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Could global warming solve Greenland's problems?
Melting icecaps could turn Manhattan's streets and avenues into canals someday, but why focus on the negative? This could be a real perk for the 57,000 people who live in Greenland. For now, the Inuit are stuck hunting seals and freezing most of the year. As the permafrost recedes, though -- thoroughly screwing up their environment -- the locals are finding oil and mineral resources. So, the hunting trips are getting more dangerous, literally putting the Inuit on thin ice at times, but at least they can make some real cash!
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, more than 18 billion barrels of oil and natural gas can be found under the sea between Greenland and Canada, with another 31 billion barrels off the coast of Greenland itself. The same situation exists in the North Sea, and Norway hasn't been shy about tapping into it to make a fortune.
For Greenland, which is at best quasi-independent from Denmark, finding some natural resources could help it sever the $680 million-a-year umbilical cord that connects it to the mother ship. But, we're not there yet. So far, no oil has been found in the waters around Greenland, and the optimists don't see that happening for at least another 10 years. It will take time to develop the infrastructure, but that's only part of the problem.
Greenland still has to pierce the ice.
Eighty percent of Greenland is covered by a sheet of ice that can be up to 2 miles thick, effectively preventing oil and mineral exploration. This is where global warming comes into the equation. As we pump out our fossil fuels and change the climate, we're helping Greenland melt that slick coat of ice and access its key to financial independence. Again, the heavily populated coastal cities of the United States may get screwed, but we'll be able to access oil and minerals in Greenland.
In all seriousness, Greenland has struggled with economic growth. Mostly hunters and fishermen, they lack the skilled resources needed to kickstart just about any operation. Alcoa is thinking about building an aluminum smelter and two hydroelectric plants, but it would need to import construction workers from Europe or China, because Greenland lacks the appropriate labor. Engineers would have to come from other countries, as well.
Further, the small population is continually battered by a variety of social problems. It has the world's highest suicide rate, according to the World Health Organization (100 per 100,000 residents). Residents over 15 years of age drink an average of 12 quarts of pure alcohol a year -- a bar in Tasiilaq now sells only beer, since liquor was banned. The ban has helped, according to local officials.
Is global warming really the answer? That might be a stretch, but something has to give.