Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By David Ganezer
Observer Staff Writer 

Why Bill Gates Visits the Remote East Coast of Greenland, and Other Greenland Stories

As the world's largest island struggles to build an economy, Global warming may be an economic Boost


October 22, 2016

Arctic Umiaq ("Canoe") pulls into Illusiat, Greenland. It is a vast land of emptiness, puntuated by colorful towns and villages, painted pastel against an icy landscape

I must admit I'm fascinated with Greenland. Maybe it's the idea of man against the elements. Maybe it's the colorful towns and villages, painted pastel against an icy landscape.

To this day, the generous Danes give $5 billion in grants to the Islanders every year. Which is somewhat surprising, since Greenlanders have voted no less than 3 times over the last 30 years, that they want to be more independent.

$5 billion a year is about $90,000 for each of 56,000 Greenlanders. They are about 80% Inuit, and inhabit the world's largest island. It's vast, 1400 miles from Cape Farewell in the south to Thule Air Force Base in the North. This is greater than the distance from Ensenada, Mexico, to Vancouver Canada.

The South of Greenland is a lot warmer than the North. Farmers can now grow potatoes and raise European cattle in the southern province of Kujalleq.

The first thing most outsiders think when you mention Greenland is the ice sheet is retreating, melting. This is a known fact that concerns scientists, and delights Greenland's farmers. Global Warming has not been bad for everyone.

Any article about Greenland would be incomplete without discussing the darkside of Greenland, and that is unhappiness and suicide. Not all Inuit are noble savages happy to live in darkness and cold. Some are angry young men who are despondent at lack of opportunity, boredom, poverty. Unemployment nationwide is 10%, it's twice that if you're a 25 year old Inuit living in a small town.

About one Greenlander a week commits suicide, usually with a handgun. That's a suicide rate of 88 per 100,000, the highest of any country in the world. It's a big problem.

Life is better in the larger towns. It has a bus service, a university, a fish market, shopping, and even a 4 star hotel. Greenland has 18 towns - settlements with more than 500 inhabitants. Nuuk is the largest town - and the capital - with roughly one third of the country's urban population. Sisimiut with approximately 5,500 inhabitants is the second largest town, while Ilulissat is number three with 5,000 inhabitants. The progressive Danes, by the way, christened every town with an Inuit name in 1995. Godthaab, the capital, became Nuuk.

The transportation system in Greenland is very unusual in that Greenland has no railways, no inland waterways, and virtually no roads between towns. Historically the major means of transportation has been by boat around the coast in summer and by dog sled in winter, particularly in the north and east.

A ferry service which owns just one ship, the Arctic Umiak, connects the towns along the Southwest coast, where 90% of the population lives. It takes 72 hours to go from Ilulissat in the North, to Qaqortoq, at the Southern tip. Then the boat turns around and goes back. It's how locals get around, since air transport is expensive.

Greenland today is dependent on fishing and fish exports. The shrimp and fish industry is by far the largest income earner. Despite resumption of several hydrocarbon and mineral exploration activities, it will take several years before hydrocarbon production can materialize. The state oil company Nunaoil was created to help develop the hydrocarbon industry in Greenland. The state company Nunamineral has been launched on the Copenhagen Stock Exchange to raise more capital to increase the production of gold, started in 2007.

No story about Greenland is complete without the Vikings. Europeans became aware of Greenland's existence, probably in the early 10th century, when Gunnbjörn Ulfsson, sailing from Norway to Iceland, was blown off course by a storm. During the 980s, explorers led by Erik the Red set out from Iceland and reached the southwest coast of Greenland, found the region uninhabited, and settled there. Eirik " named the land Greenland, saying that people would be eager to go there if it had a good name." PR people, take note!

The Norse settlers, who may have numbered 10,000, were abandoned by Denmark/Norway and died off around 1500. Was it Inuit attacks, raids by other Europeans, or their own poor diet or global cooling that killed them off? No one knows for sure. But even today, among the local Inuit, occasionally a child is born with blue eyes.

The world's largest island struggles to build an economy that makes sense. They were going to bring in 20,000 Chinese to mine rare earth's, but that fell through when the market for such commodities lessened. Tourism is the hope of Greenland's future, that and agriculture as the planet continues to warm.

I'll end this story with Bill Gates. He likes to travel, sometimes with his family, to the remote East coast of Greenland. Eastern Greenland contains just one town larger than 2000 people, Tasiilaq. It's a skiing area for the affluent. It's one place on the planet where no one knows or cares that he's Bill Gates.

Hi Editor of the Santa Monica Observer.

As i couldn't write a comment under the article, I'm writing you, to kindly get your facts straight about this article about Greenland:

The Danes ain't that generous that they give each Inuit or Greenlander $90.000 annually or $5 Billion in Blockgrants each year.

Fishmarket in Nuuk, Greenland. Scientists recently discovered that the Greenland Shark lives 430 years, making it the longest lived vertebrate. But not if this guy catches it first!

The annual Blockgrant is $½Billion ($500 Million) divided by 57.000 inhabitants, that's about $8.700 and not $90.000!

There is NO historical facts, that Inuits drove away the Norse Settlers attacking them (Inuits are very peaceful and have never participated in any wars in history) and there is no historical facts, that Greenland was uninhabited when the Norse Settlers arrived, as the Norse Settlers didn't explore the whole coast line, which in fact is longer than the circumference of this globe.

As for the transportation, there are several STOL Landing strips combining the cities in Greenland and the national air company Airgreenland got several DASH-8's and an Airbus for international flights, so transportation is not only by the one ferry and dogsledges.

Hoping that this article will be re-edited.

Best regards

Lars Schou, Nuuk, Greenland


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