Donald Trump wants to buy Greenland. Okay then.
The Wall Street Journal broke the news Thursday afternoon that our big real estate boy in the White House has floated the idea to multiple aides that the U.S. should purchase the world’s largest island. This is, to put it plainly, batshit. It’s the presidential equivalent of buying a fire red sports car as part of some midlife crisis or overcompensation for uh, well, you know.
Nobody wants to this happen with the exception of Donald Trump. Greenlandic people are decidedly not into the neo-colonial overture (and who can blame them. See: Puerto Rico). The Danish government—of which Greenland is an autonomous country—isn’t into it. Even his aides think it’s stupid, according to the Journal’s reporting.
But let’s live in Trump’s fantasy world for just a second. If the president somehow convinced Congress to pony up the money to buy Greenland and all parties went along, just what the hell would the U.S. get out of it? Turns out, some good and some bad. Here is a non-exhaustive list, many of which are tied to climate change.
Trump may have absolutely moronic views on climate change, but even he can grasp the significance of Greenland in a melting Arctic. The U.S. already maintains a base there. Owning Greenland could, in theory, allow the U.S. to assert greater dominance over that portion of the Arctic, which is opening up. China has been aggressive in trying to get a toehold in the region and Russia has way more icebreakers than the U.S., so countering by buying a whole goddamn island to stage military operations could help, uh, even the playing field.
Climate change is also creating a new type of gold rush into the Arctic. One of the big reasons everyone is jostling for a piece of the Arctic is because oil, gas, and other minerals are becoming more accessible as sea ice melts out and land ice recedes. That includes Greenland, which a 2014 Brookings Institution report says is likely to see large-scale mining and oil and gas development in the coming decades as the Arctic thaws.
Greenland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said as much in a sly tweet noting the island is “open for business, not for sale.” It’s easy to see why Trump would want a piece of the pie. Sure, he’s had a string of failed businesses hawking steaks, vodka, and sports, but Trump Zinc Mines seems like a surefire win.
The ice sheet just had its biggest daily melt event ever recorded and is melting at a quickening pace. But there is still a crapload of ice on the island. Scientists estimate there is approximately 684,000 cubic miles of ice or nearly 230 times as much water as there is in Lake Superior. In a world on the brink of a water crisis, all that ice could be a valuable resource to sell off as people clamber for water. Heck, the U.S. could use it. The Southwest and Southern Plains face increasing risks of a decade-plus megadrought due to climate change. Maybe we could rig up a salmon canon-esque luge to get all the ice to places that need it instead of just letting it plop into the sea and drown coastal cities.
Not everything Trump could buy on Greenland would be good. During the Cold War, the U.S. military dabbled in seeing whether they could launch ballistic missiles from Greenland. I know this sounds like a G.I. Joe plot, but I swear this is true.
The U.S. military built a base under the ice dubbed Camp Century. They did various tests there in the 1950s and 1960s and even had a portable nuclear reactor. It was eventually decommissioned in 1969 and the military left a bunch of toxic and radioactive waste there thinking it would never see the light of day.
And they would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for meddling climate change. As Greenland melts, some of that toxic waste is at risk of leaching out of the ice and into the environment. Buying Greenland would put the U.S. in charge of cleaning it up, but given the way Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency has worked, a cleanup seems about as far-fetched as Trump’s plan to buy the island in the first place.