The ill effects of climate change are becoming well known, and now here’s another: The melting ice cap in Greenland has the country now bracing for a gold rush.
As the ice melts at record pace in Greenland, the world’s miners, oil workers and construction teams are planning to descend on the country in the next few years, to start digging below the retreating icecap for its ores, hydrocarbons and minerals.
In addition, the dramatic melt of the Arctic sea ice may within one or two generations locate Greenland on a vastly profitable trans-polar trading route between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Greenland is the world’s largest island, with a total area of around 2.2 million square kilometres. How is the country responding to these changes?
Prime Minister Aleqa Hammond Is Watching Carefully
It was at the end of March 2013 that 47-year-old Hammond became Greenland’s first female prime minister, ushering in the first change in parties in 30 years. Greenland is officially a part of Denmark, but has a great deal of autonomy in almost every area. The country is four times the size of France, but has a population of just 56,000.
At that time the new government of Greenland announced that it would not grant any fresh offshore oil and gas drilling licenses in the country’s Arctic waters and would also place existing licenses under greater scrutiny. The moratorium was a result of concerns raised by Greenpeace about the risk of oil spills and the fear that offshore oil and gas operations would increase climate change.
It seems that the Prime Minister has changed her mind.
Hammond is being courted by world leaders who see the Arctic as an emerging strategic zone.
Greenland Has Awarded Over 120 Licenses to Explore
Chinese, American, Russian, British, Japanese and Korean companies, among others, have all staked claims for its resources, and her government has awarded more than 120 licenses to explore for oil and gas, iron ore, uranium, emeralds and nickel as well as what are thought to be the largest deposits of rare earths vital for digital technologies outside China.
Greenlanders have traditionally lived in remote, scattered communities, largely supported by fishing and hunting, and Hammond is well aware that the arrival of tens of thousands of foreign workers will be as economically important and as culturally disruptive as anything in Greenland’s history.
“The shock will be profound. But we have faced colonisation, epidemics and modernisation before,” she says. “The decisions we are making [to open up the country to mining and oil exploitation] will have enormous impact on lifestyles, and our indigenous culture. But we have always come out on top.”
Should Greenland Be Encouraging the Gold Rush?
Not everyone thinks that handing out licenses is the right way to go.
Aqqaluk Lynge is chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council which represents Inuits from Alaska, Greenland and Canada at the U.N. and other forums. He believes that if you want to become rich, it comes with a price.
“People have to imagine the consequences of what the influx of foreign labour will be. Being a minority in your own country, is that what you want? We have to be more realistic. We should be very careful inviting foreign mining companies. We have had experiences before when whole towns have been changed with the influx of Danish contractors. We lack experts in many areas like health. 56,000 people cannot [do] everything,” he says.
So in addition to gaining one of the top spots in the exploitation of Greenland, this British company is also willing to exploit the Chinese. Here is a clear indication of shady, unethical dealings that smack of former British colonialist attitudes.
Hammond’s response is simple: “The modernisation programme [of the past 30 years] has not helped everyone. The new developments will have profound effects on everyone but they are designed to make householders stronger. We need to find ways to help people adapt. We need the money to be able to help households.”
Who Will Make Money Out of Greenland?
Clearly, some people will make a whole lot of money out of Greenland, but who will it be? The people of Greenland? The people of the U.K.? Or the Chinese?
I’ll let you make up your mind.
The situation reminds me of Baja California; when I visited Cabo San Lucas in the early 1980s, it was a beautiful, unspoiled beach area with just a few hotels. Thirty years later, it has become a hotspot of nightlife for the rich and famous. But who is profiting?
The answer is: U.S. corporations, who have bought up the land and implanted their culture, milking the local Mexicans as well as the tourists for all they are worth.
I fear for Greenland.