Trump’s Greenland Gambit
It’s safe to assume that Donald Trump’s current obsession with Greenland did not come out of nowhere from his fevered mind. The more likely explanation is that one of his phone-friends in the extraction or finance industries probably planted the seed with a story about how global warming is easing access to Greenland’s rich natural resources. That story was probably supported by some discussion of the potential military importance of the island in the near future. Throw in a little flattery, saying he could change its name to “Trumpland”, comparing it to the Louisiana Purchase, and envisioning the hotels the Trump Org. could license there, and Trump would be all in on the idea.
More than just another Trump folly, which it most certainly is, what this story really illustrates is that there is a whole swath of business and finance leaders who view global warming not as the existential disaster it threatens to be but rather yet another enormous opportunity to make even more money.
Greenland is, in fact, rich in natural resources. A 2014 Brookings study identified “iron ore, lead, zinc, diamonds, gold, rare earth elements, uranium and oil” in just the areas of the island that have been adequately explored. Further exploration of other areas of the island that will become more accessible as the glaciers melt away may add to this list. And, of course, the glaciers themselves provide and abundant source of water, another resource that will become more scarce as warming increases.
In addition, Greenland offers easy access to potential oil deposits in the Arctic Ocean. An estimate from a few years ago put Arctic oil at nearly 6% of all known reserves and nearly 25% of world’s gas reserves. Both oil and gas are abundant in most of Greenland’s offshore areas. As the Arctic sea ice begins to disappear, drilling in those regions as well other areas in the Arctic Ocean becomes cheaper and more feasible.
The disappearing sea ice also increases the strategic importance of Greenland as Arctic sea lanes become more passable for longer stretches of the year. In addition, Greenland itself is one side of the Davis Strait and Baffin Bay which is part of the Northwest Passage that will also become available for shipping to the US East Coast. Between Alaska and Greenland, the US would then have a land presence on both Arctic extremes of the North American continent.
Trump’s Greenland gambit is just another small salvo in what will be an increasing battle over control of the regions holding those vast Arctic resources between Russia, the US, Canada, Norway, Finland, and Denmark. Even China is trying to get into the mix by underwriting development projects in the region. In another few years, we will probably see a similar battle between the seven signatories to the Antarctic Treaty – Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom – as that continent’s ice melts away and its abundant resources are more easily exploited. Those resources include “silver, copper, gold, nickel, platinum, iron ore, chromium, cobalt, molybdenum, zinc, manganese lead, titanium, nickel, and uranium”.
The exploitation of polar resources are only just beginning. What is happening today and has been for the last few years is that moneyed interests are buying up water resources, especially water rights, all over the world. Harvard University’s endowment has quietly bought up thousands of acres of California vineyards, not for the wine but for the water rights.
Of course, Trump’s idea to buy Greenland from Denmark is insanity. This is the 21st century and countries just don’t buy and sell enormous swaths of land and tens of thousands of people. But his ridiculous offer and his willingness to punish Denmark, even if it is the most banal and puerile way, is an indication that someone in the Trump orbit is, unsurprisingly, not interested in mitigating climate change but instead profiting from it.