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Left-wing party opposed to rare earth mining project wins Greenland election (france24.com)
123 points by pseudolus 4 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 73 comments

Good. Maybe the mining company will actually make a deal with the new government to control and clean up their waste, perhaps by posting a substantial bond, unlike most mining companies which just go bankrupt and disappear and leave it for the local government to handle.

Bonds are counter-productive, as they are a bet that any cleanup cost will be lower than the bond value. In reality, bonds simply turn to one-time cost for a license to produce unlimited pollution. Worse, they may motivate the operation to use even dirtier / cheaper extraction methods to recoup their upfront cost, knowing than they won't be the ones cleaning up the mess.

The exact cycles and targets have to be determined and then constantly monitored from the start by an external authority that retains the ability to shutdown the site at a whim. Then leave it to the operator to create their own safety margins inside of that framework. If this means that the project will no be profitable, you just dodged a bullet.

That should be solvable by ongoing control and requiring additional prepayment for inevitable cleanup if new estimates are higher.

And yes, there is risk of treating mining company of money making machine and wasting money for something else.

Still better than letting company to pollute for free.

Yeah, continuous regulation and supervision is unavoidable. Unless you can stop operations at any time, the miner probably doesn't have a financial incentive to do the right thing.

It's probably cheaper to just buy off a couple non-aligned parliament members and get the deal passed. Or wait til the next election.

Greenland might not have an efficient market for bribery.

As someone who lives in a country that is essentially a collection mining companies with a flag (Canada), I'm glad to see other people are starting to take this seriously.

Canada has some of the strictest environmental protection policies in the world. I'd rather see mines open up in Canada than countries with terrible environmental practices and long histories of human rights abuses. Obviously not talking about Greenland here, but let's put it this way: If all of the responsible and ethical countries refuse to extract resources at all anymore, where are resources going to come from?

It's not like demand for metals and oil just goes away because we refuse to dig them up.

Edit - also seriously, you live in one of the safest, most progressive countries in the world and you dismiss it as a collection of mining companies? If that's all Canada was it would be strip mined to bedrock and everyone would live in labour camps. Have some perspective.

Similar to how opposition to logging in the US led to an increase in lumber being supplied from countries that don't care about protecting the environment at all. So sure, the Spotted Owl has been protected, but it may be at the cost of the Sumatran Tiger.

Not to mention all of the fossil fuels burned to ship lumber overseas instead of cross-country...

It’s easy to restrict imports of that kind of wood.

> Canada has some of the strictest environmental protection policies in the world.

And yet, the fed bought the Keystone XL pipeline for $7B more than it was worth in order to bypass those "strict" environmental (and indigenous) protection policies. While I don't agree with the grandparent's assessment, it's not that wrong. It describes the middle provinces pretty well, and if you generalize to "resource extraction", you pick up BC (lumber, fish) and the Maritimes (fish). And we're home to quite a few mining companies like GoldCorp whose operations are largely foreign, but have a big impact on policy through lobbying.

> And yet, the fed bought the Keystone XL pipeline for $7B more than it was worth in order to bypass those "strict" environmental (and indigenous) protection policies

This doesn't remotely represent what actually happened with the Keystone XL.

First of all, the government paid $4.5B for it, which makes it literally impossible for them to have overpaid by $7B.

They also haven't bypassed anything in the process. They were deemed to have not done due diligence in consulting native tribes and re-opened consultations which took about a year to resolve before they could start building.

Canada is a huge landmass with a relatively tiny population. We cannot compete on the global scale in terms of population productivity. Our economic edge is our natural resources. How else do you suggest we make money to pay for our healthcare and all of the other social services we've come to expect?

We have what the world needs. IMO we can either dig it up and export it or expect wars to be fought here for control of it.

> First of all, the government paid $4.5B for it, which makes it literally impossible for them to have overpaid by $7B.

On one hand, I stand corrected on the cash paid. On the other hand, you're wrong, its actual market value may be negative, so the strongest criticism is that I pulled the -2.5B real valuation out of my butt.

And yeah, they're tied up in court because their attempt to steamroll the first nations and skirt environmental regulations is probably illegal, but we'll see what the courts say.

And no, the world doesn't need more oil. Nor does the world need oldgrowth lumber, nor does the world need unsustainably caught fish. We need to stop tapping new wells, leave that shit in the ground, to prevent climate disasters. We need to transition to managed forest products. There's no easy solutions on fish. We probably just need to eat less of it (and yeah, that's going to be difficult for me too)

> one of the safest, most progressive countries in the world and you dismiss it as a collection of mining companies?

Throw in real estate and oil and that pretty much covers it. Canada doesn’t have a very bright future.

I'm not too sure one this one - we need rare earths to make things like lithium cells. Moves like this one could cripple our production capacity or price competitiveness for moving away from fossil fuels - I'd argue far more environmentally pressing than rare earth mining.

While I don’t disagree with the sentiment, you are making an abstract argument with zero consideration for the facts at hand. The environmental need for rare earth metals does not mean that every rare earth metals mining project is a net positive for the environment.

In particular, this specific mine in Greenland is also a uranium deposit, and could be especially devastating to the environment, at relatively little yield[1]. Greenlanders are correct to be skeptical and concerned (especially given that Greenland Minerals is actually an Australian-Chinese company).

[1] https://www.rcinet.ca/eye-on-the-arctic/2021/01/08/canadian-...

So basically, it's a fairly typical rare earth mine. As far as I can tell pretty much all of them involve relatively low yields and result in the concentration of radioactive elements like thorium. The article you link to mentions a mine in Malaysia which was (I think) the only major rare earth mine outside China for a while until it closed over radiation fears - and it's not that China doesn't have these problems, it's that no-one can convince the government to shut down mines over it. So the end result of this thinking is that critical stuff like electric cars, wind turbines, etc is completely dependent on a totalitarian country making sabre-rattling threats towards its neighbours, carrying out increasingly aggressive ethnic cleansing campaigns, which has a history of using its control over the supply of rare earth minerals for political ends.

I mean... Greenland Minerals question is an Australian-Chinese enterprise, so I am not sure what the point of your comment is! Agreeing to develop the mine in Greenland doesn’t even meaningfully address your (myopic) worldview about stopping Chinese domination of rare earth supplies. Unless you think the intervention of unscrupulous Australian capitalists is a meaningful check on the Chinese government.

A major reason why the mine is being opposed is that a lackadaisical approach to toxic / radioactive waste is not in fact endemic to rare earth mining. It is seemingly endemic in multinational state-corporate enterprises (on which Greenlanders will have very little influence, cf the Malaysian government’s experience with that mine, which was also owned/administered by an Australian company).

> Agreeing to develop the mine in Greenland doesn’t even meaningfully address your (myopic) worldview about stopping Chinese domination of rare earth supplies.

I agree with everything in your comment, except for where you say that the parent’s idea is myopic.

Why do you think that?

I meant that it’s a serious geopolitical problem but that the parent was suggesting it is a paramount concern, and that stopping said domination is worth any cost. The parent says this:

> the end result of this thinking is that critical stuff like electric cars, wind turbines, etc is completely dependent on a totalitarian country

while ignoring that the end result of their thinking is a race-to-the-bottom of nations poisoning their own people to combat China. It’s why I think they are being myopic - they are taking environmental devastation as a given and arguing that China must be stopped at all costs. (Not to mention the conflation of “resources not physically in China” with “non-Chinese resources” which, as stated above, is not actually true here).

Thorium is also considered to be the fuel candidate for the safest form of nuclear reactor.

From Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium-based_nuclear_power

"Weinberg realized that you could use thorium in an entirely new kind of reactor, one that would have zero risk of meltdown. ... his team built a working reactor .... and he spent the rest of his 18-year tenure trying to make thorium the heart of the nation’s atomic power effort. He failed. Uranium reactors had already been established, and Hyman Rickover, de facto head of the US nuclear program, wanted the plutonium from uranium-powered nuclear plants to make bombs. Increasingly shunted aside, Weinberg was finally forced out in 1973."

The issue in the article I linked isn’t that thorium is being produced but rather that Greenland Minerals doesn’t seem to have a plan for storing or processing it. So the fact that it could one day be used in a reactor isn’t very meaningful if the thorium in question is badly contaminated with other waste products and buried in a landfill somewhere.

Rare earths are not used in the popular lithium battery chemistries.

They are needed for high performance electric motors though.

And in wind turbines (for the same reason). What about solar panels? Maybe not the cheaper ones?

Conventional monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels do not use rare elements. Slightly fuzzy diagram: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Structure-of-monocrystal...

Cadmium-telluride and CIGS cells use more rare elements, but they have been overtaken by the ongoing fall in cost of conventional silicon wafer cells, so you won't see too many of them being installed at the moment.

(The failure of CdTe is probably for the best given how spectacularly poisonous both of those metals are)

There's a question over cobalt, although that's not usually counted as "rare".

"Rare-earth elements" is a name for a set of particular elements. Cobalt is not among them.

Despite their name rare-earth elements are not that rare either. They occur in rather low concentrations though and never pure either (i.e. always as compounds) which makes mining and processing them complex.


Cobalt is also not that rare just as Nickel is.

It's just the price is set by people who can mine it for nearly free from the most rich deposits in the world.

Low-cobalt batteries are also becoming increasingly common.

True, but the quantity of batteries they are used in is rapidly increasing leading to more demand overall.

Yes they are. There are trace amounts and they are used in the production of lithium batteries. They are also used in semiconductors and the production of them.

Which earths in which chemistries? Or are you saying they're used during production, but but don't end up in the batteries?

> our production capacity

Who do you mean by "our"?

I believe the Greenlanders' point is that it's their minerals and their local environment that may be wrecked, so they wish to either prevent this or set terms on which it is done.

There are other sources of rare earths - they can even be found in the tailings of other mines.

It's definitely a tricky issue. While we do need natural resources to support a transition to renewables, the mining industry is comically slow to move on anything. Fortran might still be considered cutting edge to some companies.

This has real impacts. Because if your resource models are inaccurate, then your environmental impact is magnified. What's worse is that mine lifecycles are very long. Long enough to mean the decision makers when opening a mine, might not be around when the mine closes. Which can cause carelessness, especially if they don't live in the area.

Stricter environmental impact assessment rules might work. But geo-scientific research is underfunded. So making it harder to open a mine, might cause the overall funding for research to reduce. Causing our models, especially in the mineral exploration stage, to not really advance much. So nothing really gets done until some country deregulates the industry, and so the problem persists.

So moves like this can work, but the research has to be there to support the new age of mining. There's some trade off here, between mining and burning fossil fuels. But this seems to be an example of where the negative effects of mining more REM are local, where as the negative effects of burning more Fossil fuels are global. But it's not a binary decision in most cases.

It’s not the mining that is bad, it is the processing that is terrible.

> As someone who lives in a country that is essentially a collection mining companies with a flag (Canada)

Hello fellow Canadian. What do you mean by this? No matter which indicator you pick, e.g. share of GDP or share of employment, manufacturing is bigger than resource extraction in Canada. Why would you not instead say "... a country that is essentially a collection of manufacturing companies with a flag (Canada)..."?

Regular reminder that rare earths aren't especially rare, just .. diluted: https://www.intheblack.com/articles/2019/08/01/extracting-tr...

On a tangent, the headline that NPR went with is "Greenlanders Vote Leftists Into Power, Putting Fate Of Rare-Earth Mine In Doubt" [0]

The usage of the term leftist is very intriguing to me. It was once exclusively used to describe violent communist rebels in a far away jungle. The most common phrase was "leftist guerrillas." It is a very loaded term historically.

Then, some time in the last couple years, unabashedly conservative news sources and personalities began to use it to describe anyone that doesn't vote GOP.

Today the word was used by NPR in the "speakable" tag which is what appears as the headline in Google News.

Based on the NPR article's content "Leftist" comes out of nowhere to me. Many other words could have been used like and each of those words is less loaded and likely more accurate than "leftist."

I see the term used regularly all of a sudden, even by reddit commentors to describe themselves. The term has been very successfully normalized in a very short time.

I am truly in awe of how conservative messaging is so successful. I would love to understand the mechanisms for use in business. Does anyone have any thoughts or insights on this?

[0] https://www.npr.org/2021/04/07/985046099/opposition-wins-ele...

I think the shift you describe has been more general. The US right single-handedly rehabilitated the term "socialist" by using it on Obama - without that Sanders would not have had the chance he had. If anything I think that the conservative messaging has been decidedly of the foot-shooting variety by overreaching. I think they really damaged themselves that way in the long run.

I find it interesting that you find the term "leftist" to be so loaded, because to me (living in the UK), the main issue with this term is that it does not make clear that this is a party to the left of the social democrats, that considers themselves explicitly democratic socialist.

That said, I'll note the NPR article now has the headline "Opposition Wins Elections In Greenland, Casting Doubt On Future Of Rare-Earth Mine", and I actually find it more disturbing than that they initially used "Leftist" that they've managed to avoid even once mentioning that this is a socialist party. Not mentioning the views of the larger party in an article about an election is really odd.

It feels like they want to downplay how left-wing the Greenland electorate is. It's just mentioned that they're the main opposition to the social-democratic party, but it's worth noting that the social-democrats and socialists combined now have 2/3's of the Greenland parliament, and the rest are mostly centrist liberals.

It's also worth mentioning that this also means 26 of 31 seats are held by parties favouring independence from Denmark (though not necessarily immediately), but that the opposition to the mine on environmental grounds beat out the argument that the mining project would improve the prospect of independence by providing increased revenues and jobs.

It's a remarkably vapid article.

Thank you very much for your perspective. This gives me a lot to think about.

I'm curious to see whether this will end up like Bolivian coup.

The advent of electric cars made rare earths equivalent to oil.

I wouldn't wish to any small/weak country to have significant reserves of them.

Greenland is an autonomous region within Denmark, a Nato and EU member: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenland

There hasn't been a political coup within the Nordic countries during the last 50 years, and I'm quit sure the last 100 too. That is, unless you count the coups during WWII reacting to outside invasions. Compare that with the number of coups in South America during the same time.

As stated, Denmark is a Nato and an EU member, so an actual invasion is simply unthinkable within today's political system.

Greenland itself, however, left the EEC in 1982.

The main risk of having significant reserves of something valuable is to become complacent and to let your whole economy rely on that alone.

Dutch disease[1]. It's not just complacency, dominant industries can suck up all the talent and strengthen currencies making life difficult for everyone else.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_disease

Interesting situation. With all the interest in Greenland, it feels like Denmark are going to need a bigger navy.

We'll just grant them independence, then it's not our problem anymore. They're always bitching about not being a sovereign state anyway.

On a more serious note, why would we need a bigger navy? Is Russia going to invade because Greenland won't let some corporations mine? Or is it the corporations themselves that will? Also; NATO, baby...

"Too many people want your natural resources" would be a unique reason to grant a territory more sovereignty.

It would, but it would not be entirely implausible in this case. Greenland has self-rule on internal matters, but foreign policy and defence costs Denmark money. It implicitly accepted Greenland is headed for eventual independence, but it needs to be economically viable first. If Greenland turns down revenue from mining and in doing so drives up defence costs for Denmark, it's not inconceivable some people will decide they can't have it both ways.

That said, I don't think it's likely.

I'd be more worried about USA than Russia, is more of a tradition on the USA to invade or arrange puppet governments for the profit of the corporations that pay/buy the political campaigns.

It is - if greenland wants to become truly independant they're going to need some sources of income.

Wait, is this why Trump wanted to buy it off them?

Navy's not going to save them from getting couped.

I for one, welcome asteroid mining.


Because most environmentalists understand that it's a non-starter to try to get poor people to stop spending or survive with no access to welfare, and so most environmentalist parties have policies that involve direct or indirect redistribution as a consequence, whether because they see it as fair or because they see it as unavoidable.

Just always remember that "left" and "right" do not exist, they are grossly simplified models that in a sense help us categorize political views, but actually they just hurt our capacity to categorize political views.

Obviously, conservation is conservative!

But your second sentence gives me the impression of someone who really revels in simplistic categories and concepts.

No; it was a targeted viewpoint against the contradictions in environmental leftism. It was only one word that drew the ire of those I was intending to challenge, and it would have been ignored otherwise, but that’s a sensitive touch point that gets to the heart of the contradiction.

There are some forms of public spending that are probably good for sustainability, and necessary to be undertaken by the public will. These should be carefully considered without moralizing the arguments for or against, or aligning the argument with political tribes.

Why do you think they hurt our capacity to categorize political views? Simplification is the only way to explain anything. You don’t want to try to explain political trends using particle physics.

They simplify to the point of being false. There is no other way. No two people agree on everything in politics. There is enough agreement on major issues to form sides, but no matter what the issue there will be someone important who disagrees with their side on that one issue.

It’s possible to simplify to the point of being false, of course. But associating environmental activism with left-wing politics is not exactly a wild stretch.

And yet a lot of environmental activisism is against other left wing environmental activism. This case for example where mines are harmful for the immediate area, but allow extracting the minerals that make a cleaner future possible.

Sure, but it's not crazy that some left-wing groups oppose other left-wing groups. It would be a vast oversimplification to act as if "left-wing" is a monolithic, homogeneous group.

I think the argument is that the left-right model leaves out important dimensions in which people might agree, perhaps worsening political tribalism.

All models are wrong, but some models are useful.

the problem is when you over-simplify to the point of just being wrong. The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle where you adequately describe the variety of positions available without being verbose. That's true of all mental models.

>stop welfare

How does providing food and medical care for the poor negatively impact the environment?

This is mostly a worldwide consideration. Modernization of poverty is the dominant driver of growth in population, resource consumption, and physical waste. Hans Rosling showed that all these things got better in societies with median wealth in the top 5-10% worldwide, and concluded that the answer to sustainability was to make everybody rich by wealth redistribution. However, it seems pretty clear by observation that causality works in the opposite direction.

It’s a reasonable question, but you pose it in moralizing terms, which is exactly the problem I am highlighting with environmental leftism. The movement seems to embrace one side of a moral crusade rather than a rational set of sustainable policies. This is the same reason that anti-environmentalism finds support among conservatives, which is also lunacy. Environmental conservatism should be a thing, but it’s not.

I should have included war in my list as another form of extremely wasteful and environmentally-disastrous practice. A huge portion of defense spending is completely anachronistic, and these areas tend to have the greatest environmental impact.

This seems to be a bold stand against the supply chain of most forms of non-polluting energy, so the obvious question is where do they get their energy from? The answer is hydropower.


It's not a stand against non-polluting energy, it's a stand against this particular mining operation. Non-polluting energy is non-polluting locally where it is used, however the supply chain still has the potential for large environmental impact. There is a larger cost/benefit view of renewable & low pollution energy production & usage that makes it favourable above the other options but whilst nimbyism is annoying, those who will be affected directly by the costs & downsides should still have their democratic voices & opinions heard.

In this particular case it's worth pointing out part of the opposition is because it's meant to be an open-pit mine of radioactive materials near the local surface water-supply.

There are a whole lot of measures the mining company can potentially try to offer to make this more palatable if so inclined.

What is a new mining project that environmental groups support?

I don’t know, but Inuit Ataqatigiit is a political party, not an environmental group.

Eco-friendly mining is somewhat of an oxymoron but there are ways to reduce the impact of mining.

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