Saturday, August 24, 2019

Trump doesn't understand Greenland or Guam

If President Trump understood anything about Guam and colonialism, he would not have offered to buy Greenland. Indigenous people have rights. No longer can one nation "own" another, as Spain did in 1898, when it turn over Guam to the U.S. as a prize of war.

In 1979, about 70% of Greenland's voters approved home rule and since then the island has been self-governing. It's still dependent on financial assistance from Denmark, but the island is on a possible path to full independence.  Greenland is not Demarks to sell and it's amazing that Trump doesn't understand it.

Trump's offer to buy Greenland is rooted in Colonial-era thinking, pre-dating the UN charter that gives indigenous populations the right to self-determination.

This said, it's interesting to contrast Greenland with Guam. What becomes clear, is that Greenland is in a much better position than Guam to determine its political fate.

Guam's Chamorro population makes up less than 40% of the island's total. The Greenland Inuit, in contrast, account for about 90%.

Guam is an Asian melting pot and this culture diversity is one of the island's great strengths. But it is also a serious complication to a Chamorro-only vote on Guam's future political status. Federal courts have rejected a native-only vote as discriminatory. Greenland doesn't have this demographic obstacle.

Greenland, which has a population of 56,000, similar to the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, receives about $600 million in support from Denmark. It has universal healthcare and other Scandinavian-type social benefits.

If Greenland does seek full autonomy, it may look to the Pacific to try to understand what that means. Although the U.S. still has strong political ties to island states, China is using its economic power to expand its influence. China, for instance, has cut tourism to Palau for its recognition of Taiwan. In the Northern Marianas, it is using casino development and tourism to build stronger ties and weaken U.S. influence.

An autonomous Greenland may feel obligated to cut deals with China and Russia for valuable mineral rights and port access, actions that would put it in conflict with the U.S.

The best approach for the U.S. going forward in dealing with Greenland, is to respect and recognize the native population. Trump's offer to buy Greenland may be seen by a future administration as crude, but also a legitimate expression of geopolitical concerns over military and economic control of the arctic. America will have to compete for influence because it can't "buy" Greenland.


Selected readings:

Trump’s Greenland Plan Shows He Has No Idea How American Power Works, NY Times, Daniel Immerwahr, Aug. 23, 2019.

A Brief History of the Indignities Heaped Upon Greenland, NY Times, Matthew H. Birkhold, Aug. 22, 2019.

A new great game: US-China competition in Guam and CNMI, a paper by Major Nicholas Sigler. 2017. 




Paradise Lost. Ms. Magazine. A report on the exploitation of Northern Mariana Island workers. July, 2019. 

China's influence on Free Association States (page 36-37) testimony by Admiral Philip S. Davidson before Senate Armed Services Committee, Feb. 2019. 

China's Engagement in the Pacific Islands: Implications for the United States. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, June 2018. 

CIA Factbook: Greenland

Why Trump Can't Buy Greenland. Lawfare, Aug. 2019.  

Greenland Reconciliation Commission finds colonization did 'a lot of damage.' CBC. Jan. 2018.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The coming mass extinction?

No one would support President Trump is they understood that more than half our oxygen comes from the ocean. That seems like an odd thing to say, but it isn't.

Climate change is heating the ocean waters. This heat could stop oxygen production by phytoplankton by disrupting photosynthesis. The oceans are heating up faster than previously thought.

This could happen within the lifetime of a young child today. If the oceans stop producing oxygen, mass extinction is very possible if not probable.

People just don't understand yet what we're dealing with. It's profoundly distressing. Understanding climate change takes work. The earth is a complex system. Humans are disrupting this system releasing by C02.  

The breakdown of this system isn't easy discern on Guam. The island's climate remains relatively stable, unlike Alaska and Siberia, which are seeing record heat. The ocean waters have always been warm. But clear water is a result of absence of life. Cold water can hold more oxygen. Guam's most obvious problem is the decline of coral reefs

Trump denies that climate change is a threat. It's a wilful, ideological-driven ignorance. Trump's view is shaped by fossil fuel interest and Republican belief that remedies to climate change will amount to an attack on capitalism. 

It's hard to realize how much damage we are doing because we see it in isolation. But the collective impact is massive. By the time we truly wake up and begin to address our problems, it may be too late. 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Climate change and Guam

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite image, Typhoon Yutu



The Marshall Islands may become uninhabitable as early as 2030. It won't take much. A 3 foot sea level rise may force a wholesale relocation. This is bad for Guam as well. Much of Guam's development is in areas not much higher than the Marshall Islands. It's not the only problem.

Rising water temperatures will amplify typhoons. Super Typhoon Yutu intensified from a tropical storm to a category 5 storm in two days.  That's an increase from about 50 mph to 180 mph. Average water temperatures around Guam have risen more than 1 degree over the last century, reports the EPA. Heat is energy. As sea levels rise, and water gets warmer, Guam's vulnerability to massive storm surges increases.

Warming waters and changing pH levels from increasing carbon emissions will kill coral reefs, and probably Guam's tourism industry. Much, however, remains unknown.

There aren't good, firm estimates about how climate change will impact Guam. There's no roadmap that says what will happen in any given year.  But nothing good will happen from climate change.

Unlike the Marshall Islands, Guam's higher elevations will keep it on the maps should sea levels rise 10, 20, 30 feet or more. But Guam faces enormous challenges from climate change that may impact critical infrastructure, especially its fresh water lens and sanitation systems.

Guam's independence discussion ends


Guam has yet to discuss how its climate change future impacts its political future. It ought to be the key issue in the island's self-determination discussion, but it isn't. There's a disconnect and it's not surprising. 

Guam has a stable climate. It's average annual temperatures stay within a relatively narrow band. The rainfall patterns remain predictable. The Marshall Islands problem seems distant. There may be concern about more Yutu-type storms, but Guam is built, to a point, for storm resilience. 

But if mankind fails to quickly address climate change, the people of Guam have no future on the island. It may be getting too late already. No matter what action is taken, the Marshall Islands are lost. This also means that Guam's lower elevation areas will be impacted by rising seas.

Marshall Island residents have, under their compacts, the right to work and study in the U.S. with little restriction. It isn't permanent residency, but it ought to be a path for them. For Guam, the safest political status option is one that maintains U.S. citizenship. 

There are compelling arguments for Guam to pursue separation from the U.S. One leading advocate, Michael Lujan Bevacqua, has argued powerfully for decolonization and independence.

Far from being terrifying, independence for colonized people is a normal and standard course. Billions of people in the world today do not live in terror since they are independent countries. It only feels that way in Guam, because people have accepted certain myths and misunderstandings about the status.
But the decolonization argument is not independent of climate change. Climate change is our new history: Past, present and future. It is an existential threat to the survival of humanity. Everything that we have accomplish and everything that we may accomplish is at risk.

Guam needs to consider the possibility that one day the island may be abandoned.

Suggested reading: 


How climate change is making hurricanes more dangerous. Yale Climate Connections.

Here’s why hurricanes are rapidly exploding in strength. Washington Post.