Greenland government bans oil drilling, leads indigenous resistance to extractive capitalism

The vast majority of Greenland’s settlements – including the capital, Nuuk – lie on the country’s west coast, along the Labrador Sea and Baffin Bay. When traveling from Asia or western North America to Europe or the east coast of North America through the Northwest Passage, this is the home stretch, positioning Nuuk as a potential hub on a future major sea route.

The struggle for sovereignty

Almost 90% of Greenland’s population are indigenous Inuit, who have inhabited the island for thousands of years. Although they have been colonized over the past thousand years by the Nordic powers, they have retained their own language and culture.

The Normans first settled on the island in the 10th century, and in 1261 Greenland officially became part of Norway. In 1814 Greenland became Danish territory – and in 1953 the island became fully integrated into the Danish state. (During World War II, when Denmark was conquered by the Nazis, Greenland was de facto under American control.)

“The official Danish view was that Greenland was in fact a dependency; it was not a colony in the sense of its colonies in the West Indies and elsewhere, ”Nuttall explained. This, he said, was “because of this historical view that Greenland had long been part of this Northern Commonwealth since the Scandinavian settlements in the tenth century.”

But the Inuit don’t always see it that way. During the global Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, young Greenlanders, including 21-year-old hip hop artist Josef Tarrak-Petrussen, called for the removal of Danish colonial statues in Nuuk.

Denmark finally granted self-government in 1979. And in 2008 Greenland voted in favor of the Self-Government Act, which transferred more power to the island government – and effectively marked the beginning. state formation.

This act of autonomy recognizes Greenland as a nation entitled to independence if it chooses. Currently, Greenland has almost total sovereignty, with the exception of the areas of foreign policy and defense. The arctic island currently receives an annual grant of approximately $ 585 million from Denmark.

In recent years, questions of sovereignty have in many ways defined the political and environmental policies of the island. Many political parties support independence.

However, this financial dependence on Denmark makes the prospect of full independence quite difficult: the subsidy represents almost 20% of the island’s income, while fishing accounts for around 90% of its exports.

In order to obtain full autonomy from Denmark, Greenland must develop a self-sufficient economy. However, this likely requires the development of lucrative extractive industries that will strengthen the island’s dependence on international (foreign) capital.

“If we go back ten years, mining was seen as the primary means of [become politically independent], and there was great excitement, ”Nuttall said.

However, in recent years this attitude towards mining has changed dramatically due to a host of factors including a slowdown in global commodity markets, a greater emphasis on renewables and the climate crisis.

“Mining will be one of the pillars of an economic development strategy that will include other elements such as the development of tourism, the expansion of the fishing industry… and the expansion of renewable energies. Nuttall explained.

The current government is now focused on investing in the island’s enormous hydroelectric potential, which has the potential to grow as glaciers melt and which will reduce oil imports, one of the country’s main expenses. Kalistat Lund, Minister of Agriculture, Self-Sufficiency, Energy and Environment, said the government “is trying to attract new investment for the great hydropower potential which we cannot exploit. ourselves ”.

The island is also expanding its airports and promoting tourism. Currently, the only flights available to Greenland are from Reykjavik or Copenhagen.

Greenland appears often in discussions of climate change – usually in the context of films of hungry polar bears, adorable arctic foxes and rutting muskoxen; or the melting of glaciers diverting the Gulf Stream and raising the global sea level, inundating the cities of the planet. Ice cores from Greenland, like those from Antarctica, help us understand historical variations in the composition of our atmosphere and climate, and have been vital for scientists’ understanding of the science of climate change.

These things are all true, and every Arctic species pushed to extinction by global warming is a tragedy. But what is also true is that Greenland is home to tens of thousands of people, with their own history and culture, politics and organizations; a people who, after a thousand years of colonization, are beginning to assert both their independence vis-à-vis Denmark and their sovereignty vis-à-vis the world market. And who, along with other indigenous communities around the world, are starting to fight back against the industrial and extractive capitalism that is killing the planet.

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