Peter Takes on History
July 10, 1913
Greenland the Hot, Greenland the Cold
On to this day in history. July 10th, 1913 the earth’s official high temperature of 134 °F was recorded in California – in Death Valley, near Furnace Creek by a cowboy-slash-weather observer Oscar Denton on Greenland Ranch. Sounds hot – Death Valley, Furnace Creek and then Greenland Ranch? Sounds to me like Oscar was doing a little Wild West Marketing, right?
It reminded me of the old story of how the island of Greenland got its name. Anyone remember who named Greenland? Eric The Red. Right. The story is Eric got kicked out of Iceland because he killed a guy named E-OLF the Foul. Maybe Iceland wasn’t too upset about losing E-OLF the Foul because Erik’s punishment amounted to a Viking slap on the wrist. “So Red, buddy; why don’t you take a little cruise, drop back by in about three years, and we’re good.”
So, Erik takes his boat and starts exploring. He stumbles on this major island – the largest in the world if you don’t count the continents of Australia and Antarctica - and he sees some potential. Red’s thinking, “Cool. Got my own island! Now I need some suckers – I MEAN - settlers and they’re not going to follow me here if I call this place Iceland! Besides, that name was already taken by a way more honest explorer. So he lies, calls it Greenland. And a couple of boatloads of Vikings fell for it. They stake their claim on the 20% of the island not covered with the world’s second largest glacier (which incidentally holds 7% of all the fresh water on earth) Anyway, the Vikings started some farms, built some fishing villages and hung around for about 500 years then disappeared. Really. No one knows what happened to the Vikings.
Now, that’s the European end of the story. But Greenland is actually part of North American, connected to North America by an underwater ridge - once a land bridge and that’s how the Inuit people first arrived. Yep, the same Inuits who wandered from Siberia to Alaska and all across Canada and finally ended up in Greenland about 5000 years ago. I guess no one ever thought to take a right. You know, try heading south! Anyway, the Inuit are still there today. A population of about 60K spread out over and area three times the size of Texas so it’sparse. 16 towns, no roads between them. They rely on boats. They’ve got their own flag. Their own language Greenlandic; a derivative of the old Inuit language. The words Kayak and Igloo are Greenlandic.
Norway and Denmark have been arguing over the island for a thousand years. The most recent grab was, coincidentally, on this day in history – July 10th, 1931. Some Norwegian fishermen set up a tent and a flag and said, “Greenland is ours!” It might have worked too except – you can’t make this stuff up - Norway’s Foreign Minister decided to hold a séance to discuss the move with a former Foreign Minister and that gave Denmark time to sail over, kick out the fishermen, and petition the world court.
So Greenland remains connected to Denmark – an autonomous territory that gets a third of their annual $2.2B operating budget in grants from Denmark which is why their independence movement has been having trouble gaining traction. They’re reluctant to go to an all fish economy. Still, they’re on a course they call, “Slow Independence,” with plans to take another look at the subject on this day in history, July 10th, 2021.