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Aug 30 2011
A broad general reconciliation on environmental and industrial affairs in Hvalfjörður has been completely ignored and stepped on by the Associated Icelandic Ports under the administration of a member of the social-democratic party Samfylkingin. This says Sigurbjörn Hjaltason, farmer in Hvalfjörður, who recently called for an investigation into the possible connection between bone deformities in his sheep’s skulls and an environmental accident at the Norðurál aluminium smelter in Grundartangi in 2006. Sigurbjörn has now raised awareness to yet another potential ecological disaster in Hvalfjörður – a fjord which already hosts two highly polluting factories: an aluminium smelter owned by Norðurál/Century Aluminium and an Elkem ferro silicon plant – as well as the abuse of power entailed in the process.
In a recent article, originally published on news-website Pressan, Sigurbjörn says that before the municipal elections in spring 2009, the community in Hvalfjörður settled upon an agreement about environmental and industrial affairs. But under the administration of Hjálmar Sveinsson (on photo), who is a vice-councilman of Reykjavík for Samfylkingin, a joint venture of several port authorities in the Faxaflói area, titled the Associated Icelandic Ports, is enabling the way for the construction of yet another two factories at the Grundatangi industrial site in Hvalfjörður, where the two aforementioned factories are located. Sigurbjörn describes the whole process as a very dubious one: Read More
Originally published by Reykjavík Grapevine
A plan to build three dams in the river Þjórsá could wipe out salmon in the river. National power company Landsvirkjun insist they have measures on the table to keep the salmon alive. Vísir reports that an environmental assessment has already confirmed that should the three proposed dams be built, the salmon that use the river will disappear.
Plans to dam Þjórsá have not been without their controversy, as the project has been heatedly debated for years now. In fact, the notion that damming up the river would wipe out salmon from the river was known as far back as 2002. While Landsvirkjun says they would construct what effectively amounts to a sperm bank for salmon to fertilise eggs, the Ministry for the Environment has looked at the plan and concluded that nothing in the plan indicates that it would even work.
The three dams have been green-lit, though, so the options now on the table are to either find some other way to save the river’s salmon while construction goes underway, or to pull the plug on construction, either temporarily or permanently. Neither option will be inexpensive for the parties involved.
The following chapter is from ‘Bankastræti Núll’, the latest book by poet and author Einar Már Guðmundsson, translated and originally published in The Reykjavík Grapevine, parallel to an introduction to Einar by Alda Kravec. The introduction says that the book “opens with the narrator’s lament: the current political situation has stifled his ability to write poems to his lover. Although he foresees a future where “reality wakes up” and poets can once again sing the praises of love and nature, the resounding sound of social injustice presently overwhelms him and beckons him to first engage in the struggle against the free reign of the stock exchange, privatisation and greed.”
It is written somewhere that all cats are grey in the dark, but here in Iceland, official reports are all black, no matter how bright it is outside. Alþingi’s Investigative Commission’s Report is black. The Central Bank’s Report on the status of household debt is black. And the government and International Monetary Fund’s Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies is also black, dark as a coal mine, and sure enough, it was drafted in April, the cruellest month. It is a reminder of the misery that the IMF has presided over in countries all over the world, and directly refutes the notion that the IMF plans to apply different methods than those it has adhered to until now.
In Greece, the public has risen up against the Fund’s plans, but here the labour movement and employers get into bed with it and are almost more devout than the Pope in getting investors to come here with their baggage of offshore profits and dummy corporations. In one district, where neo-liberals have sold everything and there is nothing left to mortgage except the harbour, efforts are being made to set a precedent by selling natural resources through a shelf company just so politicians can save face after having handed over the entire district to their associates and relatives on a silver platter. Read More
At 2.30pm today 10 people arrived unannounced at the offices of Cairn Energy at the Clydesdale Plaza in central Edinburgh. They installed themselves at the grand entrance to the building, blowing whistles and shouting: “No oil for Vedanta! Stop, stop, stop the deal!” and “Vedanta out of Sri Lanka”, attracting the attention of the floods of passers-by attending the Edinburgh theatre festival. Three of the demonstrators gave out leaflets in the street from the campaign group Foil Vedanta and explained that the demonstration was timed with Cairn India’s AGM in Mumbai, where the Vedanta-Cairn deal would be discussed. The leaflets describe the protest as in solidarity with Indian people’s movements in communities affected by Vedanta’s atrocities including Niyamgiri and Puri in Orissa, Advalpal in Goa, and Thoothkudi in Tamil Nadu. They stress Vedanta’s poor environmental track record and demand that the company should not be allowed to take over Cairn India, an oil company drilling in pristine ocean off Sri Lanka.
Protesters claim this is a British issue as both Cairn and Vedanta are British companies, and have been aided by David Cameron and the British Ambassador to India in pushing the deal through. The leaflets highlight Vedanta CEO Anil Agarwal’s position as the 17th richest man in Britain and claim the British government has allowed him to evade millions of pounds worth of tax using Jersey and Bahamas based tax havens. One of the placards showed Cairn CEO Bill Gammell and Vedanta CEO Anil Agarwal in bed with David Cameron and read ‘Bill Gammell, Anil Agarwal, David Cameron in bed for oil’ while another slogan accused all three of having ‘blood on their hands’. A stack of leaflets was handed in to the building to distribute to Cairn Energy staff and a security guard warned those gathered that the police would be called if they remained at the building. This warning was taken seriously in the light of Cairn Energy’s zero tolerance policy on protests at the same offices by Greenpeace a month earlier, at which the company took out injunctions against Greenpeace preventing them from publishing any pictures of the event. The protesters left after an hour.
Aug 15 2011
A sheep farmer, noticing bone deformities in the skulls of some sheep, believes they may be connected to an environmental accident at an aluminium smelter in 2006, and is calling for an investigation.
Sigurbjörn Hjaltason, a sheep farmer from Kiðafell, told DV that he had noticed quite a number of sheep in his area having difficulty eating, with some dying of starvation as a result. On examining the skulls of the animals, he discovered unusually large swelling of the jaw bones.
This, he believes, is the result of pollution from an aluminium smelter at nearby Grundartangi. In 2006, an accident at the plant caused fluorine to be released into the environment.
Fluorine, which is also present in volcanic ash, when ingested by animals can cause freakish growths in the bones. Sheep that would eat grass that had been covered in volcanic ash would often times grow unnaturally large teeth that prevented them from being able to eat any food at all, resulting in starvation.
Sigurbjörn has called for a full investigation, and wants an independent team of scientists to examine the teeth and bones of the sheep that have died.
After many years of planning to change lake Langisjór, located at the western edge of Vatnajökull, into a reservoir for energy production, Landsvirkjun’s fantasies have finally been permanently ceased. Last Friday, July 29th, Iceland’s Ministry of Environment announced the publication of a regulation to validate the enlargement of Vatnajökull national park, which includes the protection of Langisjór and partly the volcanic canyon Eldgjá and its surroundings. The regulation is the final step in an agreement, signed in February this year, between the Ministry of Environment and local authority of Skaftá district concerning the enlaregment of the national park, based on the priceless value of the area’s natural features. This manifests the full realization of one of Iceland’s environmental movement’s biggest victories.
Landsvirkjun, Iceland’s national energy company, intended to channel river Skaftá to river Tungnaá river through Langisjór, which would effectively become a reservoir. The Skaftá dam (Skaftárveita) would have added another 7 km2 to the lake-reservoir with the purpose of increasing the energy capacity of planned dams in rivers Þjórsá and Tungnaá. The three planned dams in Þjórsá have been met with fierce local and national opposition whereas the construction of Búðarháls dam in Tungná is already taking place, its energy meant for increased aluminium production in Rio Tinto’s Alcan smelter in Straumsvík. Effectively, the damming of Langisjór would lead to a sediment build-up and increased turbidity which would destroy the lake ecosystem. Read More
Jul 29 2011
By Snorri Páll Jónsson Úlfhildarson. Originally published in the Reykjavík Grapevine.
In a very short time the discourse following last week’s right-wing terrorist attacks in Norway reached both absurd and scary heights, with one of the best examples being American TV and radio host Glenn Beck’s attempt to justify the mass murderer by comparing the social democratic youth camp on Utøya with the Hitler Youth. In Iceland it was the writings of Björn Bjarnason, a right-wing conservative and Iceland’s Minister of Justice from 2003 to 2009.
Only a day after the attacks, Björn, who systematically voiced what he called “the need” for the establishment of an army-like police force when he was Minister of Justice, wrote on his website – one of Iceland’s oldest blog-sites, frequently quoted by journalists – that the Norwegian state, with its powerful secret police force, should have all the necessary tools to fight the threat of terrorism. According to Björn, this police force keeps a strict eye on potential terrorist cells – groups that operate “in service of political ideals” or “under the banner of environmentalism or nature conservation.” Read More
The making of Iceland’s Energy Master Plan, a framework programme concerning the exploitation and protection of the country’s natural resources, which has been in the making since 1999, has reached a critical state as a report on the process’ second phase was published in the beginning of July. The report includes a list of more than 60 areas, arranged from the perspectives of both protection and exploitation, which is supposed to lay the foundation for a final parliamentary resolution concerning the Master Plan. While those in favour of further exploitation, parallel to the continuous build-up of heavy industry, seem generally happy with the report, environmentalists are both sceptical and critical, stating that the exploitation value was always in the forefront of the process.
Like explained on the project’s official website the process was “split into two phases. The first phase, 1999–2003, evaluated and ranked 20 large-scale hydro-power options, mostly located in the highlands, and the same number of geothermal options in 8 high-temperature areas.” The second phase was supposed to “rank all the options to produce the final result,” including “an evaluation of whether some areas should be conserved completely, without any energy-harnessing activities.” Proposed power projects were said to be “evaluated and categorised on the basis of efficiency, economic profitability, and how they will benefit the economy as a whole,” while the “the impact on the environment, nature, and wildlife” was also supposed to be evaluated, “as well as the impact on the landscape, cultural heritage and ancient monuments, grazing and other traditional land use, outdoor activities fishing, and hunting.” Read More
The Saving Iceland collective is happy to point its readers to the newly established website of Foil Vedanta, an independent campaigning organization focused primarily on the British-Indian mining giant Vedanta Resources PLC. Explaining the campaign, Foil Vedanta, says on its website that “ Vedanta is headed by Britain’s seventeenth richest billionaire, Anil Agarwal, and was launched on the London Stock Exchange in 2006 with the assistance of the UK’s Department for International Development and Department of Trade and Industry, who continue with their support. Vedanta is a major producer of aluminum, a strategically important metal for the UK’s huge arms industry.” And continues:
Vedanta has mines, refineries and factories in various states in India – including Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Goa – as well as in Zambia. In Orissa Vedanta hopes to mine the mineral-rich Niyamgiri mountain. This would destroy the lives and livelihoods of the Adivasi (aboriginal) Dongria Kond people who live in the region. Despite the Indian Ministry of Environment repealing permission to mine Niyamgiri in 2010, Vedanta continues to push for the project, which if successful would be an act of cultural genocide. Read More
Originally published on Dateline
It’s 14 years since the war ended over what was once the world’s largest copper mine, at Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, but Dateline has uncovered claims that the PNG government was acting under instruction from mining giant Rio Tinto, when it killed thousands of people who wanted the mine shut down. The allegations come from PNG’s former Opposition Leader, and now Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, in 2001 court documents obtained by SBS Senior Correspondent Brian Thomson for Dateline. In them, Somare says the company, and its subsidiary Bougainville Copper Limited, effectively used its wealth to control the government – a claim denied by BCL. With negotiations now underway to reopen the abandoned mine, could Bougainville be heading for a repeat of the bloody battle over its resources?