'Guðmundur Páll Ólafsson' Tag Archive

Sep 11 2012
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Guðmundur Páll Ólafsson In Memoriam


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

After a hard struggle with cancer, our dear friend and comrade Guðmundur Páll Ólafsson — naturalist, author, photographer and a truly genuine environmentalist — passed away on August 30th, 71 years old. Guðmundur was a pioneer of environmentalism in Iceland and a big supporter of direct actions, which he also practised himself. Among many of his great contributions, he relentlessly pointed out the destructive impacts of damming glacial rivers and thus restraining their natural flow, directly affecting fish stocks as well as rivers’ role in binding greenhouse gases. As such Guðmundur played a key role in the deconstruction of aluminium and energy companies’ greenwashing attempts, pointing out that what they generate by harnessing glacial rivers is not green but indeed grey energy.

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.

Wherever one looks into the struggle for the protection of Iceland’s nature — the successful struggle to put an end to plans to dam river Laxá by lake Myvatn in the early 70’s, the fight against the construction of the Kárahnjúkar Dams, the campaign to save Þjórsárver wetlands and river Þjórsá — the list could be much longer, Guðmundur’s name is always prominent, ranging over an extensive area from written and spoken words to symbolic and direct actions. Most recently he voiced his serious criticism at the process of the creation of Iceland’s Energy Master Plan — a plan which, despite its official aim being to settle the constant conflict between nature conservation and energy extraction, is set to have devastating results for Iceland’s glacial rivers and geothermal areas.

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.

Jul 23 2011

Mixed Feelings About Iceland’s Energy Master Plan – Landsvirkjun Presents its Future Strategy


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

Mar 02 2008

Damming of Lower Thjórsá River on Course in Spite of Fierce Local Opposition?


Last Tuesday, Verne Holdings, a joint venture by General Catalyst and Novator, signed a 20 billion Icelandic krónur (306 millions USD) agreement with Landsvirkjun, the National Energy Company, Farice and Keflavík Airport Development Corporation on establishing a data center by Keflavík International Airport.

According to the contract Landsvirkjun will be providing electricity for the data center, around 25 MW per year and the energy is supposed to come from Landsvirkjun´s three planned dams in Þjórsá river. These 25 MW are less then 10 percent of what Landsvirkjun plans to create with the Þjórsá dams.

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Sep 07 2007

‘Glacial Rivers Reduce Pollution on Earth’ by Gudmundur Páll Ólafsson


Glacial rivers are not only the lifeblood of Iceland, but also of the whole planet.

River water contains sediment in suspension and various substances in solution; glacial rivers, especially, carry a large amount of sediment which increases as the atmosphere grows warmer.

River of Life

Rivers of Life

Glacial rivers carry the sediment out to sea, where it takes on a new and important role in binding the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) with calcium (Ca) and converting it into calcite and other carbonate minerals, immensely important in the ocean ecosystems of the world. Thus glacial rivers reduce pollution on Earth. This effect is greatest in recently formed volcanic territory such as Iceland, and the binding effect increases with rising atmospheric temperature.

Glacial rivers bind this gas which, along with some other gases, causes global warming and threatens the future of life of Earth.

When a glacial river is harnessed to generate electricity, this important function, and the binding of the greenhouse gas CO2, is diminished. What they generate is not GREEN ENERGY, as the advocates of hydro-power plants and heavy industry maintain, but BLACK ENERGY.

Dams and reservoirs hinder the function of glacial sediment in the oceans, and hence hydro-electric power plants that harness glacial rivers are far more harmful than has hitherto been believed. Read More

Aug 31 2007

ALCOA and Landsvirkjun in Full Swing with Preparations for Húsavik Smelter


kongurloarvefur

ALCOAs web in the northeast. Click for larger.

Just some of the important issues that are missing from the IR report below are for example the large scale destruction of all the geothermal areas in the northeast and the incredible net of electric pylons that the project entails. It should also be noted that once the smelters are built demands for enlargements always surface. The smelter capacity usually aimed for by aluminium companies is around 500.000 tonns. Once ALCOA have exhausted the geothermal energy of the northeast they will be going for the remaining glacial rivers of all of the north of Iceland. For more information see: A letter to ALCOA from Dr. Ragnhildur Sigurdardóttir and Gudmundur Páll Ólafsson
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Aug 18 2007
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Hydropower Disaster for Global Warming by Jaap Krater, Trouw daily


Trouw (daily), Netherlands, 21 January 2007

Large dams have dramatic consequences. Ecosystems are destroyed and numerous people are made homeless, often without adequate resettlement. But it is yet little known that large-scale hydro-electricity is a major contributor to global warming. The reservoirs could, despite their clean image, be even more devastating for our climate than fossil fuel plants.

 

narmada mapA few years ago, I spent a month in the valley of the Narmada River, to support tribal activists who have been resisting the Sardar Sarovar dam in central India for decades. These indigenous inhabitants, or adivasis, are desperate. In their struggle, inspired by Gandhi, they attempt to drown themselves when their villages are flooded. Death seems preferable to being forced to move from their valley to tin houses on infertile, barren soil. If they’re lucky, they can live on land that nobody else wants, the only available in the densely populated India. This forced resettlement, made necessary by ´progress´, is not unsimilar to what befell American Indians or the Aborigines in Australia. The consequences of mega hydro: cultures die and alcoholism, depression and violence remains. Read More

Aug 10 2007
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A letter to ALCOA from Dr. Ragnhildur Sigurdardóttir and Gudmundur Páll Ólafsson


“The hurt many of us feel towards the developments in eastern Iceland is so great that we will never accept another aluminum smelter to be built in Iceland. We would not be surprised if the environmental NGO’s and grass root organizations would consider the proposed developments in Northern Iceland to be a serious provocation on the behalf of Alcoa.”
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Jul 02 2007

Role of River-Suspended Material in the Global Carbon Cycle


Sigurdur R. Gislason, Eric H. Oelkers, and Árni Snorrason

Geological Society of America
Volume 34, Issue 1 (January 2006)
Article: pp. 49–52
Volume 34, Issue 1 (January 2006)
Article: pp. 49–52

Abstract:

1. Institute of Earth Science, University of Iceland, Sturlugata 7, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland, 2. Géochimie et Biogéochimie Experimentale—LMTG/Université Paul Sabatier, 14 rue Edouard Belin, 31400 Toulouse, France, 3. National Energy Authority, Grensásvegi 9, 108 Reykjavík, Iceland

The reaction of Ca derived from silicate weathering with CO2 in the world’s oceans to form carbonate minerals is a critical step in long-term climate moderation. Ca is delivered to the oceans primarily via rivers, where it is transported either as dissolved species or within suspended material. The relative importance for climate moderation of riverine dissolved Ca vs. suspended Ca transport stems from the total Ca flux and its climate dependence. Data in the literature suggest that, within uncertainty, global riverine dissolved Ca flux is equal to suspended material Ca flux. To determine how these fluxes depend on temperature and rainfall, a 40 yr field study was performed on 4 catchments in northeastern Iceland: Jökulsá á Fjöllum at Grímsstadir, Jökulsá á Dal at Brú, Jökulsá á Dal at Hjardarhagi, and Jökulsá í Fljótsdal at Hóll. Suspended material Ca flux depends more on seasonal and annual temperatures and rainfall variation than does dissolved Ca flux in all four catchments. For example, the average difference between the annual maximum and minimum daily suspended Ca flux for the Jökulsá á Dal at Brú is four orders of magnitude, whereas the difference for dissolved Ca flux is only approximately one order of magnitude. Similarly, the annual dissolved Ca flux for this river varies by a factor of 2.6, whereas its annual suspended Ca flux varies by a factor of 7.1. Because suspended material Ca flux is more dependent on climate, it provides a stronger negative feedback for stabilizing Earth’s temperature through the greenhouse effect. Read More

May 22 2007
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Rising Ecocide: Nests Swallowed by Water at Kárahnjúkar


nest

The surface of Hálslón, the reservoir by Kárahnjúkar dams in Iceland’s eastern highlands, is constantly rising, swallowing nests and eggs laid by geese. The area is the nesting ground for greylag geese amongst numerous other species of rare and endangered birds. At least 500 greylag nests are thought to be at risk.

According to newspaper Morgunbladid, the birds have not yet realized the changes of their summer habitat, which happened when the glacial river Jökulsá á Dal was blocked last autumn to create Kárahnjúkar dam and Hálslón reservoir. This is to provide energy for an ALCOA owned aluminium smelter in nearby fjord, Reydarfjördur.

A protected area, Kringilsárrani, is also being partly drowned and devastated in full by the project. It is the calving ground of a third of Iceland’s reindeer population, which will be displaced.

The Kárahnjúkar area is the most densely vegetated area north of Vatnajökull, the world’s largest non-arctic glacier. Sixty major waterfalls are being destroyed and innumerable unique geological formations drowned, along with the just recently discovered ancient ruins of Reykjasel, about the most important archaeological find in Icelandic history.

The Kárhnjúkar project entails blocking the silt emissions of two massive glacial rivers, Jökulsá á Dal and Jökulsá í Fljótsdal. This will result in the receding of the combined delta of the two rivers. This will destroy a unique nature habitat in the delta and cause the loss of one of Iceland’s major seal colonies.

seal3

The Kárahnjúkar dams are situated on a cluster of active geological fissures. The government withheld geological reports from parliament when voting on the dams took place.

Campos Novos, a dam in Brazil of similar design, cracked in June 2006. Yet, Campos Novos was built on stable ground. Leading Icelandic geologists to consider the Kárahnjúkar dams a major threat to the local population.

The project was opposed by the Icelandic National Planning Agency due to too much irreversible environmental impact and insufficient evidence for the economic benefits of the project. The verdict of the NPA was overruled by the Minister of the Environment, Siv Fridleifsdóttir.

It is typical for the dishonest methods of the National Power Company (Landsvirkjun) that they pretend that the EIA they present on their Kárahnjúkar website is anything other than their own slanted PR job. You can read the real thing here: ‘Conclusion of the Environmental Impact Assessment of the Kárahnjúkar Project’
The Icelandic National Planning Agency

It is expected that the inundation will be complete in the autumn of 2007. The water levels of the reservoir will fluctuate and the dry dusty silt banks will cause dust storms that will affect the vegetation of over 3000 sq km. It has been estimated that the reservoir will silt up in as little as 40-80 years, leaving a desert where there was one of the most biologically diverse regions of the Icelandic highlands.

So much for the claims of Landsvirkjun and ALCOA that this provides “renewable” and “sustainable” energy!

submerged vegetation

ALCOA are adding insult to injury by demanding another smelter in the north of Iceland. This would entail the destruction of numerous geothermal fields and several major glacial rivers in the north.

ALCOA may think that they will get away with this vandalising of the Icelandic environment and that they can force their presence upon Iceland, against the will of half the nation. They are wrong.

ALCOA are not likely to be forgiven for Kárahnjúkar. Through this project ALCOA have gained many new enemies, both Icelandic and international. In due time these are sure to make ALCOA pay a heavy price for this ecocide.

Beautiful slideshow of the Jokulsa a Bru in all its living wonder, Kárahnjúkar and Töfrafoss in August 2006, just before the inundation. Photos by Christopher Lund. Music by Damien Rice.

For the ecological impact of hydropower reservoirs and glacial rivers see the following articles:

‘Hydropower Disaster for Global Warming’ by Jaap Krater

‘Glacial Rivers Reduce Pollution on Earth’ by Gudmundur Páll Ólafsson

Hydroelectric Power’s Dirty Secret Revealed

For other articles about the environmental impact of the Kárahnjúkar dams see ‘Destroyed Areas’

Campos Novos CU

Campos Novos

Mar 21 2007
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Environmentalists in Uproar as Iceland Pays the Price for ‘Green’ Energy Push


The Independent
21 March 2007
Richard Hollingham

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