Save the polar bears! The media demands action to save the cuddly-looking white bears before they vanish. But as Nuiana Hardenberg and Iluuna Sørensen write, the irony is that humans are the cause of their decline. Youth are determined to help bring about a solution.
Around the world, humans mistreat Mother Earth and perpetuate the climate crisis by building and supporting CO2-emitting industries so capitalism can continue undeterred. Meanwhile, climate change is pushing polar bears into cities in search of food, and the residents are shooting the bears to protect themselves.
“Have you ever seen a polar bear?” is a question we are often asked when travelling outside of Greenland. If we say no, then we feel we have not lived up to the stereotype. If we say, “Yes, but only a dead one,” people may be shocked, and see us as savages contributing to the extinction of polar bears. We have to explain that sometimes, killing a bear is necessary for our people’s safety. Our generation didn’t cause the climate crisis that is leading bears into conflicts with humans, but we must live with it.
When I was 10, I remember school was cancelled in Sisimiut so we could see a polar bear that had been killed. The students got a chance to see the process of preparing the polar bear’s meat. It was a way to pass the traditional knowledge on to the younger generation. It was a rare experience to see such a majestic animal up close, says Iluuna Sørensen.
Greenland is home to one of the largest ice sheets on Earth.
This year, the icebergs that broke off from this ice sheet had already formed in late January—something that typically shouldn’t happen until May. Such signs of climate change are a constant reminder of the consequences of our actions. As human beings, in many cases we can adapt to our changing climate. But we cannot expect the same for all plants and animals. Polar bears cannot just find another way to hunt or go further and further north.
Human-bear conflicts increasing
For Indigenous People in Greenland, hunting polar bears has long been part of a traditional lifestyle. But our traditional way wasn’t to kill polar bears when they came to us. Unfortunately, more and more polar bears are coming into our communities—with tragic consequences for the bears. For example, in 2014, a polar bear that wandered into Sisimiut and attracted a crowd of onlookers was shot for safety reasons. The situation is unnatural and unintentional. If not for the climate crisis, polar bears would have plenty of ice for seal hunting and would not be found prowling in populated areas.
If we as humans don’t act to change our lifestyles, should we be surprised if polar bears become extinct? Or if they try to avoid such a plight by adapting to life on land, like big white grizzly bears?
Although the situation seems hopeless, as Greenlandic youth, we remain hopeful. Our local organization, Greenland4Nature, offers workshops and conferences. Our goal is to spread awareness of the impacts of climate change across Greenland and convey youth voices internationally.
There is a lot of work to be done locally and globally. We won’t dismiss our responsibilities. If our nation’s leaders do not live up to theirs, we will continue to speak up loudly—for Greenland, for our youth and for our polar bears.
NUIANA HARDENBERG is soon to be a student at Hult International Business School. She is currently at home in Nuuk, Greenland, on a sabbatical.
ILUUNA SØRENSEN is based in the Netherlands and will soon graduate from the United World College Maastricht.
They co-founded Greenland4Nature, a youth NGO focused on sustainability, biodiversity and climate change, with Kira Lennert Olsen.
You can find Greenland4Nature on Facebook and Instagram.
The first time I saw a polar bear, I was doing field work in the Canadian Arctic. In fact, we were visited by six bears within 24 hours as the summer sea ice broke up and bears began moving to land. I felt fortunate that three Inuit researchers were in the camp with us.
Polar bears evolved from a brown, terrestrial omnivore to become a white, marine carnivore that has long thrived in the Arctic’s icy environment. But as Andrew Derocher explains, given the pace of change in the Arctic, evolution doesn’t favour this highly specialized bear of the ice.