Inuit's Biggest Threat: Climate Change or Regulations?

inuit child photo
Photo via National Geographic

Representatives of the Inuit are in Copenhagen this week to speak of how climate change is not only harming the environment in which they live, but also impacting their traditional way of life. They are calling for funding to help preserve their culture so threatened by global warming, while also seeking an exemption for Inuit-owned industries that are contributing to it. This catch-22 has members of the Inuit community divided on where to stand. Will they lose their livelihood due to a lack of regulations, or lose it because of them?Because of climate change's influence in northern regions especially, the Inuit's hunting patterns need to change, according to Violet Ford from the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC). To help ease the impact, Ford is asking for assistance from the global community to purchase things like community refrigerators to store food during the increasingly long off-season. Traditionally, the Intuit have hunted for a range of artic animals like seals, caribou, whales, and polar bears.

As drafts of an agreement are drawn up and funds are being allocated to aid in the fight against climate change, Ford believes the Inuit are primary candidates:

The money should be going out for the Inuit communities in response to climate change. We need infrastructure. We want community deep freezers if the hunting patterns change so much that we can only go hunting a few times a year.

While the Inuit are asking for assistance in maintaining the traditional lifestyle which makes their culture so rich and important, not all of their interests are in line with that tradition. Just last Thursday, Jimmy Stotts of the ICC spoke on behalf of Inuit owned oil, gas, and mining industries--calling for such projects to be exempt from whatever resolution adopted by COP15 because "it just doesn't seem right for Inuit, who have gotten themselves to this point where they can develop and make better communities, without having access to the money that they make from these industries."

These seemingly conflicting interests have created something of a moral dilemma for the Inuit: On the one hand, they require global assistance in combating the climate change threatening their traditional lifestyle, but on the other they also need the revenue from their greenhouse gas emitting industries in order to maintain their cultural independence.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, the former president of the ICC, doesn't accept financial rational as grounds for the Inuit to contribute, unchecked, to global CO2 levels:

As we call on the world to change its ecologically degrading practices, we must not accept those practices at home no matter how desperate our need for jobs or economic development. Economic gain must not override the existence and well-being of a whole people whose way of life is already being severely taxed (by climate change)."

The dilemma facing the Inuit is without easy answers. For all the warnings and dire predictions of climate change's effect on the future of societies and cultures, implementing regulations to combat it may have a catastrophic effect on present ones as well.

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