Apr 13 2005

Saving Iceland: The Buck Stops Here

Newsletter Issue 23 April/May 2005


In March 2004, the government of Iceland held a conference in the capital Reykjavik. It was a private conference, attended by representatives of the top multinational corporations, Rio Tinto, Alcoa and Alcan among them, and the population were not told about it in advance. Iceland, a government spokesman informed its people afterwards, was now open for business.

The country, the government implied, promised to be heavy industry ’s Eldorado in Europe; offering an abundant, accessible power supply available at third world prices (prices the government still refuse to make public). Iceland ’s state-controlled journalists reported this news with dutiful enthusiasm. The government added that these, and future deals. would benefit local people, and cited a rise in local employment as a clinching factor. Polls were released showing that eighty percent of the public were in favour of more heavy industry.

Today, a recent Gallup poll shows ten percent of the Icelandic people in favour of more heavy industry. The map demonstrating what these industries intend to do to Iceland by the year 2020 looks like a bloodstain spattered over silk; irreversible and shocking. The government are lining corporations up – mainly aluminium producers and associated industries – to dam and build on all of Iceland ’s major glacial rivers. In the eastern highlands, an Italian construction company has shipped in 1,500 Portuguese workers to start work on the first of these projects: a series of giant dams in one of Europe ’s most unspoilt and fragile wildernesses.

As Corporate Watch recently reported, the Karahnjukar project, which will flood the surrounding countryside out of existence, will be the largest in Europe. The dams are to power a factory built by US construction company Bechtel, which will then be run by US aluminium company Alcoa. The Icelandic people have not, generally, shown any desire to work in this most polluting of industries. Bechtel are in the process of recruiting hundreds of Polish workers, who will be kept away from the local population, in huts behind barbed wire fences. Meanwhile, the Portuguese dam workers have been struggling in arctic conditions, with cold, leaky housing and inadequate clothing. Unable to complete their shifts, many of them have been fired.

‘We are looking at the complete destruction of the highlands of Iceland. And of course an incredible rise in pollution. And the total erosion of so-called democracy in Iceland. And yes, we are fighting for the cod banks, as well. We have one of the few substantial codbanks left around – fed by the river that the Karahnjukar project will dam. It will become a sort of cess pool instead’.
Olafur Pall, Icelandic environmentalist.

The Karahnjukar project is already months behind schedule – apart from the labour disputes, it was discovered that it is being built on an earthquake zone. ‘They are still doing the superficial work’ says Olafur. ‘A lot of it is reversible. And that ’s what we are relying on’.

The project has already been condemned by the WWF, the RSPB, Birdlife International and the International Rivers Network. An Early Day Motion has also just been tabled in the UK Parliament by MP Sue Doughty, titled ‘Destruction of the Icelandic Highlands ’, and has so far been signed by 29 MPS.

A protest camp will start in the second half of June, and continue to the end of August. The Icelandic people will supply food, and people are asked to bring warm, light, waterproof clothing and their own camping gear. ‘International support will galvanise people. If you come this summer – it doesn ’t matter even if it ’s for a long or a short time – if you show up, each individual will really count’ Olafur confirms.