Cold truths at the top of the world

As it pursues independence, Greenland seeks to develop its economy without ruining one of Earth’s last pristine places.

The houses of Narsaq gleam in a cheerful riot of blues, reds and yellows. The crayon-coloured town spills across a hill that separates barren mountains from a fjord filled with icebergs. But up close, grimmer details come into focus; the paint on many homes is peeling, and few signs of life stir in the narrow streets.

Established as a trading post in 1830, Narsaq long served as a hub of Greenland’s fishing industry — the backbone of its economy. But in the past few decades, modernization has moved much of the fishing offshore, and many jobs in Narsaq have disappeared. The town’s 1,500 residents have been struggling to find a way forward.

The same could be said of Greenland at large. Part of the kingdom of Denmark since 1814, Greenland has transformed over the past century from a society based on subsistence hunting and fishing to one built around an industrial economy and a Nordic-style welfare system. But that rapid development has stalled, leaving communities such as Narsaq to grapple with economic stagnation and high rates of unemployment. At the same time, Greenland has sought to overcome its economic and political dependence on Denmark.

Read the full story at Nature.

Narsaq_CM_WEB-1
The town of Narsaq in southwest Greenland. (Credit: Julia Rosen)
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