'Jökulsá á Fjöllum' 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

Jun 24 2011
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Environmentalists Excluded from Master Plan on the Future of Nature Conservation


At the beginning of July the results of a framework programme, concerning the exploitation and protection of Iceland’s natural resources, will be presented publicly. The timing of the presentation has much more to do with demands from the labour market agents, rather than the government’s will to try to reach a settlement about the result, according to the Icelandic Nature Conservation Association (INCA, or NSÍ in Icelandic), which is highly critical of many aspects of the making of the framework programme.

One of the association’s primary criticisms is directed towards the fact that a particular committee, nominated to sort the areas in question into three different categories: protection, hold and utilization – did not include a single representative from environmentalist organizations. Whereas representatives from the energy and tourism industries, as well as the ministries of environment and industry, had seats on the committee. The viewpoint of nature conservation has thus no spokesperson in the working progress, states a press release from INCA. Read More

Mar 05 2011
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Alcoa: Where Will the New Dams be Built?


By Jaap Krater

Last spring ALCOA released the first draft of the joint environmental impact assessment for the proposed Bakki smelter and power plants at Krafla and Theistareykir. Recently Iceland’s National Planning Agency commented on the draft assessment in a damning commentary.

The agency stated that the environmental impacts of the project are high and cannot be mitigated. 17,000 ha of untouched wilderness will be affected. Greenhouse gas emissions of the project would constitute 14% of Iceland’s total. There is a great deal of uncertainty on the full impact of the planned power plants and particularly on how much geothermal energy can be sustainably produced. Finally, the assessed energy projects will not be able to fully power the smelter, with 140 MW of capacity missing.

This confirms three key points of critique on the smelter that we have been voicing for several years now. Read More

Nov 29 2010
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Damning Environmental Assessment of ALCOA’s Smelter Plans for Northern Iceland


November 25th, the joint Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on Alcoa’s planned 346 thousand ton aluminum smelter at Bakki, Húsavík, was finally published. In response, Iceland’s National Planning Agency released an extremely critical commentary regarding the planned smelter and the geothermal plants that are supposed to power it.

It states that:

– Environmental impacts of the project are high and cannot be mitigated.
– 17,000 ha of untouched wilderness will be affected
– Greenhouse gas emissions of the project would constitute 14% of Iceland’s total.
– There is a high amount of uncertainty regarding the full impact of the planned geothermal power plants and particularly their impact of the geothermal energy resource base.
– The assessed energy projects are not sufficient to power the smelter, with 140 MW of capacity missing.

“These reports confirms three key elements of critique that Saving Iceland voiced now several years ago,” says Jaap Krater, a spokesperson for Saving Iceland. 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

Aug 11 2008

Blowing up Mountains, Taking Drugs and Pink Toilets


Jaap Krater, Iceland Review – As someone who has been active with Saving Iceland for a number of years, I read James Weston’s column about media coverage on our campaign with much amusement. Many of his comments are not only funny but also have a ring of truth.
For me, they also illustrate something that is quite sad. People watch TV and see others chaining themselves to machines, according to polls most might even agree with them that they do not want more dams or smelters, and they get bored. Read More