Jul 29 2009

Why Does Saving Iceland Not Discuss With the Minister of Industry?

Shortly after the news about how Saving Iceland closed the offices of institutions and companies involved in the heavy industrialization of Iceland, Katrín Júlíusdóttir, the Minister of Industry said that she had not been able to study the message of Saving Iceland. She said that she had not received a written report from the group and not decided to contact it, but said that she takes a look at all factual comments that she receives. (1)

This is a typical answer for a politician or a corporation’s worker when his/her job is criticized. It is impossible to keep track of how many times Saving Iceland has been offered to sit down and chat with the spokespersons of companies like Landsvirkjun (Iceland’s national energy company) and political parties’ representatives. The purpose with these invitations to meetings is of course only to create a positive image of the corporation or the institution and give the idea that conversation and information are necessary parts of the business. When Saving Iceland has refused these offers, the movement has been stamped as non-factual and with a lack of knowledge, e.g. last summer when Landsvirkjun’s director, Friðrik Sophusson said the Saving Iceland was only asking for attention by acting like clowns. (2)

Katrín Júlíusdóttir knows just as well as Friðrik Sophusson what Saving Iceland’s message and aims are, and thus does not have to ask herself why the group did not wish to meet up with her. Environmentalists in Iceland – including Saving Iceland – have for years explained their resistance towards the heavy industrialization of Iceland with powerful information campaigns, publishing magazines and pamphlets, keeping up websites etc. etc. Most of Saving Iceland’s actions have been followed up with comprehensive press releases, including inconvenient facts about the companies that have to do with the heavy industrialization and information about the serious effects of aluminium production. These press releases have e.g. lead to the fact that the media coverage about the issue has widened. An example of that is the media coverage on the effects of bauxite mining and the aluminium companies’ connection and co-operation with arms producers and war institutions. (3)

The institutions and companies that Saving Iceland targeted last Tuesday have on the other hand systematically kept up non-factual campaign against the country’s nature and society, which is at best described as misuse of power. The Ministry of Industry, which Katrín now leads, holds the biggest responsibility for “Lowest Energy Prices”, an advertisement booklet, which was sent to a mass of international corporations who all had in common the need of enormous amount of energy and resources. Amongst the promises that the Minsitry of Industry gave in this booklet was ‘minimum of red tape’ which fundamentally means that few legal boundaries will stand in the way of the corporations’ plans. As a whole the booklet is a pathetic call-out from the Icelandic authorities, asking for an invasion of global capitalism. (4) It is also worth mentioning when the water rights of the river Þjórsá (Thjórsá, which Landsvirkjun wants to dam to create energy for Century Aluminum’s smelter in Helguvík) was given to Landsvirkjun on a silver plate behind closed doors, only few days before the parliamentary elections in the spring of 2007. These are only two of many examples. (5)

Saving Iceland is well aware of the fact that another political party is now sitting in the Ministry of Industry, then when the above-mentioned incidents took place. But since Samfylkingin (The Social Democratic Alliance) took office in the ministry, its words and actions have not given any other idea then that the party’s environmental policy is exactly the same as the government’s of Sjálfsæðisflokkur and Framsókn (both right wing parties who created the heavy industrialization plan). Össur Skarphéðinssons, Samfylkingin’s former Minister of Industry, stood strong on his positive opinion on damming Þjórsá and has all the ‘honor’ of the recently signed discount-contract between the Icelandic state and Century Aluminium, concerning the latter’s in-construction aluminium smelter in Helguvík. (6) Recently, Katrín Júlíusdóttir reflected Skarphéðinsson’s will for damming Þjórsár when ASÍ (one of Iceland’s biggest labor union) and Samtök Iðnaðarins (the Industry’s Association) demanded that all boundaries would be removed from the way of damming Þjórsá before November 1st, under the superscription that the dams are one of the main premises for the so-called ‘Convention of Stability’, concerning the Icelandic economy. (7) And only few days ago, Júlíusdótir officially agreed with the idea to renew the memorandum of understanding concerning Alcoa’s planned smelter in Bakki, Húsavík. (8)

It is clear that the current government is pushing through the same policy as before – now in the name of the restoration of the economy and the reconstruction of the Icelandic society after the bank collapse. These arguments sound familiar as those used when the construction of the huge Kárahnjúkar Dam and Alcoa’s smelter in Reyðarfjörður was pushed through with the force of domination, despite fierce opposition and critique. The mens rea towards the Icelandic nature was so focused that Valgerður Sverrisdóttir, then Minister of Industry, enlarged her constituency and “bent all the rules” for the projects, like Friðrik Sophusson worded it when he told it to Alan Belda, Alcoa’s director. (9)

The construction was supposed to bring finance into Icelandic society and bring life to the communities in the East. Recent studies on the financial benefits of aluminium production here in Iceland prove that the facts are different, like many environmentalists and economists mentioned before and while the construction took place. This pleading was systematically broken down and stamped as political propaganda; environmentalists were accused of being working against the welfare of people in general. Does it then surprise Katrín Júlíusdóttir that the opposes of heavy industry and big dams do not see the purpose of applying for a meeting with her?

Last February, Indriði H. Þorláksson, economist and former tax director revealed his report on the economical effects of heavy industry here in Iceland. The report says e.g.: “The main economical benefits of heavy industry owned by foreign companies are the taxes they pay. It can be estimated that the tax payments of an average aluminium smelter are about 1.2 billions ISK per year. That is only about 0.1 percent of the national production.” (10)

And just yesterday, Tuesday July 28th, RÚV (national radio and TV station) talked about the results of a report that Steingrímur J. Sigfússon, the Minister of finance asked for, concerning the selling of energy to heavy industry. One of the main results is that the price that aluminium companies pay for energy here in Iceland is so low that now real financial benefit comes from the selling. (11) How many times have environmentalists pointed out this fact? Well, this is the main premise for the aluminium companies to move their production to Iceland.

At the moment aluminium prices are minimum and Norsk Hydro’s director recently stated that he feared that the ‘aluminium crisis’ was just about to begin. (12) The aluminium companies sit up with supplies of aluminium but construction in still on full blast in Helguvík and politicians talk seriously about a smelter in Húsavík. The aim of the government of Samfylking and Vinstri Grænir (Left Greens) seems to be to continue producing enormous amount of aluminium, without concerning the environmental and social impact of the production, both here in Iceland and elsewhere in the world, e.g. where bauxite mining takes place. The projects are an experiment to sustain life in the capitalist economy-system, which only serves the benefits of those who own finance.

Therefor there is nothing as sensible as closing down the institutions and companies who represent the heavy industrialization of Iceland


(1) News article on Vísir, http://visir.is/article/20090728/FRETTIR…
(2) News article on Mbl.is , http://mbl.is/mm/frettir/innlent/2008/07…
(3) In the summer of 2008, Saving Iceland held a conference in Reykavík titled Clean Alauminium? where the Indian activist and author Samarendra Das spoke about the environmental and social impacts of bauxite mining on indigenous people in India. Two days later, the editorial of Morgunblaðið (Iceland’s biggest newspaper) was about the conference and its contents. On the same page there was a huge article on bauxite but before this the media had hardly spoken about bauxite, which is incredible since bauxite is the main raw material for aluminium production – for each ton of produced aluminium, 4-6 tons of bauxite are needed.
(4) An Agency of the Ministry of Industry and Energy and the National Power Company (1995). Lowest Energy Prices!! In Europe For New Contracts
(5) News article on Rúv.is, http://www.ruv.is/heim/frettir/frett/sto…
(6) News article on Mbl.is, http://mbl.is/mm/frettir/kosningar/2009/…
(7) News article on Mbl.is, http://mbl.is/mm/frettir/innlent/2009/07…
(8) News article on Rúv.is, http://ruv.is/heim/frettir/frett/store64…
(9) Draumalandið (The Dreamland), a documentary by Andri Snær Magnason og Þorfinnur Guðnason
(10) Efnahagsleg áhrif stóriðju (Economical Benefits of Heavy Industry), a report by Indriði H. Þorláksson, http://inhauth.blog.is/users/a7/inhauth/…
(11) News article on Rúv.is, http://ruv.is/heim/frettir/frett/store64…
(12) News article on Smugan ,http://www.smugan.is/frettir/frettir/2009/03/06/nr/1195