Sep 25 2008

Saving Iceland Disrupts International Aluminium Conference in Germany

Today, the 11th International Conference on Aluminium Aloys (ICAA) met with angry protests. Activists from the environmentalist network Saving Iceland disrupted the proceedings at the University in Aachen. Early this morning, during one of Rio Tinto Alcan’s lectures, the fire alarms in the building were put on. Later today – again during Rio Tinto Alcan’s lecture – stink bombs were thrown and a high volume rape alarm was put on and suspended out of reach by green and black helium baloons. The auditorium was also strewn with information leaflets. The aim was to call attention to the industry’s singular involvement in ecological destruction in Iceland, as well as on a global scale.

The ICAA conference is a weeklong event held at a different international location every 2 years. This is its first appearance in Germany and as such is run in parallel to the Aluminium trade fair in Essen, about 80 km away. This double event is sure to call together all major players of an industry that still tries to present itself as having a green conscience, and with some success: Alcoa has been included in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, for the 7th year running. [1] Environmentalists dispute this depiction in the strongest terms.

Global Impacts
“There is no level on which the continued expansion of the aluminium industry can be pursued sustainably” says Andreas Jager of Saving Iceland,” In India, for example, the primary material, bauxite, is open-cast mined and refined into alumina, stripping rainfores covered mountains, displacing tribal people from their land and polluting the water supply with “red mud” residue [2, 3]. In Australia and Jamaica, virgin forests are also destroyed for the same prize – and with the same toxic consequences [4].

Destruction of Icelandic Wilderness, for weapons
“ In Iceland, the country’s unique natural landscape is being raided for its energy potential by these multinational invaders: at a time when the world is finally waking up to climate change, the effect of our high energy dependence, the process of aluminium production requires colossal quantities of electricity, for which it plans to block and harness every glacial river, exploit every geothermal field and transform Iceland’s wild beauty into a spent and polluted wasteland, dotted with smelters. This does not equate to green energy, particularly considering that the planned Icelandic aluminium smelters will far exceed the generous 1,600,000 tonnes of emissions permitted to that country under the Kyoto Convention [5].

“And the end product? For the most part, military hardware used for destruction of every imaginable kind, aviation, which is increasingly being shown to be incompatible with a stable climate, and disposable packaging, a symptom of our wasteful society. There can be no future for this industry, above all others, if we are to avoid environmental crisis.”

Rio Tinto Alcan’s Envrionmental and Human Crimes
Saving Iceland protests Rio Tinto’s investments in Iceland and in Africa. In Iceland the RT-Alcan smelter in Hafnarfjordur, southwest Iceland is being upgraded to increase production. The Budarhals dam is currently being constructed to power the smelter expansion.

“The people of Hafnarfjordur voted against expansion of the smelter in a local referendum, but still production is being increased,” says Jager. “The smelter discards its toxic spent potlinings in a landfill in the sea that floods at high tide [6]. We do not want more pollution and we do not want more dams here in Iceland, which are destroying our beautiful wilderness. Especially for a company with the most abysmal record in human rights,” states Jager.

Rio Tinto has been accused of subjecting it’s workers to poisoning in mines, of having security guards shooting locals looking for small amounts of gold in one of it’s mines and having union-members spied upon and fired [7, 8]. It has also hired mercenary forces against local populations protesting it’s operations in Papua and Bougainville [9, 10, 11].

The Norwegian government has sold its shares in Rio Tinto because it’s Grasberg mine in West Papua has devastated the land of the Amungme and Kamoro tribes. Norway sold its almost £500 million shares in Rio Tinto following recommendations from its Council on Ethics to exclude the company from its government pension fund [12].

International Solidarity
People all around the world are waking up and becoming aware of the destruction caused by the aluminium industry, as well as the situation in Iceland. Last week, big banners were hanged up in Copenhagen saying: “The Aluminium Industry is Destroying All Major Icelandic Rivers!” [13].

Footnotes and further reference:

[6] Rio Tinto Alcan (2008). Alcan Environment: Potlinings. [Accessed September 24th, 2009].
[7] SBS Australia (200). Dateline, Report on Rio Tinto, August 2000.
[8] Asia-Pacific Human Rights Network, “Rio Tinto’s Record and the Global Compact,” July 13th 2001.
[9] Wikipedia Germany (22-7-2007),…
[10] Contract between PNG Government and Sandline:….
[11] Sarei v Rio Tinto, 456 F.3d 1069 (9th Cir. 2006), USA.
[12] Survival International (2008). Norwegian government – Rio Tinto’s Papua mine unethical.… [Accessed September 24th, 2008]