Greenland: We’ll mine for our independence

The town of Tasiilaq, east Greenland. Credit: Anthony Johnston
The town of Tasiilaq, east Greenland.
Credit: Anthony Johnston

Driving by sled across the sea ice on the picturesque Tasiilaq fjord in east Greenland, my guide, a rosy-cheeked Inuit seal hunter, urges on his 14 dogs as we push on towards the mountains. All of a sudden, a snowmobile like a dart overtakes us. “Today, youngsters prefer them to dog sleds,” Dines Mikaelsen tells me, gesturing to the fast-disappearing motor vehicle with his sealskin whip.

It’s easy to see this moment as a metaphor for the country itself. Greenland, a self-governing Arctic nation of just 57,000 with the Danish Kingdom, is keen to invigorate its traditional economy of fisheries and hunting, by tapping into the vast mineral wealth worth billions of dollars, now exposed due to the receding ice caps. “In the past, we’ve relied mainly on fisheries which made the economy very fragile,” Greenland’s Prime Minister Aleqa Hammond told reporters in Copenhagen last month. “We need another way to stabilize the economy, and that will be mining.”

To kickstart Greenland’s mineral rush, the government looks set to end its ‘zero tolerance’ policy on uranium mining, which could lead to mining of rare earth metals commonly used in making smartphones, laptops and other electronic devices. This will allow for mineral production at Kvanefjeld, the world’s largest deposit of rare earths, which will offer the country an opportunity to compete with China which controls over 90% of global output in these minerals. Recent geological estimates show that below Greenland’s ice sheet there are enough rare earths to satisfy a quarter of world demand in the future.

However, mining for rare earths will also mean mining for uranium, which is tied up with the elements – and prospecting radioactive materials could threaten Greenland’s pristine nature, argue critics. “If radioactive tailings drop into the fjord, we would have problems calling our waters and fish the cleanest in the world,” says Mikkel Myrup, the chairman of Avataq, a local environmental group that headed an appeal last month by 48 NGOs protesting the decision to end the moratorium on uranium mining. “As long as there are those saying it’s dangerous, I would never accept it,” says Avaaraq Olsen, a 28-year-old primary teacher and elected municipality official living in the town of Narsaq, just a few kilometers away from the Kvanefjeld site.

Meanwhile, the site’s owners have been downplaying the risks, despite the fact that final ecological assessment reports are yet to be released. “That appeal [by Avataq] instilled a lot of fear. The idea of apocalyptic devastation clearly shows a lack of understanding on how these projects work,” Rod McIllree, CEO of Australian-based Greenland Minerals and Energy, told Metro. “But it all needs to be taken within the broader context that Greenland needs a mining industry.”

Once in full production, the royalties from the Kvanefjeld site alone will boost Greenland’s GDP by 20%, says McIllree. Indeed, this money could help the country become independent from Denmark, which currently subsidies more than half of the island’s total budget. Independence from their former colonial master is an alluring prospect for Greenland, nearly 90% of the population being indigenous Inuits. “I hope that one day Greenland will be independent – something I share with many Greenlanders,” says Ingo Hansen, who runs a men’s clothes store in the capital Nuuk. “But our economy has to improve before that can happen.”

But given the paltry number of people here in the world’s most sparsely populated nation, Olsen wonders how independent the country would actually be. “I think it’s very important not to be blinded by the word ‘independence’. What happens when all the minerals are mined, what then for Greenland?”



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

MLB

Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.