Air conditioning for Eskimos as the Arctic warms up

Climate change melts ice, enables broccoli to be grown in Greenland, and brings wildlife for which the locals have no native names

A A A

Selling ice-cream to Eskimos used to be the definition of a tough sales pitch - but now it has been put in the shade. For as the world heats up, the Inuit are scrambling to install air conditioning, and electricity prices north of Quebec have been slashed specially to enable them to do so.

The new need to chill out in the Arctic is just one of the bewildering changes being forced on one of the world's last remaining hunting peoples. Their snowmobiles have been falling through the melting ice, and the Inuit are finding themselves lost for words as new species for which they have no names in their language appear. And, in places, they have had to dig wells, as they can no longer rely on snows for water.

Temperatures in the Arctic have been rising twice as quickly as in the world as a whole. Sea ice has shrunk by a quarter in area and a half in thickness since 1978, and its decline is now accelerating. Last May and June a heatwave sent temperatures soaring into the low 30s Celsius in the 2,000-strong village of Kuujjuaq, 2,500km north of Montreal, which has just installed 10 air conditioners to cool 25 office workers. "It is getting pretty hot here, even though we are in the far north," said its mayor, Larry Watts. "When I was growing up, I did not notice these kinds of temperatures."

And this followed a winter in which the Inuit of Pangnirtung, Baffin Island - right on the Arctic Circle - basked in February temperatures of 9C, when they should be -30C. "We were just standing around in our shorts, stunned and amazed, trying to make sense of it," said villager Donald Mearns.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, said: "The far north now has to have air conditioners to function." The Inuit's buildings - originally constructed "airtight for the cold" - are now turning into heat traps.

Hydro Quebec, the province's electricity utility, has drastically cut its prices as a result. They used to be set very high at a "dissuasive rate" to stop people from using electricity to heat their homes as it has to be generated from expensive diesel in the far north. But now they have lowered them for air conditioning in schools, hospitals and offices.

Farmers in Greenland are beginning to grow broccoli, cauliflower and Chinese cabbage. Salmon are also appearing in Inuit waters but the people have no name for them - or for such other newcomers as the barn owls, hornets and robins - in their language, though they have more than 1,000 words for reindeer.

In Chukotka, northern Russia, Inuit have drilled wells for water because there is too little snow to melt, and everywhere the people are finding it hard to hunt as their traditional prey disappear. Metuq, a hunter and fisherman from Baffin Island, whose fishing shack fell through unexpectedly melting ice last February, said: "The world is slowly disintegrating."

And Simon Kohlmeister, a hunter from Labrador who lost his snowmobile in the same way, added: "Some day we won't have any snow. We will no longer be Eskimos."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Production Administrator

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading and fastest ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sunroom / Conservatory / Extension Designers

£16000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Planning Assistant

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working for one of the count...

Recruitment Genius: Purchase Ledger Administrator

£5120 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working for one of the countr...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence