'Gjástykki' Tag Archive

May 24 2013

In the Land of the Wild Boys


Andri Snær Magnason

First published in Grapevine. Based on a 2010 article entitled “Í landi hinna klikkuðu karlmanna.” (“In the Land of the Mad Men”). Translated in part by Haukur S. Magnússon.

After the election, we see the old parties of economic mass destruction are coming back to power. Giving enormous promises of easy money to be wrestled from evil vulture funds, debt relief and tax reduction, The Progressive Party doubled in size after a few years of hardship. There is a jolly good feeling between the two young new leaders of a brave new Iceland, and when a radio host called them up and offered to play them a request, they asked for Duran Duran’s ‘Wild Boys.’ I Googled the lyrics, not quite remembering the lines, and got a nice chill down my back:

Wild boys fallen far from glory
Reckless and so hungered
On the razors edge you trail
Because there’s murder by the roadside
In a sore afraid new world

They tried to break us,
Looks like they’ll try again

Sounds quite grim. This, coupled with the new government’s announcement that it would be effectively dismantling the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources and that there will be no Minister for the Environment, gave me a strange flashback feeling. I decided to revisit the state of mind that we used to call normal in 2006. When the economic policy, the energy policy, the expansion of our towns, the mortgages on our homes—almost all aspects of our daily life had become totally mad. This is not my own diagnosis; if you search the homepage of the IMF for the phrase “Collective Madness,” you’ll find this:

“’Iceland, in the decade and a half leading up to the crisis, was an example of collective madness,’ said Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citigroup, a remark that elicited spontaneous applause from the more than 300 participants, many of them Icelandic policymakers, academics, and members of the public.”

In our daily lives, we usually sense what is normal and what is over the top. Sometimes the discourse will blind us; PR and propaganda can create a kind of newspeak. It can be a good exercise to try to talk about things in a foreign language, to view them in a new light. As an Icelander, you could for instance try to tell someone from another country that Iceland’s government sold one state bank and received payment in the form of a loan from another state bank—and vice versa. That the state banks were thereby handed to men that were closely connected to the then-reigning political parties. The manager of one of the parties became head of one of the banks’ board of directors, while the other party’s former Minister of Trade belonged to the group that was given the other bank. That man had access to every bit of inside information about the bank’s standing.

In the meantime, this former Minister of Trade became Central Bank Manager. He went to the US and made Alcoa an offer that the company could not refuse. He had thus set in motion the largest-scale construction project in Icelandic history, greatly increasing economic activity in Iceland—a grand boon for the bank he just finished selling to himself.

If you tell this story in a foreign language, people shake their heads. They gape in disbelief. They use words like “corruption” and “mafia.” They exclaim, full of disbelief and even disappointment, “no, not in Scandinavia!”

THE ACCEPTED INSANITY

It is insane to expand a banking system by tenfold in eight years. We know that now. It isn’t technically possible to grow all the knowledge and experience needed to build up and manage such a contraption in such a short time. Not even by shoving an entire generation through business school. It is impossible.

But the megalomania was not just confined to the banking sector. Energy production in Iceland was doubled from 2002–2007, when the huge Kárahnjúkar dam was built in the eastern part of the highlands—to serve one single Alcoa smelting plant. The energy it produces, about 650MW annually, is enough to power a city of one million people. Doubling the energy production in a developed country over a five-year period is not only unheard of, but it would also be considered ridiculous in all of our neighbouring nations. Most industrialised states increase their energy production by around 2–3% annually. Doubling it would be unthinkable. It has been proven again and again that gargantuan investments generally destroy more than they create. Read More

Feb 06 2011
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Alcoa Still Wants to Build Smelter in Bakki – Questions Concerning Energy Unanswered


Alcoa still plans to build an aluminium smelter in Bakki by Húsavík, north-Iceland, according to the newspaper Fréttablaðið. This contradicts recent news, published in the business newspaper Viðskiptablaðið, saying that Alcoa was about to withdraw the idea due to the government’s alleged unwillingness to go ahead with it. Questions about energy to run the smelter are still unanswered but recent comments from the National Planning Agency, concerning the project’s joint Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), state that enough geothermal energy can not be produced for the smelter; and certainly not in a sustainable way. Read More

Jan 25 2011
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Landsvirkjun Will Not Drill in Gjástykki


Landsvirkjun, the national power company, will not use the permit for experimental drilling in the Gjástykki area in northeast Iceland issued by the National Energy Authority on Monday but rather await the government’s plan for the area.

Gjástykki is a rift valley north of the caldera Krafla and the potential harnessing of energy there is controversial. Environmentalist Ómar Ragnarsson is making a documentary about the area. To paper over their highly destructive drills in other geothermal areas in north Iceland the Landsvirkjun PR department helped finance the documentary.

According to Fréttabladid, the Energy Authority’s permit does not authorize Landsvirkjun to harness geothermal energy in the area, only to investigate its feasibility. Read More

Jan 24 2011
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No Alcoa Smelter in Bakki?


According to sources close to the business newspaper Viðskiptablaðið, Alcoa has lost all patience with the situation in Húsavík and will drop plans to build a proposed aluminium smelter in the region.

The project has been fraught with obstacles since its inception. Most notably, Minister for the Environment Svandís Svavarsdóttir has been an outspoken opponent of the plan. A damning assessment from the Icelandic National Planning Agency concluded that the proposed smelter would also have a “significant negative impact” on the environment not just of the surrounding area, but on Iceland as a whole. A few days ago Landsvirkjun, Iceland’s National Energy company, announced that they would neither fight for or against the protection of the area and that they will not perform “test” drills in Gjástykki (a globally unique geothermal area in the north of Iceland with ravines, faults, lava fields and volcanic craters) until the government had completed the process of protecting the area, even if they had got a go a head to do so by the National Energy Authority. Read More

Jan 30 2009

Norsk Hydro Wants to Build an Aluminum Smelter in Iceland


Þeistareykir ehf. and Landsvirkjun (Iceland’s national energy company) have now started discussions with the Norwegian aluminium producer Norsk Hydro about the purchase of geothermal energy from Þingeyjasýsla, north Iceland. The energy was supposed to run Alcoa’s planned aluminium smelter in Bakki, Húsavík.

The memorandum of understanding between Þeistareykir, Landsvirkjun and Alcoa because of the aluminium smelter in Bakki, ran out on November 1st 2008 and was not renewed. One of the reasons was said to be the uncertainty on the Icelandic financial markets. Tómas Már Sigurðsson, Alcoa’s director in Iceland, says that decisions about electricity purchase depends on the market situation and hopes that it will get better in the next 12 months.
Read More

Aug 22 2008

Bakki Impact Assessment Should Include Dams


Jaap Krater, Morgunbladid – Thórunn Sveinbjarnardóttir’s has said the environmental impact of Alcoa’s planned Bakki smelter and the associated energy production needs to be considered jointly (1). This poses the question whether or not new dams will be needed for heavy industry in the north. Looking at what can be realistically realised from geothermal plants, it becomes clear that a number of hydro projects will inevitably be necessary to power the Bakki smelter, and they should be taken into the assessment. In this article Jaap Krater analyses the energy calculations for the smelter and potential power plants. Read More