Archive for February, 2009

Feb 09 2009

Iceland’s Ecological Crisis: Large Scale Renewable Energy and Wilderness Destruction


From New Renaissance Magazine

By Miriam Rose

The economic issues currently causing mass demonstrations in Iceland have a less publicised ecological cousin, and one which the IMF has recently identified as part of the economic collapse. In 1995 the Ministry of Industry and Landsvirkjun, the national power company, began to advertise Iceland’s huge hydropower and geothermal energy potential. In a brochure titled “Lowest energy prices!!” they offered the cheapest, most hard working and healthiest labour force in the world, the cleanest air and purest water – as well as the cheapest energy and “a minimum of environmental red tape” to some of the world’s most well known polluting industries and corporations (such as Rio Tinto and Alcoa). This campaigning has led to the development of an ‘Energy Master Plan’ aimed at damming almost all of the major glacial rivers in Iceland, and exploiting all of the geothermal energy, for the power intensive aluminium industry. The loans taken by the Icelandic state to build large scale energy projects, and the minimal payback they have received from the industry, has been a considerable contributing factor to the economic crisis, while at the same time creating a European ecological crisis that is little heard of.

The Largest Wilderness in Europe
I first visited Iceland in 2006 and spent a week with activists from the environmental campaign Saving Iceland, a network of individuals from around Europe and Iceland who decry the fragmentation of Europe’s largest wilderness in favour of heavy industry. From these informed and passionate folk I learned of the 690 MW Kárahnjúkar dam complex being built in the untouched Eastern Central Highlands to power one Alcoa aluminium smelter in a small fishing village called Reydarfjörður. The dams formed the largest hydro-power complex in Europe, and were set to drown 57 km2 of beautiful and virtually unstudied wilderness, the most fertile area in the surrounding highlands. Ultimately it would affect 3% of Iceland’s landmass with soil erosion and river silt deprivation. They also explained how materials in the glacial silt transported to the oceans bonds with atmospheric CO2, sinking carbon. The damming of Iceland’s glacial rivers not only decreases food supply for fish stocks in the North Atlantic, but also negatively impacts oceanic carbon absorption, a significant climatic effect. After taking part in demonstrations at the construction site of the Alcoa smelter (being built by famous Iraq war profiteers Bechtel), I went to see the area for myself. Read More

Feb 03 2009

Þjórsárver Wetlands to be Protected but Construction of Helguvík Smelter Continues


Iceland’s new minister of environment and a Left Green MP, Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir has announced that one of here first jobs in the government will be to protect the Þjórsárver wetlands. At the same time she has said that Norðurál’s (Century Aluminum) plans for a new aluminium smelter in Helguvík, can most likely not be stopped by any future government. While in opposition, the Left Greens always spoke against the construction in Helguvík.

Þjórsárver are a unique ecosystem characterized by tundra meadows intersected with numerous glacial and spring-fed streams, a large number of pools, ponds, lakes and marshes, and rare permafrost mounds. Iceland’s national energy company, Landsvirkjun wanted to build a 30 meters high dam in the area, creating a 65 km2 big reservoir. The energy was supposed to run the enlargement of Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminium smelter in Hafnarfjörður, a plan that the majority of the town’s population voted against in a local referendum in 2007. Later Landsvirkjun proposed to lower the planned dam down to 24 meters. Halldórsdóttir’s decision about the protection of Þjórsárver is very important and a big victory for the Icelandic environmental movement.

Iceland’s new minority government, formed by Samfylkingin (the Social Democratic Alliance) and Vinstri Grænir (VG – The Left Greens), has released it’s policy statement for the upcoming 80 days until parliamentary elections will take place in the end of April. The statement states e.g. that “no new plans for aluminium smelters are on the government’s list.” Still Össur Skarphéðinsson, a Samfylkingin MP and the minister of industry since 2007, has said that both Norðurál’s planned 360 thousand ton smelter in Helguvík and Alcoa’s planned smelter in Bakki, Húsavík, do not fall under this statement. Read More