National Geographic : 2010 Jun
• would rather have little money and give the land to our grandchildren instead." "It's a big dilemma to deal with the oil issue, since the Arctic people are the ones most exposed to climate change," says Kuupik Kleist, Green- land's popular new prime minister. Sometimes called Greenland's Leonard Cohen---he has recorded a few CDs---Kleist is a broadly built, owlish man of 52 with a husky, sonorous voice. e irony in his country becoming a major pro- ducer of the very stu that is helping to melt its ice sheet is not lost on him. "We need a stronger economy," Kleist says, "and we have to utilize the opportunities that oil could bring to us. Environmentalists around the world advise us not to exploit the oil reserves. But we are not in the situation where we can replace the declining income from our sheries, and we don't have any other resources for the time being that hold as much potential as oil." Actually there is one other resource with enormous potential, but it is equally fraught. Greenland Minerals and Energy Ltd., an Aus- tralian company, has discovered what may be the world's largest deposit of rare earth metals on a plateau above the town of Narsaq in southern Greenland. e rare earths are crucial in a wide variety of green technologies---hybrid-car bat- teries, wind turbines, and compact uorescent lightbulbs---and China now controls more than 95 percent of the world's supply. The development of the deposit at Narsaq would fundamentally shi global markets and transform Greenland's economy. John Mair, gen- eral manager of Greenland Minerals and Energy, says that Narsaq's reserves could sustain a large- scale mining operation for well over 50 years, employing hundreds in a town that has been devastated by the collapse of cod shing. His company has dozens of employees prospecting the site right now. But there is a major obstacle to developing it: e ore is also laced with urani- um, and Greenland's government has a complete ban on uranium mining. "We haven't changed those regulations and are not planning to," Kleist says. ere is no easy path, it seems, to a greener Greenland, in any sense of the word. call the area around Narsaq and Qaqortoq, Sineriak Banaaneqar k, the Banana Coast. Today the grandchildren of Inuit hunters till elds there, along ords where Vikings once farmed. If Greenland is greening anywhere, it is here. But as soon as I arrive, the agronomist Kenneth Høegh cautions me to forget what I've read about Greenland's sudden cornucopia. "Arctic Harvest," read one headline; "In Greenland, Potatoes rive," read another. Potatoes do grow in Greenland these days. But not so very many just yet. On a gorgeous July morning Høegh and I are cruising at about 25 knots up the ord settled by Erik the Red a millennium ago. Our destination is Ipiutaq, population three. Kalista Poulsen is waiting for us on a rocky outcrop below his farm on the northern shore of the ord. Even in faded gray overalls, Poulsen looks more like a scholar than a farmer: He's slender, wears glasses, and speaks English with what sounds, strangely enough, like a French accent. His great-great- grandfather was an angakkoq---a shaman---one of the last in Greenland, who had killed men in feuds before converting to Christianity a er having a vision of Jesus. We walk through Poulsen's lush elds of tim- othy and ryegrass. Compared with the ord's sheer gray walls, the fodder crops look almost uorescent. In September Poulsen will acquire his rst sheep, which is what nearly all of Green- land's farmers raise, mostly for meat. He bought the farm in 2005, as the outside world was rst hearing talk of a gentler, warmer Greenland. From where Poulsen stands, the promise seems remote. " is is my war zone," he says, as we trudge across muddy, boulder-strewn ground that he's clearing for cultivation with a backhoe I ask the farmer if global warming will make life easier. "Last year we almost had a catastrophe," he says.