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Dear Global Warming, Thanks in Advance! Sincerely, Greenland XOXO
No one really wants global warming. Unless you are mentally disturbed, you wouldn't want to see whole nations and cities hydrologically erased or entire ecologies and cultures go extinct. Some may find designing for climate change refugees an extremely fascinating studio project, but the growing inevitability of catastrophic displacements and their attendant economic and social upheavals must surely make everyone sleepless at night.

But then there's Greenland.


BBC News, off-grid and National Geographic tell us that higher temperatures and retreating ice caps are opening up the island's “vast mineral rich wilderness” to exploration. From the off-grid article:

The belief in Greenland’s potential riches stems from the fact that the geology is identical to that found across the now ice-free north-west passage in Canada, which has led to large opencast mining in the Arctic region.

But Greenland has other potential riches too. Gold has been discovered and is already being mined, although so far at a loss, and there are deposits of other minerals such as zinc, that could be exploited. Oil giants are negotiating licences to explore blocks of the coastline covering thousands of square miles.

The melting glaciers themselves may even have some economic benefits, as a source of hydroelectricity. In fact, according to the BBC News article, “Greenland has signed a memorandum of understanding with the US company Alcoa to build a huge aluminium smelter using the country's plentiful water reserves.”


What all these mean, then, is that Greenland could achieve financial independence from Denmark, who each year gives the province about $600m, and perhaps full political independence. So while global warming could end a traditional way of life, particularly those of the Inuit in the north of the country, they may gain a new nation with a new (and very large) immigrant population of prospectors.

A newly revealed landscape for creating new cultural identities.

In any case, a few things:

1) A new landscape needs, of course, a new breed of landscape architects.

2) What if Greenland — realizing how strategically important it will be in an iceless-Arctic-Ocean and navigable-Northwest-Passage future — rents the Thule Air Base to the U.S. for a whopping $600m+ a year? What if instead of letting Halliburton or some other sinister oil company run rampant around its virgin territory, the U.S. military somehow becomes a sort of environmental steward? There will be some fascinating examples of greenwashing, obviously, but what subtopian landscapes will come about?

3) And this is worth asking again: What if Greenland was Africa's water fountain? How about Atlanta?
  • Blissville
  • October 17, 2007 at 10:09:00 PM CDT
  • I suppose everything is a tradeoff, the question being, which would we choose. Gretel Ehrhlich, in her book "Seven Seasons in Greenland" paints such a sad picture of the human costs of global warming.

  • Alex
  • October 18, 2007 at 3:38:00 AM CDT
  • I think the more interesting -- and larger -- question is that of Canada and Siberia. Canada is the 2nd largest country in the world, but the vast (VAST!) majority of it is currently nigh-uninhabitable subarctic forest and tundra. Think, in ten or fifteen years, if this region had a climate comparable to the United States today.. The agriculture and population that it could support would be staggering.

    The same, of course, goes for most of Russia.

    The combined habitable space/arable land that Canada and Siberia would provide could even outweigh the subtropical areas that would have to be vacated.. I'm in no way condoning global warming, but I agree that it's very interesting to look at this cloud's silver lining..

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