Sometimes a headline makes you go, “huh.” Then you think about it ... and it’s even worse. The story: President Donald J. Trump says he's interested in purchasing Greenland.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the president listened intently when advisers discussed the island’s resources and geopolitical importance and that he asked his White House counsel to look into the prospect of a purchase.
Then over the weekend the president doubled-down, calling it “essentially a large real estate deal”.
He told reporters: “Denmark essentially owns it. We’re very good allies with Denmark, we protect Denmark like we protect large portions of the world. So the concept came up and I said, ‘Certainly I’d be.’ Strategically it’s interesting and we’d be interested but we’ll talk to them a little bit. It’s not No1 on the burner, I can tell you that.”
The president’s economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, weighed in as well. Kudlow told Fox News: “Denmark is an ally. Greenland is a strategic place up there, and they’ve got a lot of valuable minerals. I don’t want to predict an outcome. I’m just saying that the president who knows a thing or two about buying real estate wants to take a look at a Greenland purchase.”
Wow. Just to make this clear: This is not a post-colonial story. It’s one colonial power asking another colonial power to sell Indigenous land (without even bothering to ask the Indigenous government what it thinks).
So for what it’s worth: The Greenland Ministry of Foreign Affairs is clear. and The island is “not for sale.”
Denmark, the colonial power in Greenland, instituted home rule after a 1979 vote. The people of Greenland, Indigenous people, the Kalaallit, voted overwhelmingly for the provision. The logical outcome is an independent state. An Indigenous state.
Thus living under another another colonial regime is probably not in the cards.
But the president could learn a lot by finding out more about Greenland and the challenges in the Arctic. The NASA project is called “OMG” for Oceans Melting Greenland. The 5-year project began in 2016.
Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are documenting how Greenland is experiencing climate change faster than the rest of the planet. This is a big deal because Greenland’s melting ice affects the whole world. The ice sheets on the island hold enough water to raise sea levels by 25 feet. NASA found that warmer air is melting Greenland’s ice. But so are warmer oceans.
As NASA puts it: “Humans are changing the climate by burning fossil fuels for energy. These add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, which trap extra heat from the sun and warm the air and oceans. But the oceans get most of the extra heat. In fact, more than 90 percent of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases warms the oceans, not the air.”
The principal scientist, Josh Willis, is trying to find out which is causing the most warming, air or water. And he thinks it might be water. In the long run, he said, the oceans are warming faster than the air. "And seeing the oceans have such a huge impact on the glaciers is bad news for Greenland's ice sheet." That could mean that Greenland’s ice sheets are melting more quickly than previously thought and sea levels will rise faster.
In the meantime, the government of Greenland tweeted:
#Greenland is rich in valuable resources such as minerals, the purest water and ice, fish stocks, seafood, renewable energy and is a new frontier for adventure tourism. We're open for business, not for sale.”
President Trump has opened up a couple of really important conversations. First, how can colonialism exist in a global structure when self-determination and Free, Informed and Prior Consent are the global consensus? Second the world should be paying attention to Greenland in the context of global warming.
Both conversations are overdue.
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter - @TrahantReports
Cover photo: NASA's Oceans Melting Greenland field campaign is gathering data to clarify how warm ocean water is speeding the loss of Greenland's glaciers.(Photo credit: NordForsk via NASA)