Greenland: the Dubai of the Arctic
So, as of yesterday, Greenland is officially self-governing. As I wrote earlier, this is a process that’s being driven by the hopes of oil wealth that will allow Greenland economic, and eventually political, independence from its colonizer, Denmark.
But how much is the oil wealth, really? No one knows, and not a drop of oil has been found yet. Greenland’s government, using US Geological Survey data among others, says that the mean estimates for its oil reserves is about 50 billion barrels. That number is a bit abstract, so I did some math: The island has about 56,000 people, and if things go as they appear to be going, it will be an independent country some time in the next couple of decades. That means each Greenlander will own about 900,000 barrels of oil.
Compare that to some other oil powers. These are the top three countries in terms of oil reserves per capita:
Kuwait: 39,900 barrels per person
UAE: 37,576 barrels per person
Qatar: 18,071 barrels per person
Yes, Greenland could have 50 times more oil per capita than Kuwait. If you added Greenland to this chart, its bar would reach about eight feet to the right of your computer screen:
That figure is so staggering I really can’t comprehend what it might mean. Until World War II, most Greenlanders lived as subsistence seal hunters and fishermen. And many people still live that way. (Yesterday, for Self-Governance Day, the government killed three whales and had an enormous whale feed. More on that in a later post.) But within a couple of decades Greenland could make Dubai look like Calcutta.
Or, of course, it could make Lagos look like Geneva. I had dinner last night with a businessman who told me that he is either on the board of directors or has been on the board of directors of most big companies in Greenland. (It’s a small country, but still…) He said that the oil exploration was actually originally pushed by the Danish government, not by Greenlanders. But then when Greenland’s leaders realized what they were sitting on, the independence movement really took off. And Denmark is disinclined to muscle around a former colony of poor people seeking self-determination. I asked him how he imagined things would turn out if each of his countrymen had the wealth of 900,000 barrels of oil. “I hope it doesn’t happen,” he said. “And no one is thinking about that.”