Despite its verdant sound, Greenland is an icy wasteland. At some point, say 65 million years ago, Greenland was home to ferns and other lush vegetation. But ever since the dinosaurs died off, there’s been nothing but ice, even in summer. Until now.
A chef in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, recently made headlines for his thriving garden. He’s growing potatoes, thyme, tomatoes, green peppers, right smack dab in the middle of the Arctic circle. While this is amazing news for his fresh vegetable-deprived guests, it’s bad news for the planet.
“Every year we try new things,” said Kim Ernst, the Danish chef of Roklubben restaurant, who even managed to grow a handful of strawberries that he served to some surprised Scandinavian royals. “I first came here in 1999 and no-one would have dreamed of doing this. But now the summer days seem warmer, and longer.”
While Erst revels in the ability to keep a garden all winter long, and Greenland’s government looks for ways to boost the country’s newborn agricultural industry, climate scientists see the writing on the wall.
For several years now, scientists have pointed to America’s wildfires, ongoing severe drought, extreme weather and scorching temperatures an indication that our massive consumption of fossil fuels is affecting the planet’s climate.
The places we used to find comfortable (aka temperate zones, aka North America) are quickly becoming less so, while places we used to find harsh (aka the Arctic) are becoming surprisingly balmy. Unfortunately, you can’t just move entire nations north by a couple hundred miles and call it a day.
In a paper (PDF) titled “Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes,” published in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters in March 2011, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University and Stephen Vavrus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison offered a hypothesis that may explain why world grain prices have risen 30 per cent in the past four months (and are still going up). According to the authors, a warmer Arctic reduces the temperature gradient between the temperate and polar zones, which in turn slows the wind speeds in the zone between the two. And like the air in a room with no windows, things heat up.
“The temperate zone has been seeing a lot of that sort of thing in the past couple of years — much more than usual,” wrote Gwynne Dyer back in 2012. “It’s cutting deeply into food production in the major breadbaskets of the planet, such as the U.S. Midwest and southern Russia, which is why food prices are going up so fast. This was an ‘unknown unknown.’ Nobody saw it coming.”
But now we do see it. Plain as the tomatoes in Kim Ernst’s garden. And that means we’re going to do something about it, right?
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