Human Ecology

, Volume 46, Issue 5, pp 701–715 | Cite as

Climate Change as (Dis)Equilibrium: Behavioral Resilience in the Greenlandic Arctic

  • Pelle Tejsner
  • Djuke Veldhuis


Evolutionary explanations for social phenomena are increasingly common in sociology and anthropology circles. The intersection where cultural change, human behavioral variation and adaptation research meet is complex and frequently subject to distortion or misunderstanding. In the popular press, Arctic populations in particular are often portrayed as cultures in crisis, unable to cope in the face of climate change. This study assesses the claim that there is a fundamental mismatch, or disequilibrium, between Arctic peoples and their environment. Utilizing ethnographic interviews with contemporary hunters and fishers from Disko Bay in northwest Greenland alongside archival Greenlandic Statbank data and peer-reviewed literature, we provide an overview of population-culture-environment interactions over time. The data confirm an environment that is constantly in flux, with corresponding human population boom and bust. However, humans are not passive receivers of this change nor are they blindly reacting to disequilibrium. Instead coping strategies are afforded by constantly shifting use of sociocultural knowledge, behavioural flexibility and a creative use of technological buffers. The extent of indigenous people’s ability to incorporate long-term on-going environmental perturbations, particularly in the context of global patterns of trade and industry, remains an open discussion.


Arctic Greenland Disko Bay Climate change Technology Subsistence Human adaptation Equilibrium 



Sir Angus Pelham Burn Award and Danish Council for Independent Research.

Compliance with Ethical Statements

Fieldwork for this the research was financially supported through the Sir Angus Pelham Burn Award and the Danish Council for Independent Research. There are no conflicts of interest. Respondents interviewed for this paper all provided informed consent.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

Respondents interviewed for this paper all provided informed consent.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Arctic Research Centre, Department of BioscienceAarhus UniversityAarhusDenmark
  2. 2.Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies (AIAS)Aarhus UniversityAarhusDenmark

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