During August 2019, President Trump floated another of his insane-seeming ideas – namely that the USA wants to buy Greenland. It’s the 2000’s and the World Powers don’t go buying territories from each other any longer, do they? We started to dismiss this as another of the crazy ideas that pops out of his mouth, then disappears, but Trump kept pressing for the idea. He even started a feud with the Prime Minister of Denmark, the country in charge of Greenland, that ended with Trump canceling a planned trip to meet the Prime Minister because she insulted him. The insult? She said the idea to buy Greenland was “absurd”.
Given that Pres. Trump went to so much effort it’s possible there is an actual practical reason behind this. Not that Trump himself came up with the idea, but that someone in his circle told him the idea, and that it wasn’t a practical joke.
There are two big ideas that come to mind:
- A long-term plan for offering Americans a place to move when Global Warming makes the southern USA unlivable
- Greenland has a lot of rare earth minerals
Each of those two ideas have long term strategic significance.
Escaping Global Warming
It’s rather clear that the climate is warming, and that the climate is changing. Hence we’re able to use both phrases, “Climate Change” and “Global Warming,” to describe what’s going on.
It may be that the lower latitudes – the lands nearer the equator – will become unlivable as this process unfolds. There will be more heat, the land should dry out even more, increasing storms, and so forth. Humans are ingenuous and adaptable and may learn how to live in those conditions, but humans are also willing to escape to a better place if the need arises.
Generally speaking the Northern Hemisphere has a lot of land that is currently frozen and largely uninhabited. But as the climate warms those lands might well unfreeze and become livable.
The countries involved are the USA (Alaska), Canada, Greenland (Denmark), Iceland (Denmark), Norway, various islands belonging to Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, along with various islands. Take a look at the maps and you’ll see lots and lots of land, with very few cities.
There could be a massive migration of humanity towards those lands.
The idea to buy Greenland from Denmark might be in part to have such lands in American hands. But of course The Norse (Norway and Denmark) have over 1000 years of history with occupying Iceland and Greenland. No country has a clearer right to exploit those lands than Denmark.
Rare Earth Metals (and oil and gas) in Greenland
Rare Earth Metals are widely used in all kinds of electrical gizmos from smart phones to electric motors to batteries and more. These are critical materials, and the existing resources are running low, and are also increasingly controlled by China.
There is a lot of research underway to develop alternatives to the rare earth metals. Who knows whether that research will pan out.
A 2012 report by The Guardian (London) talks about the resources in Greenland.
According to geological estimates, below Greenland’s vast ice sheet could lie enough rare earths to satisfy at least a quarter of global demand in the future.
The vice-president of the European commission, Antonio Tajani, has led the push, forging an agreement with Greenland to look at joint development of some of the deposits. The agreement will extend beyond rare earths to metals such as gold and iron, and potentially to oil and gas, which are abundant in the waters around the island.The Guardian, July 2012
Obviously there are all kinds of materials there, because Greenland is largely untapped because it’s been under a thick ice sheet. But as the climate warms we expect that ice sheet to disappear, leaving the land open for exploitation.
Ugh… but … uh… The consequences of that ice sheet disappearing, the context within which the Greenland ice sheet would disappear. Wouldn’t it require a huge climate catastrophe to be underway for the Greenland ice sheet to melt? Predictions are that the state of the world will be basically horrendous. Increased wars, famines, forest fires, and on and on. And .. they’re calmly talking about business opportunities?
There is mining activity beginning to happen in Greenland. In 2018 a controversial mine, the Kvanefjeld project, was nearing final approval to begin work. Authorities are conducting final environmental review.
While Kvanefjeld is considered primarily a rare-earths mine, getting the minerals (which are used in all manner of modern electronics) out of the ground requires extracting uranium. Greenland Minerals expects that selling the uranium will add to Kvanefjeld’s profitability, but its efforts to get permission to do has been the source of heated discussions in Nuuk and Copenhagen.Arctic Today
An existing Greenlandic law bans the extraction of radioactive materials.
Another impact would be the destruction of a recognized World Heritage site concerning Norse and Inuit farming activities at the edge of the Arctic.
That one mine is described as a one billion tonne resource. But it seems that Greenland Minerals, the company in charge of this project, is partly owned by China’s Shenghe Resources Holding Co Ltd. That company has formed a joint venture with China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) “for the trading and processing of rare earth minerals”. Greenland Minerals is an Australian company, but Shenghe is described as the largest shareholder.
Shenghe is looking to import Uranium and Thorium concentrates into China for further processing.
It’s not just rare earth minerals. There are significant oil and gas resources in Greenland. This map comes from a Brookings Institute research paper titled “The Greenland Gold Rush“.
The key conclusions:
- Eventually large scale mining will occur in Greenland.
- Commercial oil production is at least 10 years out
- Greenland is taking a cautious approach so far
- More exploration is needed
- Chinese interest in mining projects has so far yielded little interest
- Greenland can benefit from European support, but it is not the silver bullet for Europe’s resource needs
Just because Pres. Trump says all kinds of bonkers things doesn’t mean that in every case the ideas he says are nonsense.
As the Arctic warms up it will become more and more feasible to “exploit” the minerals and other riches there. This means Russia, Canada and Greenland are in a position to have a major role in the future of Humanity. Why? All three have huge amounts of land in the Arctic that has been under-developed because of the frozen conditions.
In the final assessment we can only say that – humanity is truly not learning from this crisis. Just dipping my toe in the information related to “riches” in Greenland shows there’s a lot of interest in exploiting that land once it melts. The Brookings Institute paper was titled “Gold Rush” because of that interest. That gold rush mentality, raping the land for all its riches, is what got us all into this collective mess.
BTW – that image at the top? Trump really did tweet it.
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