Welcome to SavingIceland.org! Read the S.O.S. and About SI section if you are new to our site. Iceland Under Threat shows the wilderness we need to protect and the corporations bent on ruining it. Make sure to enjoy our video and photo galleries, our in-depth magazine Voices of the Wilderness and subscribe to our mailinglist and follow our Twitter feed to keep up to date.
Sep 11 2012
Why do we allow a handful of politicians to make decisions about the fate and future of our natural heritage, decisions that will be condemned by generations to come? How come we don’t have the guts and solidarity and wisdom to stop this madness?
— Guðmundur Páll Ólafsson
As an author of a good number of books, Guðmundur also played a great educative role. His books, which are illustrated by his own photographs, take on issues such as the seaside, bird life, Iceland’s highlands and the Ramsar listed Þjórsárver wetlands, which have been besieged by Landsvirkjun (the National Power Company) for more than half a century. For the last couple of years he travelled around the world due to his work on a new book entitled ‘Water, the World and Us’, for which he collected extensive knowledge about the situation of Iceland’s rivers, the country’s main arteries, from glaciers to deltas, from fluvial sediment transport to fishing grounds — and especially how all of this is interwoven and integral to all life.
While we at Saving Iceland, as other environmentalists, mourn this now gone friend, some one you could always count on being a mine of information about what ever you wanted to ask him, we strongly believe that the most honest and respectful way to honour Guðmundur Páll’s memory — keeping his name and works alive — is to continue his and our struggle and not watch passively as the authorities, energy and aluminium companies march forward in their crusade against the wilderness. This we owe him for his deep love of the Icelandic highlands, a love that nourished the spirit behind the passionate and unselfish work of his life.
The Saving Iceland network send deeply felt condolences to his family.
Aug 29 2012
Geothermal energy is commonly praised as a “green” alternative to environmentally unfriendly power sources such as fossil fuels, coals and nuclear energy. As a result of “the development of what were once thought to be non-viable resources”, a glossy brochure from engineering firm Mannvit states, “more and more public and private entities are looking into geothermal power as part of their strategy to mitigate global warming while still meeting growing energy demands.” In a promotional text for the Geothermal Energy Exhibition at Hellisheiði, the plant is said to be a “striking example of how geothermal energy is harnessed in a sustainable manner in Iceland and a showcase for the rest of the world.” Additionally, Reykjavík Energy has not hesitated maintaining that “general public opinion of exploiting the geothermal resources in the Hengill region is positive.”
So many men, so many minds. Only about ten kilometres away from the plant stands the small town of Hveragerði, wherein one gets to hear a completely different story. “We cannot accept that OR will be permitted to continue polluting the atmosphere,” Hallgrímur Þ. Magnússon, clinical doctor in Hveragerði said to newspaper DV last June. A few days earlier he had voiced his worries to local newspaper Sunnlenska, encouraging the town’s residents to start taking magnesium and iodide supplements to counteract the health impacts of the power plant’s sulphur (hydrogen sulphide) pollution. “I maintain that the pollution is of such quantity that the human body needs those two materials in order to resist the effects,” Hallgrímur said to Sunnlenska.
Recent inspection makes it clear that the sulphur pollution, which does not only reach to Hveragerði but also to Reykjavík, often goes far above Icelandic and international standards. In the case of Hveragerði, the quantity of polluting materials in the atmosphere is such that the town should be considered within the plant’s dilution area (the area in which residential homes are not permitted).
EFFLUENT LAGOONS AND MANMADE EARTHQUAKES
repeatedly challenged lately. In particular regarding the country’s and, in fact, the world’s biggest geothermal plant at Hellisheiði. Two new unplanned effluent lagoons were recently discovered close to the plant, where waste water from geothermal pumping had leaked out onto the surface. Environmentalist and journalist Ómar Ragnarsson, who originally discovered the lagoons, followed the story by publishing his own photographs of similar lakes created by other geothermal plants, such as those by the plants at Reykjanes, Svartsengi, Nesjavellir and Bjarnarflag1. These lakes can be very dangerous to local freshwater systems, as Saving Iceland’s Jaap Krater and Miriam Rose explain in a book chapter on the development of geothermal harnessing in Iceland:
Geothermal fluids contain high concentrations of heavy metals and other toxic elements, including radon, arsenic, mercury, ammonia and boron, which are damaging to the freshwater systems into which they are released as waste water. Arsenic concentrations of 0.5 to 4.6 ppm are found in waste water released from geothermal power plants; the WHO recommends a maximum 0.01 ppm in drinking water.2
Yet another backlash for the geothermal industry is a recent study, carried out by Hanne Krage Carlsen, whose results were published in the international Environmental Research journal earlier this year3. The study shows a direct link between the plant’s sulphur pollution and increased purchase of asthma medicine among the residents of the greater Reykjavík area. New examination of vegetation in the Hellisheiði area also shows that the sulphur pollution has damaged large quantities of moss, which according to Magnea Magnúsdóttir who carried out the examination, will take decades to recover4. OR claims that the results of the plant’s Environmental Impact Assessment “indicate that construction of the plant will not have a lasting influence on the area’s vegetation” — something which, according to this recent information, needs to be questioned.
POLLUTION ABOVE GUIDELINE LIMITS
Though they admit the plant’s high concentration of polluting emissions, OR has said that the company will not able to adapt to the new rules until 2019 at the earliest. Therefore, the company will ask for an exception, to which the people of Hveragerði are heavily opposed. In an interview with Iceland’s National Broadcasting Service (RÚV), the town’s Mayor Aldís Hafsteinsdóttir protested against the company’s request, stating that OR had obviously rushed way too fast when preparing and building the plant and thus underestimated its environmental impacts. In a separate interview with Saving Iceland’s Miriam Rose this June, Aldís emphasized this point:
We feel very much like victims of all of this. This town has been here for 70 years and the power plant has only been here for 10 or 15. They should have considered the effects on the neighbourhood they were putting it in. It is absolutely obvious that the plant is situated too close to our town, as there are so many impacts that affect daily life here in Hveragerði.
Adding fuel to such criticism, Minister of the Environment Svandís Svavarsdóttir followed in the footsteps of many environmentalists and told RÚV, in an interview last June, that OR had been nothing but the puppet of heavy industry for the last years. That explains not only the company’s poor financial situation but also the environmental catastrophe at Hellisheiði, Svandís said. Mayor Aldís agrees: “They [OR] have sold their energy to the aluminium smelters way too cheap and now they can’t afford to reduce their pollution. That is, in my opinion, the reason why they are trying to stop the new regulations.”
DILUTION AREA: BIGGER THAN OF ALUMINIUM SMELTERS
mining and commodities giant Glencore.
Demonstrating Iceland’s haphazard approach to the development of geothermal energy, the Hellisheiði power plants’ dilution area has yet to be defined after six years of operation. However, it is clear from recent evidence that the dilution areas for geothermal plants should be much larger than for other polluting industries in Iceland — much bigger, for instance, than Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminium smelter in Straumsvík and Century’s in Grundartangi, as reported by newspaper Morgunblaðið in June5. During OR’s recent AGM, their environmental director Hólmfríður Sigurðardóttir, admitted that she could not guarantee that the health of people living inside the area where pollution is above guideline limits (i.e. people living inside the dilution area) is not negatively affected by the pollution. Permanent residence is, in fact, prohibited inside such areas by law and land use is restricted to several limitations.
Interestingly, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Hellisheiði power station, carried out by engineering firm VGK on behalf of OR, overlooked the potential impacts on Hveragerði altogether, though it did take into consideration the negligible impacts on Þorlákshöfn and other towns much further away from the plant.
In September 2011 more than 1500 earthquakes were felt in Hveragerði in a single day, with other quakes going on for several weeks, some up to 4 on the Richter scale6. At first OR denied any culpability in the incident, though the residents immediately recognised the quakes as being unusual as many were focused on a single spot. However, after a few days they admitted that they had been pumping geothermal effluent water back into the ground, which is necessary to prevent surface pollution, but is well known by geologists to be a cause of man-made earthquakes. OR responded to the resident’s outrage over the quakes by holding a public meeting in which they claimed they were simply speeding up the release of earthquakes that would have happened anyway in the future. To this local resident Einar Bergmundur stood up and stated: “That is a very good argument. I am also sure I am going to die one day, but that doesn’t give you the right to kill me today to speed the process up?”
THE GUINEA PIGS OF HVERAGERÐI
In January this year some residents of Hveragerði started experiencing breathlessness, coughing and nausea as well as a strong sulphurous smell. They called Aldís to ask what was going on. Thanks to a monitoring site the residents had requested OR to install on their kindergarten, Aldís was able to see that hydrogen sulphide levels had persistently been in the hundreds of micrograms for more than a week. One day they had reached 337µg, more than double the current regulations, and almost seven times higher than the new regulations would allow. With the man-made earthquakes still on their minds, the residents were furious. Aldís told us that despite this breach of regulations no action seems to have been taken by OR:
I just can’t believe that this is how it is supposed to be — that the locals are supposed to monitor these levels themselves. There must be some institution that is supposed to take care of the people and make sure that we are not breathing this. But it did not happen. We live here, we have kids, the elderly are fragile and some have bad lungs. They [OR] are experimenting with these technologies as they build the plants. If they wanted to use us, the inhabitants of Hveragerði as guinea pigs they should have asked us first and not let everything that has happened here come as a surprise. They must have known better before they started this project and that is a fact the makes us angry. Our experience of the Hellisheiði power plant teaches us that not a single plant should be built here in the vicinity before they have a complete control of those matters that have gone wrong in Hellisheiði.
In response to such criticism, OR published a press releases claiming that there are no health risks at that level of exposure and that much of the science which says so is contended. They invite people to visit the plant and breathe the fumes, and even suggest that up to 14,000µg of Hydrogen Sulphide is acceptable to breathe for up to 8 hours7.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) does not agree. They state that concentrations above 280µg can cause breathing problems, followed by eye irritation at 500µg, loss of energy and increased lactic acid in the blood at 700µg, and finally headaches, irritability, dizziness, memory loss and fatigue at 2800µg. By 14,000µg people tend to suffer “olfactory paralysis” — a shut down of sense of smell which prevents them from noticing the odour and accompanying dangers. The WHO recommends a maximum guideline of 150 µg/m3 for a 24 hour period to ensure “the absence of appreciable risks that can cause adverse health effects” whereas the Californian regulation limits Hydrogen Sulphide emissions to 43 µg/m3 for more than an hour to prevent strong smell8. Iceland’s current regulations are weak by international standards and even these weak standards are not being enforced.
REYKJAVÍK’S CITY COUNCIL OPERATING AGAINST ITS OWN POLICY
Yet another 90 MW expansion is now planned in the area of Hverahlíð, south of the Hellisheiði plant and even closer to Hveragerði. The Hverahlíð plant is supposed to generate energy for another Century smelter, which currently stands half built and collecting dust in Helguvík, close to the Keflavík International Airport. The Helguvík project has been criticised from the beginning of its construction in 2008, not only for environmental reasons but also for the major energy uncertainty the project has long faced. During the smelter’s ceremonial first shovelling — interrupted by Saving Iceland activists who rightly named it “Century’s Lack Of Permission Party” as the company did not have any permissions but to construct the building itself — Century’s director in Iceland, Ragnar Guðmundsson, said that he hoped the energy issues would be sorted in late 2010, when the smelter’s first phase would be complete.
energy issue remains unsolved. Century has signed contracts with two energy companies, OR and HS Orka — the latter owned mostly by Canadian firm Alterra Power and partly by Icelandic pension funds — but neither company has been able to guarantee any energy. HS Orka hopes to be allowed to drill in the geothermal areas of the Reykjanes peninsula — a large-scale construction that would not only permanently alter the peninsula’s unique nature, but also, as many scientists have claimed, not produce enough energy for the Helguvík smelter.
OR, on the other hand, bets on Hverahlíð as an electricity supplier for Helguvík. But the company is heavily indebted after its recent aluminium adventures, which is one of the reasons the contract with Century should be breached, says Sóley Tómasdóttir from the Left Green party (“Vinstri græn”) and board member of OR. In an interview with RÚV in April this year, she maintained that the company should focus on the environmental impacts at Hellisheiði before even thinking about building new plants. She also criticised the current majority of Reykjavík’s city council (composed of the social democratic “Samfylkingin” and the centrist “Besti flokkurinn,” a new party that won the city elections in 2010), for not standing by its promises to stop selling new power from the publicly owned energy company to heavy industry projects.
In the same interview, Haraldur Flosi Ólafsson, chairman of the board, responded to this criticism by maintaining that despite the current majority’s official opposition to developing any further energy for aluminium production, the company would have to abide to already existing contracts. The Century contract is originally from 2006 but was renewed in late December 2008, less than three months after Iceland’s infamous economic collapse. At the aforementioned AGM, Haraldur’s words were echoed by the company’s director Bjarni Bjarnason, who said that in his opinion all future plans for building new power plants should be abandoned, as building new plants for private entities goes against the company’s current policy. However, Bjarni stated, already existing contracts needs to be abided.
Sóley disagrees, pointing out a clause in the contract, which should allow for the company’s withdrawal if it does not have the financial capacity to fund the project. But instead of doing so, OR is now planning to finance the Hverahlíð plant with the assistance of Icelandic pension funds. Such a step is generally seen as very controversial (such as in the heavily criticised case of HS Orka) and as the first step on the way to the privatisation of Iceland’s nature.
NEITHER SUSTAINABLE NOR RENEWABLE
Master Plan for Hydro and Geothermal Energy Resources in Iceland, these geothermal power plans are definitely “on”, while several planned hydro dams are now “off”.
Effluent lagoons have already been discovered at test drilling sites at Þeistareykir and Bjarnarflag in the North9. If all of the planned geothermal power plants are built around Mývatn, the town of Reykahlíð will become exposed to 32,000 tons of hydrogen sulphide per year potentially raising serious health issues for residents10. In Reykjanes the two existing geothermal power plants at Svartsengi and Rekjanesvirkjun already produce huge amounts of hydrogen sulphide, and the proposed expansions and new projects would radically increase this figure. Scientists have warned that geothermal fields at Svartsengi are already overexploited and may not be able to produce power much longer11. In addition many of the new proposed drilling sites are connected to the same geothermal aquifer and could very quickly become dried or cooled by excessive exploitation for large scale energy. For further information read Saving Iceland’s detailed account of the planned geothermal power projects on Reykjanes peninsula.)
The fact is that geothermal energy technology is still very new and little is known about the long term, or even short term effects of exploiting the heat of volcanic aquifers on such a large scale. In addition, geothermal areas are globally incredibly rare and each one is different, making the impacts of drilling and power generation hard to predict. Cambridge University professor David McKay’s comprehensive 2009 book on sustainable energy points out that geothermal power is neither sustainable nor renewable when used on a commercial scale as the wells can quickly dry up or cool down, taking more than a hundred years to recover afterwards12, yet drastically altering the local environment. Experimenting with such an undeveloped technology in Iceland’s endemic geothermal hot spring areas, which the country is so famous for, could result in total destruction of these beautiful and unique places. All that for only a few years of energy production, which in turn would be sold at a cut rate price to heavy industry, reaping little reward for Icelandic people.
See Saving Iceland’s photos of the effects of drilling at Hellisheiði here. The photos are from 2008 when Saving Iceland’s then annual action camp against heavy industry was located at Hellisheiði. Read More
More than 100 protesters from Foil Vedanta and other organisations crowded the entrance to British mining company Vedanta Resources’ London AGM and poured red paint on the steps on Tuesday in an attempt to disrupt the meeting. In Goa and Odisha in India where Vedanta operates, parallel demonstrations involving thousands of people affected by the company’s activities took place on Monday and Tuesday. Inside the AGM the meeting was once again dominated by dissident shareholders who pointed out Vedanta’s racism, major environmental and social violations and poor governance.
See the Foil Vedanta website for further information and photos.
Aug 23 2012
The purpose of the interpellation, a written parliamentary question, was to heighten awareness of the following little-known police structures:
• the Cross-Border Surveillance Working Group (CSW), comprising mobile task forces on surveillance techniques, drawn from 12 EU Member States and Europol;
• Europol’s analysis work file entitled Dolphin, which entails the surveillance of left-wing activists in areas such as animal rights and anarchism;
• the Remote Forensic Software User Group, which was created by the Bundeskriminalamt, the German Federal Criminal Police Office, to promote sales of German Trojan software abroad.
• the European Cooperation Group on Undercover Activities (ECG), comprising spy chiefs from Member States of the EU and from countries such as Russia, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine;
• the International Working Group on Undercover Policing (IWG), comprising spy chiefs from European countries as well as from countries such as the United States, Israel, New Zealand and Australia;
Hunko went on to say:
“One of the main parts of the interpellation focused on the undercover activity of British police officer Mark Kennedy, whose infiltration of European leftist movements exemplifies police cooperation conducted beyond the bounds of parliamentary oversight. It remains unclear under whose orders the undercover investigator was operating during the years of his activity.
Kennedy used his infiltration of the Icelandic environmental movement to worm his way into leftist circles from Finland to Portugal through the information events he staged. The Icelandic police are stubbornly rejecting requests from the Minister of Justice to release full details of his activity into the public domain, claiming that disclosure would prejudice British security interests. Even though Members of the Icelandic Parliament have a right to ask questions on police matters, they are not being given any information. Read More
From our friends at Foil Vedanta:
Join us at the eighth annual AGM protest: 28 August 2012 2.00 pm, Lincoln Centre, 18 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3ED. Nearest tube Holborn (Piccadilly & Central lines) or Chancery Lane (Central).
We are also calling out for a global day of action. Please show your solidarity with movements across India and Africa fighting this devastating company. Email your pictures or statements to savingiceland (at) riseup.net.
Vedanta plc is a London listed FTSE100 company which has brought death and destruction to thousands. It is owned by billionaire Anil Agarwal and his family through companies in various tax havens. It has been consistently fought by people’s movements but it is being helped by the British government to evolve into a multi-headed monster and spread across India and round the world, diversifying into iron in Goa, Karnataka and Liberia, Zinc in Rajasthan, Namibia, South Africa and Ireland, copper in Zambia and most recently oil in the ecologically fragile Mannar region in Sri Lanka.
Jul 25 2012
now failed geothermal smelter project at Bakki, Húsavík. Alcoa’s annual revenue was almost 20 times larger than the Icelandic GDP in 2010 ($21Billion2 versus $1.2 Billion3). Giving it considerable international influence and the potential for frightening leverage in Iceland.They are also becoming one of the biggest lobbyists in Greenland, with eight employees pushing their mega smelter and dam project on this tiny nation.
But who are the faces behind Alcoa? From big pharmaceutical chiefs, to Bilderberg attendees, Iraq profiteers and a Mexican president, Alcoa’s board remains one of the most influential and shadowy of the mining and metals companies. Use the links to Powerbase’s profiles in this article to find out more.
Klaus Kleinfeld has been an Alcoa board member since 2003. He is also a director of Bayer, the pharmaceuticals and chemical company which grew out of the Nazi company IG Farben, responsible for the medical experiments at Auschwitz. Bayer is now famous for it’s GM and crop science business and was named one of 10 Worst Companies of the Year by Multinational Monitor in 2001. Kleinfeld is associated with all three of the most influential and private ‘global planning groups’. He attended the Bilderberg conference in 2008 and is a member of the Trilateral Commission and Director of the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum. He is also a Director of the Brookings Institution, one of the USA’s biggest think tanks, and the third most cited in Congress.
Kleinfeld was CEO of Siemens from 2005 to 2007 after spending 20 years with the company. He resigned amid a corruption scandal which saw the US Department of Justice investigating the company for charges of using slush funds of €426m (£291m) to obtain foreign contracts, and funding a trade union to counter existing Union action against them. Kleinfeld resigned just hours before the news broke to the media. In 2009, after a lengthy investigation, Kleinfeld and four other executives were forced to pay large compensation sums. Kleinfeld allegedly paid $2 million of the $18 million total collected from the five, though he still denied wrongdoing. Kleinfeld is also on the boards of the finance giant Citigroup and the U.S Chamber of Commerce.
World Economic Forum and the Trilateral Commission with Kleinfeld, and attending the Bilderberg conference in 1999. Like Kleinfeld he is also a director of Citigroup. Zedillo also sits of the International Advisory Board of the Council on Foreign Relations, an American foreign policy think tank based in New York City who carry out closed debates and discussions and publish the journal Foreign Affairs. CFR played a significant part in encouraging the war on Iraq, and helped plan it’s economic and political aims alongside the US Government, particularly how to gain oil contracts after the war. He directs the Club de Madrid, a right-wing/neoliberal focused group of former government officials, think tankers and journalists involved in pushing reactionary policies to terrorism (referring to the Madrid bombings).
Mr. Zedillo was Mexican president from 1994-2000. He was appointed by Secretary General Kofi Annan to be the United Nations Special Envoy for the 2005 World Summit, and chaired the World Bank’s High Level Commission on Modernization of World Bank Group Governance in 2008. He is a director of JPMorgan-Chase, Proctor and Gamble, BP, Rolls Royce and an advisor to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He directs the Center for the Study of Globalization at Yale University, which puts out influential reports and papers edited by him.
Council on Foreign Relations is Alcoa board member E.Stanley O’Neal. O’Neal is a Harvard graduate and investment banker who served as CEO of Merrill Lynch from 2002 to 2007 and is a director of the New York Stock Exchange (now NYSE Euronext), the Nasdaq Stock Market and BlackRock – a key investor in the mining and metals industry. According to Forbes he was awarded $22.41 million in 2006. Mr O’Neal is also a trustee of another shady organisation, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a private group led by John J. Hamre, former deputy secretary of defence which ‘provides world leaders with strategic insights on — and policy solutions to — current and emerging global issues’. CSIS provided propaganda materials used by the CIA to destabilise the Government of Chile in the run up to the 1973 coup.
Council on Foreign Relations member sits on Alcoa’s board. James W. Owens is Chairman of the Business Council of the CFR, CEO and Executive Chairman of Caterpillar from 2004 to 2010 and Alcoa board member since 2005. Caterpillar are famous for their tendency to profit from war-induced contracts including in Israel and Iraq, just the sort of thing that the Council on Foreign Relations are interested in. Owens is also a director of the International Business Machines Corporation and Morgan Stanley and a senior advisor to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co, a global asset manager working in private equity and fixed income.
Ratan Tata has been a director of Alcoa since 2007 and is currently a member of the International Committee and Public Issues Committee. He chairs Tata Sons, holding company for the Tata Group, the family business which is one of India’s largest business conglomerates including telecoms, transport, tea and now one of the biggest steel companies in the world after they bought Corus outright in 2007. As well as his directorships of most of the Tata companies, he is also a a former director of the Reserve Bank of India, and advisor to NYSE Euronext (the New York Stock Exchange), and JP Morgan – one of the largest shareholders of the London Metal Exchange who set metal prices worldwide and enable banks to stockpile and futures trade aluminium. Mr Tata is also trustee of Cornell, Southern California, Ohio State, and Warwick Universities, a director of the Ford Foundation and a member of the UK Prime Minister’s Business Council for Britain.
most-wanted, is Kathryn Fuller. Ms Fuller chaired the Ford Foundation from 2004 to 2010 and has been a trustee since 1994. However she is most famed for her contradictory positions as World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Chief Executive (1989-2005) and Alcoa board member (since 2001). Newspaper Independent on Sunday claimed she joined Alcoa in exchange for a $1m donation to WWF US and allowed Alcoa to join WWF’s exclusive “Corporate Club”, a claim Fuller has found hard to refute. Despite publicly opposing the highly controversial Fjarðaál smelter project, Fuller abstained rather than voting against the project in Alcoa’s boardroom. Elsewhere she has claimed that Alcoa holds “a strong commitment to sustainability, including energy efficiency, recycling, and habitat protection.”
Compared to these heavyweights Alcoa’s other current board members may look like small fry, but they still command an impressive and worrying influence across a number of boards.
Sir Martin Sorrell is founder and chief executive officer of the £7.5 billion communications and advertising company WPP. He has been a NASDAQ director since 2001 and was appointed an Ambassador for British Business by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Before founding WPP, Martin Sorrell led the international expansion of famed UK advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi. He calls himself ‘a money man’ saying: “I like counting beans very much indeed”.
Arthur D. Collins, Jr. is a big pharmaceuticals boss. He is retired Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Medtronic Inc. who he had been with between 1992 and 2008, and previously Corporate Vice President of Abbott Laboratories from 1989 to 1992. He also sits on the boards of arms manufacturers – Boeing, and bio-tech giant Cargill.
Michael G. Morris has been Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of all major subsidiaries of American Electric Power since January 2004 having been a company executive since 2003. He is also a Director of the USA’s Nuclear Power Operations and the Business Roundtable (chairing the Business Roundtable’s Energy Task Force) as well as the Hartford Financial Services Group. He was listed 158th on the Forbes Executive Pay list in 2011 and received a total $9 million in 2010.
Finally, Patricia F. Russo, is a Director of asset management group KKR & Co, General Motors, Hewlett Packard and drug manufacturers Merck & Co, who’s arthritis treatment Vioxx induced heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths in 27,000 people between 1999 and 2004. Merck were exposed for trying to bury negative evidence and distort drug trials to hide the known cardiovascular effects of Vioxx. Litigation following the scandal is ongoing and will be part of the business of Ms Russo.
Bernt Reitan was Alcoa Executive Vice President from 2004 to 2010 and a director of iron alloy and silicon company Elkem from 1988 to 2000, putting him in the centre of the development of Iceland’s Hvalfjörður Elkem plant, and the Fjarðaál aluminium smelter. Elkem subsidiary Elkem Aluminium was sold to Alcoa in 2009. Reitan broke the ground at the massive Fjarðaál smelter in Reyðarfjörður in 2004 alongside Valgerður Sverrisdóttir, then Minister of Industry, and Guðmundur Bjarnason, Mayor of Fjarðabyggð. In view of his influential position in Iceland Reitan sits on the Icelandic-American Chamber of Commerce which was formed by the Iceland Foreign Trade Service in New York and promotes trade between Iceland and the USA.
European Aluminium Association as well as Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, Yara Internation ASA and Renewable Energy Corporation ASA.
The combined power of these Alcoa Directors reaches deep into the political and corporate structures of the USA and Europe. In this light it is a mean feat for Alcoa to be ejected from Húsavík, but we can be assured that Alcoa’s aluminium claws are still dug in deep in Iceland – a small country with such cheap and abundant hydro power. Read More
Jul 15 2012
Iceland Inside Fortress Europe? — Undercover Operations, Controlling Unwanted Migration and Policing the Cyberspace
Saving Iceland presents a talk by Matthias Monroy, journalist and political activist from Germany, in the Reykjavík Academia, Monday July 23 at 20:00.
Mark Kennedy case illustrated how deeply Iceland is involved in European secret police networks that have been infiltrating environmentalist, anarchist and other leftist resistance movements since the late 1990s. The exposure of the undercover policeman also showed that it is near impossible to bring illegal practises of cross-border policing to courts: It is mostly unclear, which police authority in which country is responsible. In 2005 Kennedy infiltrated the Saving Iceland campaign, which resisted the dams at Kárahnjúkar in Iceland’s eastern highlands. He used his Icelandic connections and experience for a European-wide speaking tour to infiltrate activist groups in numerous countries.
Iceland is also involved in policing the EU migration regime, which will start the huge surveillance network EUROSUR in two years. This satellite surveillance involving usage of drones is complemented by the “Smart Border Package” facilitating border crossing by using biometric features and other technical tools. At the same time the EU changes the Schengen Border Codex, in which Iceland is also taking part. The agreement was one of the most important achievements for free travel within the EU. Now France and Germany constrain more border controls to block international protesters or exclude countries like Greece from the Schengen system. Iceland uses the measure, for example, to control the movements of motorcycle gangs.
To block unwanted migrants crossing the Evros river between Greece and Turkey, the EU is running a research program regarding the usage of land robots for border surveillance. The EU border agency FRONTEX, for which the Icelandic Coast Guard has worked in the Mediterranean, is now operating together with the Turkish government and is helping to install a police and customs centre at the common border with Bulgaria and Greece. For the first time, this structure includes the police agency EUROPOL, whose guidelines normally exclude the fight against migration.
To the contrary, the main pillar of EUROPOL becomes the control of so called “cybercrime” and “cyberterrorism”. The agency is running large databases, surveillance technology and digital forensic tools to support the police forces of the 27 member states in cross-border operations. EUROPOL is more and more controlling alleged “suspicious” behaviour on the internet, which leads to more need of safety for cyber activists as well as all citizens.
In his talk, Monroy will explain briefly the police networks built up by the European Union concerning undercover policing, the fight against unwanted migration and cyberspace. Monroy will also attempt to explain how Iceland is involved in or affected by current and future projects.
The talk will take place in the Reykjavík Academia, which also houses Iceland’s only anarchist library, on Monday July 23 at 20:00. The Academia is located at Hringbraut 121, 107 Reykjavík. The talk will be in English and entrance is free.
For more information write to savingiceland [at] riseup.net
On Friday 15 June 2012, London will experience its first ever Carnival of Dirt, a carnival against London’s mining industry. More than 30 activist groups from London and around the world have come together to highlight the deeds of mining and extraction companies. All those who can make it should go!
Jun 07 2012
On May 21, however, DV published an interview with Þórhallur Þorsteinsson, one of the people from Eastern Iceland who had the courage to oppose the construction. In the interview, which turns Janne’s claims upside down, it emerges how heavy the oppression was in the East during the preamble and the building of the dams and smelter was — people where “oppressed into obedience” as Þórhallur phrases it. He talks about his experience, loss of friends, murder threats, the attempts of influential people to dispel him from his work, and the way the Icelandic police — and the national church — dealt with the protest camps organized by Saving Iceland, which lead him to wonder if he actually lived in a police state.
“There are certain homes here in Egilsstaðir that I do not enter due to the conflict. Before, I used to visit these homes once or twice a week. I am not sure if I would be welcome there today. Maybe. But in these homes I was, without grounds, hurt so badly that I have no reason to go there again. Now I greet these people but I have no reason to enter their homes. I was virtually persecuted,” Þórhallur says, sitting in an armchair in his home in Egilsstaðir.
His home bears strong signs for his love of nature, his bookshelves are filled with books about the Icelandic highlands, nature and animals. For decades, Þórhallur has travelled in the highlands and did thus know this area [the land destroyed by the Kárahnjúkar dams] better than most people. “I had been travelling in this area for decades. I had gone there hiking and driving and I have also flown over it. I went there in winters just as in the summers. I went there as a guide and I knew the area very well. So I am not one of those who just speak about this area but have never got to know it.”
“The sacrifice of this part of the highlands, the environmental impacts of these constructions, just can not be justified. Waterfalls by the dozen, many of them extremely beautiful, are rapidly disappearing and are just about waterless. A highly remarkable land went under water, under the reservoir, for instance Hálsinn which was the main breeding ground for reindeer. Additionally, this was the only place in Iceland with continuous vegetation from the sea, all the way up to the glacier. This has now be interrupted by Hálslón [the reservoir].”
The Resistance in the East
During the journalist’s trip around Eastern Iceland, many of the locals spoke a lot about how artists from 101 Reykjavík [the center of the city] protested against the construction. Þórhallur, however, points out that the original resistance against the project was formed in the local region. “People tend to forget this fact all the time, as they only speak about 101 Reykjavík. Before the conflict started, an association for the protection of Eastern Iceland’s highlands was founded here. It was founded with the purpose of opposing the construction — Kárahnjúkar had not even entered public discussion at that point although we, of course, knew about it.”
About thirty people joined the inaugural meeting and agreed upon the importance of such an association. Soon, a few people left the organization. “Those who had an opposite opinion compared to what people generally thought about the project were oppressed. The picture was painted in a way suggesting that the residents of Eastern Iceland should stand together. The rest of us, who were against the project, were not considered true members of this society. And we were not good citizens at all. In people’s minds, we were traitors. We were the people who wanted to send people back to the turf huts, as they used to say. We were said to be against development, against creating a good future for our children. All this was thrown at us, that the children would not come back home after studying, that they would not get any jobs. By opposing the construction, I was, in these people’s minds, taking away their children’s future livelihood, preventing the creation of jobs, and lowering real estate prices here in the east. I got to hear all of this. This is how it was.”
The First Protests
I have lived here since I was a little kid and from early age I have been contributing to this community. I have partaken in building it up, socially and as an individual. I have been here all my life. Despite my opposition to this construction, I did not consider myself being any less of a member of this community. Nothing of what I have done justifies the accusations of me wanting to ruin this community. I was simply against this construction. But just like others, I was to be suppressed into obedience.”
Despite all this, Þórhallur refused to throw away his ideals and stay silent. Determined not to be silenced, he continued his fight with both words and actions. “I am probably the only resident in Eastern Iceland who ever has been fined for opposing the Kárahnjúkar dams [in fact Gudmundur Mar Beck, farmer at Kollaleyra in Reydarfjordur (site of the ALCOA smelter) was also fined a hefty sum for protesting against the project. Ed. SI.org]. Along with others, I blockaded a bridge over river Besstastaðaá and was fined,” he says and adds that he did happily pay the fine. “This action was symbolic for the situation at that time, as a token of the fact that the case had become insolvable. We didn’t intend to completely prevent these people from continuing their way,” Þórhallur says. These people were the board of Landsvirkjun [Iceland’s national energy company] as well as Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, then mayor of Reykjavík [later Minister for Foreign Affairs in the government that was toppled by protesters during the winter of 2008-9], and the area that was at stake at that time was Eyjabakkar wetlands. “We read two statements out loud, from the Association for the Protection of Eastern Iceland’s Highlands, and after that the protest was over.”
He does not regret this, even though he had to face the consequences his actions. “I was there in my spare time but at this time I worked for the The State Electric Power Works. Following the protest, we witnessed one of the worst witch-hunting periods in the history of Eastern Iceland. The severity is very memorable to me.”
And when I was informed that very influential people in the East, respected members of their society, were trying to get back at me and get me dispelled from work because of my opinions, I got a very strange feeling regarding what kind of a society I live in.
I also witnessed the behaviour of the police who chased protesters around the highlands, which made me wonder if I lived in a police state. The police tried to prevent protesters from resting by putting wailing sirens on during the middle of the nights, they constantly drove past them and around their cars, took photographs during darkness using flash, and blocked roads so that people could not bring them food. I saw all of this taking place.”
Always Knew of More Opponents
Thus, when Saving Iceland contacted Þórhallur, he was more than willing to help. He was a spokesperson of the Icelandic Touring Association and explained to Saving Iceland that it would be just about impossible to expel them from the camping area at Snæfell, which had been open to the public for many decades. Eventually, a ten days long camp was to be set up there. “Then the word started to spread and I received a phone call from the Bishop’s Office, asking me if we could stop the camp from taking place. I told them that this camping area had been open to the public ever since the hut was built, but I invited them to come to the East and try to expel them themselves. A few days later, Landsvirkjun’s public relation manager called me and brought up the same thing. He asked about the possibility of putting a limit on the amount of people allowed to stay at the camp, if the health and safety authorities would agree upon this amount of people, etc. etc. I told him the same: “This is an open camping area and we do not choose who gets to stay and who not.” You get the picture of how the situation was at this time.”
Not everybody was happy within the Touring Association. “Some of the board members were against it and conflicts took place within the association. I asked them what they intended to do, if the Association would then, in the future, pick out people allowed onto the camping areas. I said to them: These people just enter the camping area, follow the current rules and pay their fee. While so, we can not do anything. Then, some of the people realized how far they had stepped over limits.
So the protesters came to Snæfell and stayed for ten days. That worked out pretty well but then they went to other places [within the intended reservoir. Ed. SI] and came up against all sorts of misfortunes.”
A Protection Cancelled
The way this case was handled should actually be an ample reason for an investigation. This area’s official protection was cancelled so the land could be drowned. Never before had this happened in Iceland, but it was nevertheless done by Siv Fiðleifsdóttir, then Minister of the Environment. That is her monument: being the one Minister of the Environment, responsible for the most severe environmental destruction,” Þórhallur says plain-spoken.
The Old People Got Away
He believes that only the further damming of Þjórsárver wetlands would have been a even bigger environmental sacrifice. “Thereafter came Kárahnjúkar. But this is all about politics, Icelanders have no time for politics. The Danes have done fine without heavy industry. This is always just a question of a political policy, and for decades, the inhabitants of Reyðarfjörður [where the Alcoa smelter is located] have been promised that someone will come and do something for them. In such a position, people tend to forget their survival instinct.
The exchange rate was way too high and all the local fishing industry left. Fishing company Skinney Þinganes moved all their business to Höfn in Hornafjörður, while Samherji [another seafood company incidentally owned by the family of Halldor Asgrimsson, one of two main perpetrators of the Karahnjukar dams] bought fishing quota from Stöðvarfjörður and Eskifjörður and took it away from there. But because an aluminium smelter was on its way, people believed that this was no problem. It is always possible to starve people into obedience. It is easy to change the mentality in such a way that it simply receives. All of a sudden the smelter appeared as some sort of a life buoy. The positive side of it is that now there are much younger people living in Fjarðabyggð [combined municipality of a few towns, including Reyðafjörður] than before. The old people got away. But behind this is the sacrifice. The sacrifice was too big and it was the whole region’s sacrifice. We sacrificed this for the benefits of a North American corporation. We sacrificed everything for too little. While all this took place, people were supposed to stand together and they spoke about the region as a totality. But immediately as the construction was over, all such solidarity disappeared.”
Direct and Indirect Payments
He is, nevertheless, able to understand why the region’s people were in favour of the construction and focused on getting a smelter. “I understand them very well, as they got something out of it. But it is clear that we got too little. 200 people from here work in the smelter, I think. 200 jobs — that is not enough for such a sacrifice. 500 jobs would also not have been enough when compared with the land that was destroyed. But people can be bought up if they are handed money. And I understand farmers who had never seen any real money but were all of sudden promised amounts which they would, in any other case, not have been able to even dream of. But is that the way we want it to be? That people can be mislead by money?
Everywhere in the world, except Iceland, these “counterbalance steps” as they are called, would have been considered bribery. Basically, local politicians were bought up. Farmers and influential people were hired on good salaries and farmers got fertilizer to use on uncultivated land. All such indirect payments to influential people certainly have an impact on what decisions are made and on what premises they are made. Some farmers received compensation due to the destruction, but to pay compensation to only one generation is not acceptable. It would have made much more sense to link the compensation with the power plant’s electricity production and pay them to those living in the area on an annual basis.”
Gullfoss Falls Could be Forgotten
Asked about the actual value of the land now lost, Þórhallur answers: “This land used to be an attraction. The waterfalls that have now dried up, the vegetated land that went under water, the wilderness which is becoming increasingly precious. Being able to live with such quality is like nothing else. If well organized, hundreds of thousands of travellers could have been been shown this land without the land being harmed. Seen from a long-term perspective, that could have created more money than the dams.”
I first drove to Hafrahvammar canyon in 1972 and, in fact, roads and paths have been there for many decades, but they were quite difficult to pass. That could easily have been changed and thus, the access to the area could have been increased.”
“The Same Horrific Situation Far and Wide”
In the end he says that the aluminium smelter has not lived up to society’s expectations. “It still has not been possible to staff the smelter with Icelanders. Only Icelandic-speaking people are hired there but despite all the unemployment and all the advertising, sub-contractors partly staff their companies with foreigners, as Icelanders are not willing to take on these jobs. The labour turnover has been about 25 percent. Despite the fiasco the nation has went through [the 2008 economic collapse], this is not considered a decent option for a working place.
Was the hole purpose of drowning this land, destroying this nature, drying up these waterfalls, to be able to import migratory workers from abroad? Do some of the unemployed people on Suðurnes not want to come to the East, move into all the empty apartments and work in the smelter in Reyðarfjörður? Isn’t there something wrong? Why do people not apply for jobs here?” Þórhallur asks and adds that the pot-rooms and the cast-house are not really desirable workplaces, though some other jobs in the smelter might lure some. “One has to work 12 hours shifts and I know no-one who works in the smelter and looks at it as their future job. I also know people who used to work there but quit because of the long shifts. They did not want to sacrifice their family life for the job. People will work there until they find a better job. If the economy recovers in a few years time, how will this end? Will we end up having to staff the smelter solely with foreign labour on season?
This was supposed to save everything but the same horrific situation is evident far and wide. The smelter had, for instance, no positive impacts in nearby places like Stöðvarfjörður and Breiðdalsvík.
The planned population increase in Eastern Iceland never took place, and as the senselessness was absolute, everything collapsed. No-one lives in the houses that were built — streets were laid but no houses built on them. The municipality is bankrupted, as it is expensive to go into such a construction and to sit up with this half-finished street-system. This situation might recover in a few decades, but it still was not worth it.”
May 30 2012
This is the content of Saving Iceland’s first round of brief monthly news from the struggle over Iceland’s wilderness and connected struggles around the world.
Hellisheiði: Asthma, Sulphur Pollution and Effluent Water Lagoon
Those who promote large-scale geothermal energy production as green and environmentally friendly, are once again forced to face another backlash as a recent research suggests a direct link between sulphur pollution from the Hellisheiði geothermal plant and asthma among the inhabitants of Reykjavík. The results of this particular research, which was done by Hanne Krage Carlsen, doctorate student of Public Health at the University of Iceland, were published in the Environmental Research journal earlier this year, showing that the purchasing of asthma medicine increases between 5 and 10 percent in accordance with higher sulphur pollution numbers in the capital area of Reykjavík.
According to the plant’s license the run-off water should actually be pumped back, down into earth, in order to prevent polluting impacts and the creation of lagoons containing a huge amount of polluting materials. Ómar’s discovery shows that this is certainly not the case all the time, and additionally, the pumping that has taken place so far has proved to be problematic, creating a series of man-made earthquakes in the area, causing serious disturbances in the neighbouring town of Hveragerði.
In an article following his discovery Ómar points out that for the last years, the general public has not had much knowledge about geothermal power plants’ run-off water, and much less considered it as a potential problem. Ómar blames this partly on the Icelandic media, which have been far from enthusiastic about reporting the inconvenient truth regarding geothermal power production. One of these facts is that the effluent water, which people tend to view positively due to the tourist attraction that has been made of it at the Blue Lagoon, is a token of a serious energy waste, as the current plants use only 13% of the energy while 87% goes into the air or into underutilized run off-water. These enlarging lagoons — not only evident in Hellisheiði but also by the geothermal power plants in Reykjanes, Svartsengi, Nesjavellir and Bjarnarflag — suggest that the energy companies’ promises regarding the pumping of run-off water, are far from easily kept.
The Fight Over Iceland’s Energy Master Plan Continues
During the last few weeks, the Icelandic Parliament’s Industries Committee received 333 remarks in connection with the committee’s work on a parliamentary resolution for Iceland’s Energy Master Plan. The resolution, which was presented by the Ministers of Industry and of Environment in April this year, gives a green light for a monstrous plan to turn the Reykjanes peninsula’s geothermal areas into a continuous industrial zone.
one of the remarks, written by Helga Katrín Tryggvadóttir, which differs from these two groups as it evaluates energy production and nature conservation in a larger, long-term context.
During the process, the head of the Industries Committee, Kristján Möller — MP for the social-democratic People’s Alliance, known for his stand in favour of heavy industry — ordered and paid for a remark sent by management company GAMMA. The company first entered discussion about one year ago after publishing a report, which promised that the national energy company Landsvirkjun could become the equivalent of the Norwegian Oil Fund, if the company would only be permitted to build dams like there is no tomorrow.
In a similarly gold-filled rhetoric, GAMMA’s remark regarding the Energy Master Plan states that the changes made by the two ministers — which in fact are the results of another public reviewing process last year — will cost Iceland’s society about 270 billion ISK and 5 thousand jobs. According to the company’s report, these amount are the would-be benefits of forcefully continuing the heavy industrialization of Iceland, a plan that has proved to be not only ecologically but also economically disastrous. Seen from that perspective, it does not come as a surprise realizing that the management company is largely staffed with economists who before the economic collapse of 2008 lead the disastrous adventures of Kaupþing, one of the three biggest Icelandic bubble banks.
Alterra Power: Decreases Revenue, Enlargement Plans in Iceland
Canadian energy company Alterra Power, the majority stakeholder of Icelandic energy company HS Orka, recently published the financial and operating results for the first quarter of this year. “Consolidated revenue for the current quarter was $16.4 million compared to $18.9 million in the comparative quarter,” the report states, “due to lower revenue from our Icelandic operations as a result of lower aluminium prices, which declined 13.9% versus the comparative quarter.”
According to Alterra, permission for all construction-related activities is in place. However, as Saving Iceland has reported, Iceland’s National Energy Authority has officially stated their fears that increased energy production will lead to an over-exploitation of the plant’s geothermal reservoir. Furthermore, Ásgeir Margeirsson, Chairman of HS Orka, responded to Alterra’s claims stating that due to a conflict between the energy company and aluminium producer Norðurál, the construction might not start this year. According to existing contracts, the energy from the enlargement is supposed to power Norðurál’s planned aluminium smelter in Helguvík. That project, however, has been on hold for years due to financial and energy crisis, and seems to be nothing but a fantasy never to be realised.
Greenland: Cheap Chinese Labour and Toxic Dumping
The home rule government of Greenland is split in their stand on Alcoa’s plans to import 2 thousand Chinese workers for the construction of the company’s planned smelter in Maniitsoq. The biggest governing party, Inuit Ataqatigiit, is against the plan as the workers will not be paid the same amount as Greenlandic labour. On the other hand, the Democratic Party, which has two of the government’s nine ministerial seats, is in favour of the plans on the grounds that the workers’ working condition and payments will be better than in China.
At the same time as Greenland’s government argued over Alcoa, Danish newspaper Politiken reported that the Scottish oil company Cairn Energy — a company that, along with Indian mining giant Vedanta, shares the ownership of oil and gas company Cairn India — is responsible for dumping 160 tons of toxic materials into the ocean in the years of 2010 and 2011. The dumping is linked to the company’s search for oil off Greenland’s shore and is five times higher than the amount of comparable materials dumped in 2009 by every single oil platform of Denmark and Norway combined.