Thursday May 25, 2017

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REGIONAL JOURNALISM, GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE.

Opinion
Environment

Not in our backyard anymore

Greenland is hard at work cleaning up the messes it has made. That should be an example to others who left the island without doing the same
Opinion
Lock, stock and 100,000 rusting barrels (Photo: fruchtzwerg)

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The people of Greenland need to remember that we are one country, and, just as when you put together a puzzle, the picture is not complete until each and every piece is placed. That is why we must keep our eye both on the big picture and on the individual pieces. In so doing, we make sure that everyone is in the big picture and that everyone is aware they are an important part of the puzzle.

As the minister for the environment, nature and energy, I am responsible for maintaining a constant focus on both the big picture and the individual pieces. When one is appointed to the cabinet, one’s local interests have to take a back seat to national interests. One has a responsibility for ensuring the proper development of the nation as a whole. Even so, we must not forget how important is to try to understand local issues.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of hosting Esben Lunde Larsen, the Danish environment and food minister, in my hometown of Tasiilaq. The trip was the first time a Danish environment minister has visited Greenland’s east coast. I was pleased that he did, since it underscored that, in our country, all the pieces are equally important.

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We began the visit with a trip to the town dump, which the manager proudly gave us a tour of. A lot of work has gone into the dump, and it has become something of a success story. Previously, rubbish was just dumped there, making a mess and polluting the nearby maritime environment. Now rubbish is sorted and each type of waste gets processed accordingly.

The iron, for example, is removed, and will eventually be compacted and shipped abroad to be reused. Doing so makes sense for the environment, it creates jobs and, in the long run, is profitable. The same process is taking place elsewhere in Greenland, and we’re seeing our hard work pay off in the form of cleaner dumps.

The visit to the dump in Tasiilaq made an impression on Mr Larsen, who could see with his own eyes that we are on our way towards a greener tomorrow. Getting there will take time, but we’re headed in the right direction.

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After visiting Tasiilaq, an obvious next stop was Bluie East Two (known locally as ‘BE-2 Ikateq’), a disused American airfield. Greenland, to use Mr Larsen’s words, will not be used as the “world’s dustbin”. Being able to show that we in Greenland prioritise cleaning up the environment makes it easier for us to discuss these problems with others.

The US military up and left Bluie East Two in 1947, making no effort to clean it up and leaving behind over 100,000 rusting oil barrels, old cars and cranes.

It is high time we start cleaning up BE-2 Ikateq and – just as importantly – all of the other waste that’s been dumped around our country. We lawmakers play a key role in making this happen. There is no moral argument why we should continue to let all that waste pollute our collective backyard.

Cleaning things up is important for the environment, but it is perhaps even more important for our self-worth. We want to be proud when we enjoy our outdoors, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of showing it off to others.

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Mr Larsen expressed his interest in doing something about the problem we have with other people’s pollution, and he invited me to Denmark to continue our discussion of the problem.

We are, unfortunately, far from seeing it all the pollution cleaned up, but by agreeing to stop closing our eyes to the problem, and to begin working closer together to clean the waste that has been abandoned here over the years, we have put the first, important pieces of the puzzle into place.

Originally published by Sermitisaq, a newspaper published by this website's parent company.