Meet you on the Beach
Imagine you are Donald Trump. No, scratch that. Sorry. Instead, imagine you are President of the United States and the Danish Prime Minister says to you, “we want to buy California.” You might get a little testy with PM Mette Frederiksen and dismiss her offer as “absurd.”
You might also be tempted to call her “nasty” and cancel your scheduled trip to Denmark, but then you remember that country (not to be confused with the city of Belgium or the non-existent nation of Nambia) is a member of NATO and among the best friends we have abroad, and you forgive the imagined slight.
Alas, not our president. The Chosen One felt disrespected by a tiny ally who has lost more troops per capita in fighting alongside us in our endless Middle Eastern wars than any other country. How dare Denmark not do our bidding! We want that big white island!
Why, you may ask, this sudden interest in Greenland? It’s not even green…and most of it lies within the Arctic Circle, where it gets mighty cold…and where Titanic-sinking icebergs lurk. Moreover, only slightly over 56,000 folks—mostly native-born Inuits—live on the biggest island in the world (836,330 square miles). What’s the lure?
Senator Tom Cotton, the hawkish junior senator from Arkansas whose politics fall slightly to the right of Charlemagne’s, provides a sound answer: Realpolitik. He says he himself spoke to the Danish ambassador some months back on possibly buying Greenland from Denmark. Why? To thwart the scheming Chinese, who have invested considerably in tapping Greenland’s extensive iron ore reserves and have set up state-of-the-art research stations in the Arctic. Outsider China wants a place among the five nations that “own” the region by having land fronting the Arctic Ocean. Own? Well, are claimants to the portions of the Arctic seabed, anyway, according to the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); those five nations—in descending order in size of claim—are Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark (Greenland is an autonomous Danish territory), and the United States (by way of Alaska). The present size and extent of claims is disputed; Russia, Canada, and Denmark all claim the North Pole, for example. But, thankfully, conflicting claims have not prompted violence…yet.
The strategic value of Greenland is nothing new. On April 9, 1941, the first anniversary of the German invasion and conquest of Denmark, the Danish ambassador in Washington signed on his own an agreement with the United States to jointly defend the remote territory. Following the United States entrance into World War II, Americans and Danes set up and manned weather stations in various parts of Greenland, and their work is said to have provided General Dwight Eisenhower with the crucial weather reporting he relied on to launch the successful invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. In 1943 the United States completed construction of Thule Air Base on the northwest coast of the island, 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle—the northernmost U.S. military base then and now.
The big island’s strategic importance only increased during the long Cold War, when the United States and the Soviet Union stared each other down across the frozen white polar cap, anxious fingers never far from missile launches likely to bring End Times in a flash. Whew! But the Cold War has thawed and that danger has passed…hasn’t it?
So does military strategy really explain the recent rush to Greenland? There must be more to this multinational claim-staking and seafloor-grabbing than meets the ear…or appears on the front pages of our newspapers. There is. Global warming, which scientists and tree-huggers and pointy-headed academics have correctly warned us about for years in dire terms, apparently provides climate-change deniers a short-term upside. Heat melts ice, and that melt exposes soil, and that soil contains minerals, and in the mostly untouched Arctic it does so big time!
Ready for the size of the bonanza! How about an estimated 90 billion barrels of oil? Add 1,669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Count also huge reserves of coal in just Russia alone, which also mines approximately 25% of the world’s rough diamonds. Now throw in a vast cache of iron ore, bauxite, titanium, uranium, platinum, palladium, copper, nickel, silver, gold, lead, zinc, and so on.
Among those so-ons are perhaps the greatest prizes of all—those rare earth minerals that have become essential to modern living. Their compounds are to found in most electrical things, from color television sets to cell phones, from rechargeable batteries to catalytic converters on cars, to name but a few applications. At present the Chinese, who apparently have no qualms about polluting the air its own citizens breathe, control 97% of these rare-earth metals…and can raise prices at their whim. Judging from its activity up north, China means to stick its giant panda paw into the Arctic reserve and defend its monopoly.
All would-be extractors get a bonus blessing from global warming. The ongoing melt has opened for business the New World’s long-fabled Northwest Passage, and opened even wider and for months longer Russia’s own Northeast Passage (aka the Northeast Sea Route), thus facilitating the easier transport of raw materials to manufacturers serving growing and waiting markets. Think of the surplus of goods and trinkets within everyone’s budget! Imagine having weekly specials on diamonds at every 7-11!
Yes, of course, these new riches come at a very steep price. Try to calculate the amount of carbon dioxide and sundry industrial pollutants spewed into the atmosphere. Not just from the production process but the melting Arctic permafrost as well. Sports fans may have to wear oxygen masks while watching the ultimate competition—Capitalists versus Oligarchs for the title of Last Extractor Standing. They might have to wear nose plugs too to ward off the stench of a few billion decomposing bodies in the tropics wafting northward to the inconvenience of players and viewers. Yes, it’ll probably be televised and streamed on your iPhone. Enjoy.
Why do I feel depressed? I don’t believe in collective guilt. Must I die with the rest? I feel this nagging need to go back and watch On the Beach again to prepare for our torrid end…without Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner for company. But I lack the courage. Instead, I’ll probably join the Chosen One and his legions of lobotomized climate deniers and choose a lobster’s end, taking cold comfort in knowing earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction was not due to any mindless comet or volcanic indigestion, but my own species’ greed and lust. May future life forms both thank us and forgive us. Perhaps they will better treat their gifted planet.