Greenland's Ice Melt Ignites Race for Rare Earth Metals
By Paul E McGinniss
I watched the astounding film about global warming and the world's melting glaciers, Chasing Ice, at the Woodstock Film Festival last month. Part of the jaw-dropping documentary about National Geographic explorer and environmental advocate, James Balog, was filmed in breathtaking Greenland—the largest island in the world, and a self-ruling overseas territory of Denmark.
Greenland's vast, pristine, virtually-untouched terrain is becoming a hotbed for resource extraction. The Arctic is melting at an unprecedented rate, making Greenland's natural resources, including high demand commodities such as oil, gas, gold, iron, copper and rare earth metals, more accessible. Insatiable international oil, gas and mining conglomerates are now aggressively vying to control access to the riches glaciers once denied.
"This is not just a region of ice and polar bears," Prime Minister of Greenland, Kuupik Kleist, told Reuters in the capital Nuuk, formerly known by its Danish name Godthab. "Developing countries are interested in a more political role in opening up of the Arctic. Greenland could serve as a stepping stone."
Greenland has less than 60,000 people living in an 836,109 square mile area. Comparatively, Greenland is almost a quarter the size of the continental U.S. Until recently, the country was regarded by strategists as barren wasteland with little political or economic import. But now this once overlooked arctic island is being targeted by government and politically connected entities, anxious to extract what lies beneath the glacier ice sheet. The powerful and deep-pocketed interests include China, the U.S., Russia and the European Union.
Many in Greenland are excited about the attention the remote island nation is attracting and are happy to have world powers courting Greenland looking to strike it rich. Greenlanders are hoping they too will get rich along with the foreign investors.
Henrik Stendal, head of the geology department at Greenland's Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum, a Dane who has worked in Greenland since 1970, told the U.K. Guardian in July:
"We have shown that we have huge potential—it has been an eye-opener for the mining industry. The EU has shown a lot of interest and that's been very good—we believe this could be very valuable for Greenland. There could be benefits for everyone—at present most of our income is from fishing and a little bit of tourism, so the government really wants another income."
In addition to oil and gas, and perhaps even more attractive to industry, are rare earth metals that lie beneath the ground in Greenland that are essential components in new technologies, including computer hard drives, cell phones and flat screen devices. The world is consuming these rare earth metals at a voracious rate. For instance, in the first weekend of sales, the 4G iPad mini sold four million units. Our appetite for these devices and the rare metals required seems unending.
Rare earth metals are also essential elements to military guidance systems and other defense related technology. Most of the rare earth metals are currently sourced in China. Now, the world's nations are considering Greenland's resources not just from an economic point of view, but, perhaps more importantly, a strategic perspective. There is a national security imperative when looking at availability of these resources and who controls them.
The New York Times reported in September:
"Western nations have been particularly anxious about Chinese overtures to this poor and sparsely populated island, a self-governing state within the Kingdom of Denmark, because the retreat of its ice cap has unveiled coveted mineral deposits, including rare earth metals that are crucial for new technologies like cellphones and military guidance systems. A European Union vice president, Antonio Tajani, rushed here to Greenland’s capital in June, offering hundreds of millions in development aid in exchange for guarantees that Greenland would not give China exclusive access to its rare earth metals, calling his trip 'raw mineral diplomacy.'"
"In the past 18 months, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea have made debut visits here, and Greenland’s prime minister, Kuupik Kleist, was welcomed by President José Manuel Barroso of the European Commission in Brussels."
Yet another extremely important and complicated aspect to the race for riches in the Arctic is that the rare earth metals buried under the ice are also a vital component in green technologies. For example, neodymium is necessary to fabricate the super efficient magnets essential to electric cars and wind turbines. Clearly, access to rare earth minerals is key to manifesting a clean energy future.
It's maddening to think that corporate leaders and world government officials are more in a frenzy to protect their self interests and exploit natural resources as opposed to slowing global warming.
The race for natural resources in the Arctic highlights the importance of energy conservation and recycling.
In the article, Peak Minerals: Shortage of Rare Earth Metals Threatens Renewable Energy, Professor Chris Rodes said:
"In the face of resource depletion, recycling looks increasingly attractive. In this stage of development of the throw-away society, now might be the time to begin 'mining' its refuse. While recycling of base-metals from scrap is a mature part of an industry worth $160 billion per year, current efforts to recover and recycle rare-metals are far less well advanced. Ultimately, recycling needs to be deliberately designed into an integrated paradigm of extraction, use and reuse, rather than treating it as an unplanned consequence."
For more information watch the New York Times video Race is On as Ice Melt Reveals Arctic Treasures.
Paul E McGinniss is The New York Green Advocate. He is a green building consultant and real estate broker in New York. He is pretty much obsessed with all things environment and has lately become a resiliency addict.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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