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.
They might have gone to the Nattura concert, or seen some of Ómar Ragnarsson’s images or maybe they might have even looked at our website. They might have voted for the Social Democrats and against heavy industry at the last elections, to be betrayed now.

They might have thought Karahnjukar was a shame, or even a necessary sacrifice, but that it would be limited to just that.

Two years after the flooding in the east, what is happening now? The Century smelter at Hvalfjordur has just been expanded, without anyone really noticing. A huge part of the Hengill area is being blown up right now with explosives to make the ground level enough for the geothermal boreholes and pipes constructed by low-paid Eastern Europeans working 72 hours a week, living in something that makes the newly opened Akureyri Prison look like Hotel Nordica.

Work has been started to build a smelter in Helguvik for which the same will happen to all the geothermal areas in Reykjanes. Never mind the environmental impact (which hasn’t even been assessed yet).

At Krafla, Alcoa and Landsvirkjun are drilling boreholes right into one of the top 10 tourist attractions of Iceland, the Viti volcano crater. At Theistareykir the deep drilling testing has accidentally created a new arsenic-sulphur lake. Oops.

Apparently most Reykjavik journalists are too bored with the issue to go and take a few pictures up north, no one has written anything about it.

In the mean time, everyone who can calculate that one plus one is two can figure out that there won’t be enough geothermal energy in the north to power a second Alcoa smelter. If the smelter plans aren’t stopped now it is inevitable that Skjalfandafljot and the Skagafjördur rivers or Jökulsá á Fjöllum will be dammed. But apparently most journalists have forgotten their basic maths and choose to ignore the obvious.

Last year, before the Saving Iceland protest camp began, we had a two-day conference where we browsed through every little detail of the aluminium industry. We had people over from Africa, Trinidad and Brazil telling their stories. The whole conference was completely ignored by Icelandic media.

They are mostly not interested in that kind of thing. It’s boring.

When we chain ourselves to something, they always phone up asking for injuries, arrests, whether things are damaged or stolen and if anyone ever uses drugs or has ever flown in an aluminium plane.

The papers don’t show photos of pollution lakes or blown up mountains but what they do print is a giant close-up of our camp toilet. We just hope people have a look at our website or find some other way to inform themselves and then decide to take whatever kind of action they feel is appropriate.

I find it quite amusing to have the weirdest questions being asked, such as “do you use cutlery to eat?” but it also makes me incredibly sad. James, you are right, but tell me, what should we do? Maybe I will start working on my giant pink footed goose costume!

Apparently four years of climbing cranes has not motivated many people to actually do something about making sure there will not be any new dams. Everyone is just bored and apathetic about it.

Write something, make a complaint, get angry at politicians for breaking election promises, phone people up, whatever it is you can do, if you oppose these projects, no one will stop them if no one does anything. Please!

Jaap Krater

Saving Iceland’s Attention

James Weston, Iceland Review – The television is on in the corner of the room showing the evening news bulletin. A young protester is chained to a fence with a few police officers trying to pull her away. A crowd of onlookers is standing with their mouth’s agape, a few still waving their own protest banners.

Now this may seem like exciting television, but for some, it’s quite the opposite. During the piece I found my own attention wandering from the television towards the conversation that has just started between two friends. It doesn’t appear they’re listening either.

This is a piece regarding the latest protest by Saving Iceland, “who do not intend to stand by passively and watch the Icelandic government in league with foreign corporations slowly kill the natural beauty of Iceland.”

Everyone seems to have an opinion on the aluminum smelting issue facing Iceland. I’ve previously presented my outlook on the situation. That’s not to say that all of my friends and new Icelandic family agrees with me. On the contrary, there are quite a few that strongly disagree! The issue is a debate starter, but for both sides, the debate is entered with a sigh. A “here we go again…”

I keep some of my fears hidden just to grease the wheels of friendly, social conversation. Some situations do not welcome the discussion, of course. It’s tantamount to announcing that you were a card-holding communist at dinner with Joe McCarthy! I will say at this point, I am not and never have been a member of Saving Iceland. In fact I don’t know anyone that is.

With the frequent media coverage, “Saving Iceland” seems to have become a by-word for someone who posses a little environmental awareness. The mention of those two words seems to conjure up images of hand holding, banner waving lunatics .The woman from Saving Iceland interviewed after the news piece does much to uphold the viewpoint. A well-spoken Brit, earthen clothing, complete with big red dreadlocks. You really don’t get more new-age hippy than this!

There are many of my friends who are fiercely against the smelting program. When I ask them about Saving Iceland, the responses are all very similar. The overriding issue being that they are simply bored of it all. They have been seeing this for ages and find themselves switching off when any news item is raised about the group. “It’s always in the news and I kind of switch off” is a common reaction. They’re aware of the issue, but seeing it almost every day pushes it into the background for them.

It’s an age-old problem for any issue worldwide. Prolonged attention in the public eye will lead to a stagnation of reaction. Saving Iceland have done a fantastic job in keeping their cause in the public psyche. It’s a grand project and the commitment admirable. As always though, people will be looking for something new. Being told the same thing again and again does become, well, boring.

Maybe the fact that people are bored of the issue is signs of a job truly well done for Saving Iceland. They’ve almost become ubiquitous, part of the news briefings almost as much as Sports & Weather. Not everyone is going to grow dreadlocks and get out the padlocks and chains; but they are constantly aware of the situation whether it bores them or not.