When the news that US President Donald Trump made an offer to purchase Greenland hit social media, I’d not paid it much attention.
Originally published in the ESI Africa weekly newsletter on 2019/08/21
Surely it is just another odd utterance from the famous president? On closer inspection, it turns out that he is quite serious about the offer to buy the island, lock, stock, and barrel, from the Danish government.
According to the Wall Street Journal, people familiar with the deliberations said Trump had raised the issue and asked White House aides about the advantages of owning Greenland.
Naturally, his latest fixation to buy the country met with anger. “Greenland will not be sold”, stated the Danish Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, echoing her Greenlandic counterpart, Kim Kielsen.
The question to ask is why Trump, a climate change denialist, is even deliberating the idea of buying ‘real estate’ that is under threat of melting.
The country, covered by a 660,000 square mile ice sheet, recently lost 11 billion tons of surface ice in a single day. Could this tragedy have encouraged Trump to see an opportunity? The melting ice caps will expose land and potential natural gas exploration.
This is a calculated risk of waiting on climate-driven polar ice melt to uncover areas for development, also applied by Exxon (US) and Rosneft (Russia) in their arctic exploration efforts.
Whether Trump continues to pursue this quest does not change the threat that melting ice caps pose. National Geographic has stated that in the event of a full ice melt, cities like Amsterdam, Stockholm, Buenos Aires, Dakar, and Cancun would vanish under a tide of water.
NASA is also tracking sea-level rise projections based on how much Greenland and the arctic ice sheets are melting. We must prepare for how this will impact land, water, food, energy, transportation and healthcare.
Here I sit at my desk in Cape Town on the southern tip of Africa, wondering if we too are at risk. It’s not a pleasant thought, but coastal cities across the world should be having conversations around the possibility – forewarned is forearmed!