Greenland’s Climate Change

The Arctic’s Transition From Fishing to Mining

By Turner Willet

Amongst the vibrantly colored houses and the ice-choked fjords of Greenland lies a distinct problem. While climate change is not a new issue, this coupled with the receding polar ice cap have been steadily destroying Greenlanders’ traditional jobs.  Fishermen are having to travel father and farther north to find the cooler waters that fish prefer. Canneries are shutting down or relocating, leaving thousands of Greenlanders’ jobless. Due to a lack of industry and little or no tourism, the majority of the 57,000 inhabitants rely on jobs that are extremely vulnerable to climate change.

Interestingly enough the Greenlandic government has long relied on a substantial (588 million dollar) yearly subsidy from Denmark, in order to render necessary services to their citizens. Technically Greenland is classified as an semi-autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark and in 2008 nearly 75% of the population voted for a referendum encouraging further steps towards total autonomy. The Greenlandic government viewed this passage as a major step towards independence.  One of the most interesting points included in the referendum was regarding the countries takeover of complete oil and mineral rights from the Danes. For many years companies have been eyeing the immense land mass, looking specifically for oil and rare minerals. Up until now, the ice cap has covered the majority of land rendering mining operations almost impossible. The amount of permits given to mining companies to probe areas for minerals is steadily increasing, with more and more areas being deemed fit for exploitation.

While the Greenlander’s old way of life is slowly being destroyed by climate change, new possibilities are being discovered. With large mining operations come increased revenue for the government and perhaps less of a reliance or all together doing away with of the Danish subsidy. One of the factors holding back immediate mining is the government’s strict stance on the mining of radioactive materials. Many of the deposits of rare metals are intertwined with veins of radioactive materials, slowing preliminary steps. However, experts undoubtedly agree that many millions of tons of ore are hidden under the surface and their exploitation would be very beneficial.

Hopefully the Greenlandic fishermen and hunters will be able to adapt to the mining industry and the influx of foreign workers that are sure to follow. Also with these newly discovered resources comes political leverage on issues that affect the country. Many citizens hope to have the EU’s ban on importing seal skins lifted seeing as there is a backlog of some 300,000 (nearly 5 per person) waiting to be sold. Hopefully these new mining operations will not smother traditional ways of life and the two can go hand in hand.

Turner Willet is a student at Tufts University.

Photo courtesy of National Geographic.