A Melting Greenland Weighs Perils Against Potential  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The New York Times has a look at the jockeying going on in Greenland to try and extract resources from previously ice-covered lands - A Melting Greenland Weighs Perils Against Potential (via Smart Planet).

As icebergs in the Kayak Harbor pop and hiss while melting away, this remote Arctic town and its culture are also disappearing in a changing climate.

Narsaq’s largest employer, a shrimp factory, closed a few years ago after the crustaceans fled north to cooler water. Where once there were eight commercial fishing vessels, there is now one.

As a result, the population here, one of southern Greenland’s major towns, has been halved to 1,500 in just a decade. Suicides are up.

“Fishing is the heart of this town,” said Hans Kaspersen, 63, a fisherman. “Lots of people have lost their livelihoods.”

But even as warming temperatures are upending traditional Greenlandic life, they are also offering up intriguing new opportunities for this state of 57,000 — perhaps nowhere more so than here in Narsaq.

Vast new deposits of minerals and gems are being discovered as Greenland’s massive ice cap recedes, forming the basis of a potentially lucrative mining industry.

One of the world’s largest deposits of rare earth metals — essential for manufacturing cellphones, wind turbines and electric cars — sits just outside Narsaq.

This could be momentous for Greenland, which has long relied on half a billion dollars a year in welfare payments from Denmark, its parent state. Mining profits could help Greenland become economically self sufficient, and may someday even render it the first sovereign nation created by global warming.

“One of our goals is to obtain independence,” said Vittus Qujaukitsoq, a prominent labor union leader.

But the rapid transition from a society of individual fishermen and hunters to an economy supported by corporate mining raises difficult questions. How would Greenland’s insular settlements tolerate an influx of thousands of Polish or Chinese construction workers, as has been proposed? Will mining despoil a natural environment essential to Greenland’s national identity — the whales and seals, the silent icy fjords, and mythic polar bears? Can fishermen reinvent themselves as miners?

“I think mining will be the future, but this is a difficult phase,” said Jens B. Frederiksen, Greenland’s housing and infrastructure minister and a deputy premier. “It’s a plan that not everyone wants. It’s about traditions, the freedom of a boat, family professions.”

The Arctic is warming even faster than other parts of the planet, and the rapidly melting ice is causing alarm among scientists about sea-level rise. In northeastern Greenland, average yearly temperature have risen 4.5 degrees in the past 15 years, and scientists predict the area could warm by 14 to 21 degrees by the end of the century.

Reuters is quoting an FT interview with Total's chief saying that oil extraction in Greenland is a bad idea - Total chief warns against Arctic drilling: FT
Energy companies should not drill for crude oil in Arctic waters because the environmental risks are too high, Total SA Chief Executive Officer Christophe de Margerie said in the Financial Times on Wednesday. The newspaper described de Margerie's comments as the first time a major oil company has publicly criticised offshore exploration in the Arctic.

The risk of an oil spill in such an environmentally sensitive area was simply too high, according to de Margerie. "Oil on Greenland would be a disaster. A leak would do too much damage to the image of the company," he said.

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