In Miami, climate change is causing sea levels to rise, destroying buildings and roads and beaches. Off the northeastern coast of Australia, a warming Pacific Ocean is cooking the Great Barrier Reef alive, jeopardizing a $6.4 billion local economy. And in South Sudan, intensifying droughts are worsening famines.
All throughout the world, climate change seems to be an unambiguous threat to human civilization, gutting economic prospects left and right.
But in Greenland, the most sparsely populated nation on Earth and one of the poorest, many people are looking forward to the disruptions brought about by climate change because it could spark an economic boom that could then lead to independence from Denmark, according to Bloomberg.
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More than 16.2% of the Greenland’s population live below the poverty line and many people do not have access to water and sanitation, according to the Borgen Project. There’s only one commercial airport in Greenland and there are no roads connecting the country’s 17 villages.
The need for an economic boost is clear — but viewing climate change as a way forward is unusual.
As global temperatures rise, ice is melting throughout Greenland, opening up previously inaccessible mines that hold vast amounts of precious metals, the Guardian reports.
In 2013, the country lifted a ban on certain types of mining and construction began on the fifth-largest uranium mine in the world.
Similarly, licenses for gold, rubies, diamonds, nickel, copper and other minerals have exploded in the past several years, according to the government. New ventures have recently slowed because of falling commodity prices but mining associations hope new opportunities will emerge in the years ahead.
Countries including Australia, Canada, and China have all expressed interest in exploiting the country’s resources, and China has initiated a “Polar Silk Road” campaign that includes the development of airports.
These are all controversial projects with great potential for environmental harm, but they have so far received broad public support because of the chance for fresh investment, Reuters reports.
The country’s pro-mining party doubled its share of the electorate in April elections.
“Climate change does a lot of marketing for us,” Jens-Erik Kirkegaard, a member of Greenland’s parliament, told the New Yorker. “It’s easier to attract investment. Some projects that weren’t economical, maybe they will be as conditions change.”
Mining isn’t the only industry benefiting from climate change.
Warming temperatures also mean that fishermen can extend their seasons, allowing them to catch more fish.
Plus, changing ocean currents and temperatures are altering fish migration patterns, bringing new species to the waters around Greenland, according to the Guardian.
The country gets more than 90% of its income from exporting fish and 2016 was the most profitable fishing year of all time, the Guardian notes. Fishing, in fact, is what’s keeping dreams for independence alive, Reuters reports.
It’s not all good news, though.
Traditional ways of life are being eliminated by climate change including hunting and sled dog racing, two former cultural pillars in Greenland. And an increase in droughts has caused farming and livestock rearing to become more challenging in parts of the country.
Not everyone is taking a glass half full view of climate change, either. Many people throughout Greenland want to maintain strong environmental protections as they pursue greater economic independence.
But the narrative of opportunity distinguishes Greenland as an outlier in a world awash in nightmarish news about the devastating implications of climate change.
“Greenlanders are very good at seeing the new opportunities,” Bjarne “Ababsi” Lyberth, a biologist and hunting expert for the Association of Fishers and Hunters, told the Guardian. “We have simply refused to be victimised due to climate change. I am very optimistic. I see more positive options for the country than negatives. I wish that it wasn’t happening but it is and that’s a fact. Once it’s there you have an obligation to do the best out of it.”
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