 67% of residents think that the climate crisis will harm sled dogs.
Claus Rassmussen is stirring a foul brew of oily blood and fish. “Seal stew,” the sled-dog hunter says. Strung out in a row, his family carry buckets of the murky soup to feed to the dogs – a nightly ritual for Rassmussen and his five daughters.
Over the past two decades, Greenland’s sled dog population has halved to around 15,000 with the numbers still falling. Greenland’s unique sled dog culture and the specialised training technology and knowledge is in danger of disappearing… he talks about the decision to kill his beloved dogs because he could no longer afford to feed them…
“It’s all about money. Unlike dogs, snowmobiles do not need to be raised or fed. We have vet bills. Our dogs are exposed to infectious diseases. The industrial fish waste we once used as dog food is now exported for human consumption. We can’t afford to go on and I worry that I am raising these new dogs only to have them shot again.”
Buried in these three articles is the information you need to interpret them. The internal combustion engine in the form of the snowmobile is killing the sled dog, just as it killed the horse as the prime means of locomotion in the rest of the world a century ago. That and the fact that arctic food waste once only suitable for dog food is now filling our fishfingers, and the dogs are reduced to eating seal stew, “a foul brew of oily blood and fish.”
(Hang on. What have huskies ever eaten but seal, blood and fish?)
As we walk to feed his new crop of huskies, a neighbour runs up to Rassmussen and hands over a bloodied plastic bag of discarded halibut. It is accepted not with thanks, but an understanding that everyone in the community must play a part in the preservation of a way of life.
A way of life which now depends, even if ever so slightly, on the humble plastic bag. One cheer for this handy derivative of fossil fuels.
I could go on, because these three articles, like all articles in the Western media about far away places, are a parody of themselves, and you only have to quote them to raise a cheap laugh at their utter vacuity and ineptitude. I’ve done it before, with respect to Vivienne Westwood in Peru and Richard Branson in the Virgin Islands.
It’s fun, but ultimately pointless. The problem lies deeper.
When Western nations owned, despoiled and pillaged ninety percent of the earth’s surface, they also tried to understand it. (After all, understanding might make for more efficient pillaging.) This gave us the London metal market, the Antwerp diamond trade, but also travel literature, anthropology, and the earth and social sciences – the Voyage of the Beagle and Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
Once Peter Cook, Vivian Stanshall and Monty Python discovered that the British Empire (and a fortiori, all engagement by white males in the world outside Europe and North America) was a subject of eternal amusement, it became horribly unfashionable to display any interest in cultures outside – first NW and SW London – then extended to the chic-er parts of Europe (Paris, Prague, Barcelona – which were chic because London NW3 and SW1 said so.)
In the Guardian New World Order, the only way to engage with the world (which in the days of the Empire, in the utterly politically incorrect writings of Kipling, TE Lawrence, Robert Byron, Peter Fleming, William Dalrymple, and Bruce Chatwyn, was a world peopled by peoples– weird, wildly different, but all uniquely fascinating) is by treating it as a planet, which just happens to be infested by some yucky thing called homo sapiens. And planets are dodgy things, as any fule brought up on Star Wars kno. Best to zap them.
But let’s get back to the survey:
According to the data, detailed in a Guardian investigation carried out across Greenland in the last month, the majority of local residents interviewed believe that the climate emergency will harm its people, sled dogs, plants and animals. The revelation contradicts arguments that local people believe climate breakdown will benefit the Arctic and raises concern over a growing mental health crisis around climate in the polar region.
“..the majority of local residents interviewed believe that the climate emergency will harm its people, sled dogs, plants and animals.”Well, maybe. Or maybe they’ve learned that the Paris Agreement has promised to lavish a hundred billion dollars a year on countries suffering from climate change, and that the climate-concerned countries and their complicit media just love piddling insignificant countries with the population of an average English village because they can pour their largesse on them at near zero cost. If, as the Guardian articles reveal, the country in question also happens to be suffering from huge levels of alcoholism and suicide, so much the better for the three Guardian articles – all intended to make us wet ourselves about melting glaciers. How did the researchers deal with potential informants in far flung settlements who turned out to have topped themselves, or to be in an ethylitic coma? Did that explain the “long silences and monosyllabic answers”? (something I suffer from myself from time to time.)
But what did the inhabitants of Greenland (all fifty thousand of them) actually feel about global warming/heating/Guardian-defined-attack-of-the-vapours? Here’s the facts, as reported by the PhD student who actually did the study:
40% think that climate change is a bad thing
11% think it is a good thing
46% think that climate change is neither bad nor good
You read that right. 57% of suicidal, alcoholic, husky-loving Greenlanders don’t thing that climate change is a bad thing. Maybe they’ve got bigger things to worry about.
And as for the “different emotions when they think about climate change”:
The Greenlanders are convinced that global sizzling and climate oh-my-god-I-have-to-lie-down-on-the-site-of-the-Heathrow-third-runway is killing their sled dogs, despite the fact that they’re selling their dogs’ breakfast to Findus, yet they’re more likely to be hopeful than afraid, more likely to be happy than sad. What a dozy, irrational bunch of twerps.
Just like the rest of us, really.