Songs of Ice and Mire: Greenland’s March toward Independence

3 years ago ccwa 0

970x727As the international community focused on the Scottish referendum this past month and talks of devolution began to stir, the world failed to consider another independence movement: the one for a freer Greenland. Greenland is often overlooked on the international stage, however, it’s the largest island in the world and, with a population of 57,000 (comprised of about 88% Inuit background and 12% European), one of the least densely populated places on Earth as well. About 80% of the island is covered in ice. But underneath the ice sheets, there is more than meets the eye.

The frigid territory has had a long history of colonial rule. The area went from a Norse trading post to a Danish colony and almost become an American territory after a $100,000,000 offer from the American government. The Kingdom of Denmark retained cultural and administrative powers over the island throughout the 1950s when Greenlanders were granted Danish citizenship, required to learn the Danish language and compelled to attain a post-secondary education in Denmark. Instead of creating an acquiescent and educated population with a sense of Danish pride, the newly created white-collar class became a discontent elite that was deeply rooted in their Greenlandic identity. It was during the 1970s, with Denmark’s entrance into the European Common Market, that complications began to form around Greenland’s attachment to Denmark. After vying for greater autonomy, Greenlanders were granted self-rule and even the establishment of their own legislature under the Home Rule Act of 1979. Despite this newfound autonomy, Denmark continued to control Greenland’s external affairs and allocations and usage of their natural resources.

Both the geographic and political landscapes of Greenland have undergone some important changes in the 21st century. With the increase of carbon emissions and subsequent rise in global temperatures, Greenland’s ice sheet, the second largest in the world, has the potential to not only propel Greenland to greater economic independence, but also raise sea levels by seven meters. Recently, scientists at the University of Cambridge reported that the Greenlandic Ice Sheet has become even more unstable than previously thought. As parts of the ice melt and dampen the ground beneath the ice formations, the ice sheet becomes more susceptible to disintegrating into the ocean.

For Greenlanders, this may not be such a bad thing. With 2008’s successful referendum, which included jurisdiction over its natural resources, judicial systems, and language (as well as the lifting of the rare-earth mineral mining ban in 2013), prospects for a booming gemstone industry look promising. As the ice sheet continues to melt, mineral rich areas as well as parts of the oil-rich Arctic Ocean previously inaccessible will soon be readily available. With these prospective profits coming into government coffers, Greenland can see itself waning off the 3.2 million Danish Krone grant and becoming an independent nation.

But is Greenlandic independence what the world really needs? Culturally and politically, the answer is obvious; the Greenlandic people deserve the ability and autonomy necessary to govern themselves. However, the implications of this conversation speak to an issue much larger than politics.  Any talk of Greenlandic independence is an almost direct result of global warming’s effects – hardly a positive development for the international community. As Greenland continues to wade through the complications of independence, it and the rest of the world will also have to wade through higher sea levels.


by Keegan Scott

(photo credit: Espen Rasmussen/Panos Pictures,