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Published: Sunday, 10/12/2008

Happenings in Greenland offer lessons for everyone

I remember when Ron Royhab, The Blade's vice president-executive editor, summoned me to his office at the end of 2007.

Oh, gawd, I thought. What did I do now?

You have to realize this is The Blade newsroom equivalent of being called to the principal's office.

"Get a passport," he said. "We want to send you to Greenland."

Thus began the early planning for my four-day series on climate change that began today.

The credit, though, goes to John Robinson Block's curiosity. The Blade's co-publisher and editor-in-chief explained to me last spring that he's had a longtime interest in the plight of the Vikings. And I'm not talking about the ones who play football in Minneapolis.

Legend has it one of the more sinister of those ancient Norsemen, Erik the Red, gave Greenland its name after getting kicked out of Iceland. By dumb luck or design, he wound up on a southwest part of Greenland that was, well, lush and green.

But that anecdote is just a hook into the fascinating big-picture theme Mr. Block had hit upon.

Adaptation.

Greenland is one of the most remote and mysterious places on Earth. The island, a territory of Denmark since 1721, claims to have had native Inuits as far back as 4,500 years ago - although it also notes extensive periods since then when it was devoid of human life because the climate was too wicked for anyone to survive there.

Even so, it begs the question: What made people tick? Why did some succeed and others fail?

The goal of my series is to help people in the Great Lakes region start making more connections.

Do I think we're doomed? Of course not.

But we're headed into uncharted territory. Changes occurring to Greenland should be a wake-up call for the rest of the world.

Or, to put it simply, it ain't about polar bears. It's about you and me and our ethics.

That's right. Our ethics.

If we have irrefutable evidence that the pollution we generate as a global society is ruining the plant for our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, we have a moral obligation to act. As one of the world's top Greenland researchers told me, it's hard enough for most people to look beyond their own noses. Try getting them to empathize with those living on the planet in 2100, 2200, or 2300.

I know this is a hard issue for a lot of people to face. I don't begrudge groups such as the Heartland Institute for waging a flat-out war against the notion of blind acceptance. Our country was built on checks and balances.

But the world's most prestigious group of climatologists, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, last year said there is "unequivocal" evidence that man's activities are warming the Earth.

That doesn't mean we're doomed. But we've got to stop pretending the world's flat, too.

Tomorrow, you'll learn how climate change is already under way in the Great Lakes region, even if it's not obvious to the layman.

On Tuesday, you'll learn how both Barack Obama and John McCain agree the next Congress needs to take action. And how some military leaders now believe that addressing climate change has become a national security issue.

The series concludes Wednesday with some ideas of little things you can do to make a difference.

We can learn from Greenland. More than two-thirds of it lies above the Arctic Circle, where temperatures are rising twice as fast as they are near the equator.

The question is whether we are willing to listen.



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