What is Saving Iceland? Short answer by Dominic N, long answer by Rachael

Short Answer

Saving Iceland is a global network of individuals who come together to build a grassroots movement able to defend the Icelandic wildernesses from the death kiss of Heavy Industry. We aim to be as creative, organic and powerful as the landscape that forms our raison d’etre. Therefore we are made up of activists, artists and academics who build by pushing the boundaries of resistance and protest. Like a healthy ecosystem whose essence lies in equal coexistence not stifling hierarchies and mastering patriarchs, we refuse all leadership structures, both internal and external. We see ourselves as borderless as the Earth itself and we recognise Iceland’s place within global capitalism, therefore we work alongside grassroots groups all over the planet to create a unified and diverse movement against heavy industry, wherever it arrives. Our values are as uncompromising as a winter blizzard on Vatnajökul, and we will not relent until the Heavy Industrialists flee terrified like a failed expedition onto that glacier.

Long Answer

To explain what Saving Iceland is, it is best to first describe what it is not. It is not a membership organisation along the lines of Greenpeace, for example: it is not a NGO. Neither is it part of the political structure of any country: it is not a Party Political. There are no paid employees, no administration and no leaders or elite governing group.

Instead, the name Saving Iceland represents a group of people who are dedicated to opposing the destruction of Icelandic wild nature for the benefit of corporate industry in the form of aluminium multinationals. Just as the corporations operate on a global scale, so is the resistance: people from many different countries are part of Saving Iceland. Anyone who actively campaigns on our side and does not publicly speak or act against other Saving Iceland protesters is welcome to join us.

What unites us is our refusal to compromise on our principles. For example, we will not buy a partial victory in one dam scheme at the expense of another: no destruction of the wilderness for the profits of industrial multinationals is acceptable. We are also committed to making decisions through consensus decision making, which means that all Saving Iceland activists have a say and no one is any more “in charge” than anyone else. In other words, non-hierarchy is one of the principles of this movement.

Saving Iceland was primarily set up as a direct action group. That is not to say that ANY level of peaceful protest is discouraged or down-graded. On the contrary, whatever form of protest or role within the campaign people feel comfortable with is encouraged and can be done under the Saving Iceland banner. Nevertheless, the general leaning is towards the more radical type of action, or at least, Saving Iceland covers a spectrum in which radical actions are included. This distinguishes us from groups who concentrate purely on, say, political lobbying.

All that is required in order to be part of Saving Iceland is solidarity with each other, and a commitment to the principles of non-hierarchy and non-compromise (in other words, not following leaders and not selling out!). The summer camps are open to anyone who wants to fight the environmental destruction alongside us and who can adhere to these fundamental principles.

What is the point of Direct Action? Answer by Jackal (adapted from Groenfront.org)

The difference between symbolic action (protest) and direct action (resistance) is that there is a direct effect. With symbolic actions you think about demonstrations, petitions and so on. With direct action you think about occupation, blockades and sabotage. Because of an action camp in the trees the trees can not be felled. Because of an occupation of a building site or sabotage of a gentech field the work is stopped. Direct action is usually only started when all the other means (for instance legal) have been exhausted. Saving Iceland is not a pressure group. We do not primarily want to put pressure on politicians to get them to make different decisions about a certain issue. We also do not do an occupation or other direct action to increase our lobbying power (even though it can be a side-effect that the actions of Saving Iceland can improve the position of other environmental organisations at the negotiating table). This does not by definition mean that we never ever participate in demonstrations, and in some cases we might do symbolic actions, or attempt to increase pressure for some issue to be resolved, for example by demonstrating at or attempting to occupy an embassy. The crux is that we think that we should all undertake action ourselves to stop ecocide because nobody, not the government or industry or your neighbour can be relied on to do it for you and there is no more time to lose….

I can’t travel to Iceland in the summer, what else can I do? Answer by Harold Roberts

There are loads of things people from other countries can do. Multinational corporations work all over the world (that’s why they are multinational), so the destruction of Iceland’s wilderness is just an example of a bigger problem and stopping them only in Iceland won’t stop them from destroying other places in other countries. The protest camp is a local act of a global thinking. International pressure is very important, as well as making everybody know about what they are doing (many people have no idea about this). Organize meetings, prepare demos, make fliers, or don’t – be creative! And tell people about this who can come so they can see it with their own eyes.

Solidarity actions are specially welcome. They tell Icelandic society that we won’t let them do it without a fight, it doesn’t matter how far they are. It’s also a way of supporting people who are fighting in Iceland and reminding them that they are not alone. All these companies are hidden almost in every country. Look at their webpages, you’ll be surprised to discover how many factories, offices, and corporate centers they have. In The Nature Killers list you can find out the locations of some of the locations in your country, there’s also a Hall of Shame list with e-mail addresses so you and your friends can let certain individuals know what you think about what they are doing. Icelandic embassies are also good places to make them know what you think. But remember that you don’t need a specific place to do something, nor do you need to read a FAQ section to act by yourself. Don’t feel like you are helping us or somebody: if you are against the destruction of wilderness by heavy industry as we are, you should be a part of us as we should be a part of you. The nature we are trying to save is not ours, it is everybody’s, so it is everybody’s responsibility to take care of it.

What has it got to do with foreigners? Answer by Mary O’Connor

Firstly, I believe that the state of the planet is the responsibility of us all. The people in power are neither democratically elected nor do they have our interests at heart. They pay no attention to borders and move their businesses around according to profit, regardless of how it will affect humans, any other species, or the environment. I believe we have a responsibility to do what we can to protect what is left of our planet’s beauty – as Alice Walker said, “Activism is my rent for living on this planet”

It wasn’t considered odd for thousands of westerners to campaign about the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, this was indeed a fairly mainstream thing to be concerned about. Why then should Iceland be any different – it is a unique island on our planet and it would be a loss to the whole planet not just its inhabitants if it were to be destroyed. If we can care about the Amazon jungle we can show we care about Iceland’s wilderness.

Indeed the issue of heavy industry in Iceland is by its nature a global one. The hydro power generated by damming up Iceland’s glacial rivers will be used to smelt aluminium. The raw materials will be mined from countries like Australia, Brazil, China and Jamaica. The main construction company building the dams is the Italian Impregilo. The electricity that will be generated has already been sold to three companies from the Americas (Alcoa and Century Aluminum) and Canada (Alcan). Even the workers constructing the dams are mostly from China, Poland, Portugal and Italy.

It is Iceland’s untouched natural beauty that draws tourists there and at the present time any one of us with the freedom of movement and sufficient finances can go there and experience it. It is not about whether as foreigners we have the right to interfere with Iceland’s internal politics, it is more about the gift of Iceland’s beauty being protected by whoever is able to, for the benefit of the planet as a whole.

Icelandic people are involved in the campaign, and it was Icelandic people doing this who first called out for people from other countries to get involved and help the campaign. Also, those who live in Iceland have to continue their lives there, and it has been made difficult for some of those who have spoken out about these issues to continue their lives in peace. Every day we hear about a country somewhere, where what happens within it is deemed unacceptable by other countries, other organisations such as the UN and NATO and the alliance of the UK and USA (and whoever else went into Afghanistan and Iraq). So it is considered OK and even necessary that people from other countries; be they soldiers or inspectors take action on issues going on in other countries. The question is, who decides when, and what are the real reasons for them doing this?

Aren’t dams renewable energy? Answer by Jaap Krater

Despite the social and environmental devastation, large dams can still count on sympathy. After all, they are thought to provide clean energy and thus a weapon in the battle against climate change. But more and more evidence is emerging that suggests something completely different. When a reservoir fills and land is drowned, the original vegetation starts to rot. The methane that is formed, escapes when the water bursts forth from turbines under pressure. The changing water level due to seasonal variation ensures a continual supply of rotting organic matter. A dam reservoir is like a big engine converting atmospheric carbon into methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times as powerful as carbon dioxide.

The emission of this gas from dam heads has not been modelled until recently. The National Institute for Research in the Amazon has surveyed major dams in Brazil and reports that, thanks to this methane engine, mega hydro emits 3 to 54 times more carbon dioxide-equivalent in greenhouse gases per megawatt than modern gas power stations.

Furthermore recent Icelandic research has found that glacial rivers such as the one dammed at Karahnjukar if allowed to flow to the sea are essential to the proper functioning of an important carbon sink. The silt carried in the river feeds the marine ecosystems where carbon dioxide is taken from the atmosphere and made into creatures shells.

Ironically, climate change itself decreases the effectiveness of hydro-electricity. Many hydro-dependent countries, including Tanzania, Albania, Brazil, Ghana, Norway, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan and Vietnam have suffered serious power shortages due to droughts.

Large dams also affect the climate indirectly. Brazil wants to build seven new dams in the Amazon basin to supply electricity to the aluminium industry. Aluminium contributes heavily to climate change, due to emission of large amounts of carbon dioxide and perfluorocarbons: potent, extremely persistent greenhouse agents, released in the electrolytic processing of bauxite. Iceland is building the 190 meter high Karahnjukar dam for the American aluminium giant ALCOA: the first in a series, that, when completed, will flood the largest pristine wilderness in Europe. Iceland has a comfortable amount of yet unspent carbon credits. But Icelandic aluminium smelters will far exceed the 1,600,000 tonnes of emissions permitted under the Kyoto Convention if all of the planned smelter projects materialise.

Where does Aluminium come from and how is it produced? Answer by Lemy Beck

Aluminium is found primarily in bauxite ore. Bauxite is refined into alumina (aluminium oxide trihydrate) and then electrolytically reduced into metallic aluminium.

The Bayer Process – extracting alumina from bauxite:

Bauxite contains only 30-54% alumina, the rest being a mixture of silica, various iron oxides, and titanium dioxide. The alumina must be purified before it can be refined to aluminium metal. This process has several stages:

  • The bauxite is washed with a hot solution of sodium hydroxide at 175 degrees Celsius, converting the alumina to aluminium hydroxide, which dissolves in the hydroxide solution.
  • The other components of bauxite do not dissolve and are filtered from the solution as a toxic mixture of solid impurities, called red mud. See ‘pollutants’.
  • The hydroxide solution is cooled, and the dissolved aluminium hydroxide precipitates out as a white, fluffy solid.
  • When then heated to 1050 degrees Celsius, the aluminium hydroxide decomposes to alumina, giving off water vapour in the process.

The Hall-Héroult process – from alumina to aluminium:

  • Alumina is then dissolved in a carbon-lined bath of molten cryolite (a highly toxic compound of aluminium, sodium and fluoride). Aluminium fluoride is also present to reduce the melting point of the cryolite.
  • The mixture is electrolysed, which reduces the liquid aluminium. This causes the liquid aluminium to be deposited at the cathode as a precipitate.
  • The liquid aluminium product is denser than the molten cryolite and sinks to the bottom of the bath, where it is periodically collected.

***Recovery of the metal via recycling uses only five percent of the energy needed to produce aluminium from ore.***


The whole process of aluminium production is environmentally disastrous from the start. Strip mining the 5 tons of bauxite needed per ton of aluminium is a major cause of water pollution. Across the process a greater tonnage of pollutants is produced than aluminium:

Red mud is the highly caustic mixture left over when alumina is extracted from bauxite. It contains silica, barium, boron, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, gallium, vanadium, scandium, and lead, as well as radionuclides. Dumped by the industry as a fine dust, these fine particles can get into peoples lungs, causing silicosis, cancer, and other diseases linked to radiation.

Sulphur dioxide -the World Bank handbook states that modern smelters can achieve a sulphur dioxide emission rate of one kilogram per ton of aluminium. Despite this, Alcoa says the brand new smelter in Reydarfjordur will emit no more than 12 kilograms per ton of aluminium.

Spent Pot Lining – Designated a hazardous material by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the UK’s Department for the Environment, the aluminium industry produces hundreds of thousands of tons of SPA every year.

Inorganic fluorides, produced by the aluminium industry, affect basic physiological and biochemical processes of fish, plants and other aquatic organisms, slowing growth and causing abnormal behaviour. Fluoride was used by the German Nazis to make people ‘stupid and docile’.

Greenhouse Gasses – Perfluorocarbons (compounds of carbon and fluorine) are extremely potent greenhouse gasses. Several thousand tons are produced each year by the aluminium industry.

Carbon dioxide is released when the carbon anode in the smelting pots is anodised. Further emissions come from round-the-world transport of the raw, intermediate and finished materials, (Alcoa is shipping alumina from Australia to it’s new smelter in Iceland) and of course from the various methods of generating the huge amounts of electricity to power the smelters (Hydroelectric dams included).

Where does it come from?

Bauxite occurs mainly in and around the tropics. Australia is the world’s biggest producer, followed by Brazil and China. Guinea is Africa’s leading supplier of bauxite and aluminium. There are also some bauxite deposits in Europe.

Primary aluminium production usually occurs wherever there is cheap electricity and slave labour. An oppressive government is also a bonus to the aluminium industry, to keep objections and dissent to a minimum while the big corporations rape the planet and its people.

What are the plans for the Icelandic Wilderness? Answer by Jackal

The Karahnjukar Project or ‘Karahnjukar Problem’ as it is often now referred to as was meant to be the first in series of ecologically catastrophic power projects to provide cheap energy to multinational aluminium corporations. Its vast scale and immense environmental impact combined with the zealous political will it was pushed through with was part of a ‘shock and awe’ strategy to cow resistance and dissent to a minimum, paving the way for the complete destruction of Icelandic nature. Now that the Karahnjukar Project is almost complete the ‘feeding frenzy’ is set to begin.

Alcoa want to build a new smelter near Husavik in the north (sometimes referred to as ‘at Bakki’), this smelter will be powered by new geothermal plants near Myvatn and ‘test drilling’ is already being conducted at three sites (Bjarnarflag in Myvatns area, the Western part of the Krafla area and Þeistareykir.) This smelter will be small by modern standards (250.000 tons per year) and a prime candidate for extension whenever they think they can get away with it. Extending this smelter will require the damming of several major glacial rivers in the region (Skjálfandafljót, Laxa, the two Western and Eastern glacial rivers of Skagafjordur and even possibly Jokulsa a Fjollum.)

Alcan have recently been denied permission by referendum to enlarge their existing smelter in Hafnarfjordur (Straumsvik) so may try to get a new smelter built nearby. In nearby Helguvik (by Keflavik) Century Aluminum want to build a new 250.000 ton per year smelter. Century Aluminum are currently expanding their smelter in Hvalfjordur north of Reykjavik. Century’s extension will be supplied from geothermal plants run by Reykjavik Energy and Hitaveita Sudurnesja but the geothermal fields cannot supply any more of these developments. To supply the extra power Landsvirkjun are planning to flood the international treaty of Ramsar protected wetlands, in Thjorsarver, central Iceland and by damming and with three dams in the lower Thjorsa River. In early 2006 they were denied permission due to public pressure, but effectively said that they would be back for Thjorsarver in the future. With Thjorsarver temporarily off the menu, Landsvirkjun have stepped up pressure on Langisjor, a lake in the Southern Highlands with internationally unique beauty and ecology. They plan to divert the nearby Skaftá River into Langisjor, making it a dull muddy reservoir.

Thorlakshofn, a small town and port in the south is targeted by several corporations, Arctus EHF, NorskHydro and Down Corning have all expressed interest in building smelters there. Norsk Hydro apparently want a smelter with capacity to produce 600,000 tons per year, this would be the largest smelter in all of Europe.

Also under threat are the Kerlingarfjoll mountains, a volcanic mountain range in the centre of Iceland wanted for their geothermal potential by Reykjavík Energy for ALCAN and Century Aluminum.

In the North lies the Skagafjordur region, its two glacial rivers are targeted by energy companies, two dams are planned, Villinganesvirkjun and the much larger Skatastaðavirkjun. Opposition here is fierce as it was in the northern valley where the Laxa river flows. Landsvirkjun attempted to dam the Laxa in 1970 but the dam was blown up by the local community!

I thought Iceland was so green? Answer by Siggi

When the first settlers came to Iceland from Norway and England, the land looked to them like home. They described the land being green and grown with forest from coast to the mountains. So they imported with them sheep. They could not know that the Icelandic earth is basically mountain ash, nutritious but very sensitive. When it looses its topsoil the ground blows away with the wind.

Sheep grazing was slowly destroying the green of Iceland until strict regulations saved the island from losing its topsoil completely. The low forests of Iceland were completely destroyed and the wood burned as charcoal to make iron tools. Now less then 1% of the island has forest. Topsoil loss is a serious problem.

Icelanders use no oil or coal to produce electricity, only hydro energy. 90% of central heating comes from geothermal plants. In that way Icelanders are very green. Icelanders are very proud of this fact and as this is written are discovering the possibility of exporting this technology to other countries who now use coal and oil for central heating.

There are voices in high places on the island who claim that in the fight against global warming it is the global duty of Icelanders to dam their land to produce electricity for the aluminium plants that otherwise would be provided with electricity made with fossil fuels.

Those voices do not mention the global duty of the aluminium giants to cut their production down to more real necessities. As the situation is today, aluminium is produced directly for army vehicles and technology. They do not organise any serious recycling of aluminium so the earth continues to be filled with soda cans and other rubbish. If this was done there would not be any need to destroy and poison wildlife areas where raw-aluminium is dug up and cleansed.

The aluminium giants want to build their plants in Iceland only because of the low price they pay for the energy. If their motives were green business they would change how they do business and with whom.

The locals may love their land but at the same time they can be very hedonistic, consumerist and quite keen on monstrous gas guzzling trucks. It is quite amazing sometimes to watch the traffic in Reykjavík. So few people but everyone owning at least one car and preferably a big one.

But Icelanders are also learning to use bikes to go to work instead of going everywhere by car. Icelanders jump on every new trend. I hope the following trend will be green.

Which companies are involved? Answer by Jackal

The companies involved fall largely into 3 categories: Aluminium Corporations, Energy Corporations and Construction/Engineering Corporations.

Aluminium Corporations:

Alcoa (the world’s largest aluminium corporation) will be operating a new smelter in Reydarfjordur, East Iceland when it becomes operational later this year, they have also signed a ‘memorandum of understanding’ with the Icelandic State to build another smelter in Husavik, North Iceland. Apparently they also want to build a smelter in nearby Greenland.

Alcan own a smelter in Hafnarfjordur, South West Iceland which they want to expand but have been denied by a local referendum. It remains to be seen if they try to go for nearby Keilisnes instead.

Century Aluminum were until recently a subsiduary of Swiss firm Glencore AG, but Glencore merged in February 2007 with Russian firms RUSAL and SUAL to form United Company RUSAL a new aluminium and mining corporation that rivals Alcoa in size. Century Aluminum and their Icelandic subsidiary Norðurál have a smelter in Hvalfjordur, north of Reykjavik which is currently being expanded and plan to build a new smelter in Helguvik, near Keflavik.

Hydro or NorskHydro an aluminium and oil company part owned by the Norwegian state are trying to enter into negotiations to build a 600,000 metric tonne per year smelter somewhere in Iceland, this would be the biggest smelter and one of the most polluting factories in all of Europe, there are also rumours that they want to build a plant in nearby Greenland. Hydro were originally going to operate the smelter in Reydarfjordur instead of Alcoa but pulled out. They have recently established an office in Reykjavik.

Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton are both conglomerate metal corporations i.e. they produce copper, zinc, iron etc as well as aluminium and were rumoured to both be attempting a hostile take over of Alcoa in late 2006. In the seventies Rio Tinto wanted to build smelters in both Reydarfjordur and Husavik. Either of these corporations could attempt to re-enter Iceland at any time. Many people believe Rio Tinto to be the most evil and contemptible bunch of people in modern times.

R & D Carbon (Kapla HF) have secured planning permission to build an anode processing plant near Reykjavik to support the aluminium industry in the area, this venture will not be economic if enough plans for smelters in Iceland can be stopped.

Arctus EHF/Altech Little known and secretive companies owned by Jón Hjaltalín Magnússon and other unknown corporations. Jón Hjaltalín Magnússon is a shady Icelandic tycoon and is also part owner of Atlantsal (another aluminium corporation) the other part being owned by RUSAL. Arctus are rumoured to want to build a smelter in Þorlakshofn.

Energy Corporations:

Landsvirkjun the National Power Company of Iceland has immense political muscle in Iceland, Landsvirkjun managed to get the government to sell the National Bank in order to partly finance the Karahnjukar Dams.

Reykjavik Energy (Orkuveita Reykjavikur) – Geothermal energy firm owned by Reykjavik City Council, second only to Landsvirkjun as dedicated Icelandic enemies of nature. They could be providing fair priced energy for the people they are meant to serve but ordinary Icelanders are finding they are forced to subsidise corporations profits through their electricity bills. Will be supplying cheap energy to new smelters and extensions in the south west.

Hitaveita Sudurnesja an expanding Icelandic energy company. They produce both heat and electricity in Reykjanes, Svartsengi and the Westmann Isles. When Century Aluminum’s extension is complete they will supply a portion of the electricity required. They have just reached an agreement with Century on the sale of energy to the new smelter in Helguvík.

Orkustofnun (the National Energy Authority) has produced an ‘Intended Master Plan’ to dam every glacial river in Iceland and sell the electricity to aluminium corporations.

Construction/Engineering Corporations:

There are so many companies involved in the design and construction of new smelters, extensions and new power plants in Iceland that they can’t be listed here, see: https://www.savingiceland.org/?p=25 for details, see: https://www.savingiceland.org/?p=25#listofkarahnjukar for a list of the contractors involved in the Karahnjukar project.

Why are these companies interested in Iceland? What makes Iceland the “aluminium industry’s best kept secret”? Answer by Birgitta

The main reason for the interest is because the Icelandic government has been promoting Iceland as a source for dirt cheap energy. So cheap in fact that Brazil for example is selling their energy for three times the amount the aluminium giants are getting it in Iceland. Plus in Iceland you will find a highly educated population and high tech society. Iceland is considered one of the top five richest nations of the world. The government is easy to manipulate, they are like simpletons and believe in their simple hearts that corporations known for crimes in other countries will have Iceland’s best interests at heart. The smelter giants can behave like they do in third world countries where dictatorship is common, corruption in the handling of all permits and regulations is common and it is easy to bend the rules to the benefit of the corporation.

Iceland made a smart deal to avoid having to carry out any real responsibility when it comes to honouring the Kyoto Climate Treaty. They refused to sign unless they could have exemptions. The exemptions allow Iceland to increase its emissions of CO2 by 1600 thousand tonnes annually during the first commitment period, 2008-2012. These exemptions have been abused by the Icelandic government and ruthless corporations such as Alcoa. A core function of the Kyoto Climate Treaty is to ensure that environmental and social costs related to emissions of greenhouse gases are to pay some sort of fine for producing such gases. By taking advantage of the exemptions granted to Iceland, large emitters of CO2, such as the aluminium industry, can avoid taking on this responsibility, and can thus save substantial costs. Perhaps no one expected the loopholes in the contract to be abused the way it is done, who in the aluminium industry can resist both dirt cheap energy and the luxury of not having to take responsibility for the pollution they contribute to the environment. Like someone once said so beautifully, Icelandic Government : Pimps of nature. It is the hard core reality of the politics of Iceland today.

If you stop these projects in Iceland won’t the corporations just go elsewhere? Answer by Jackal

In short; yes they will. But, that’s no reason not to fight their invasion into Iceland with everything we have. The aluminium Industry is a huge global machine and the destruction it inflicts on the earth and communities worldwide is just as huge. If we can force these corporations to abandon their plans for Iceland (and I appreciate that’s a massive ‘if’ ) then there’ll be one more place they’re not welcome, another victory for the environmental movement which will encourage resistance to the industry the world over. Saving Iceland is a small only part of a global struggle and we are always trying to network with similar struggles from all-over the world. On 7-8/7/2007 we’ll be hosting a conference in Iceland to bring together anti-heavy industry activists and campaigners from across the world to share experience and network (see https://www.savingiceland.org/conference for details).

Its worth bearing in mind that huge corporations always publicly treat every defeat as if it were a ‘drop in the ocean’ and upon losing a battle take pains to assert that they will win the war. The aim of this tactic is to demoralise their opponents and appear all powerful, it’s a twenty first century version of the Gestapo mantra “resistance is futile!”, fortunately resistance works and every small victory paves the way for more.

To see an example of a corporation using this tactic look at Glitnir’s response to Alcan being defeated in the referendum in Hafnarfjordur (also cited in Grapevine http://www.grapevine.is/default.aspx?show=news∂=fullstory&id=1698), they say it increases the likelihood of a smelter being given the go ahead in Helguvik. Surely every facility a corporation manages to build in Iceland increases it’s bargaining power, meaning that in further projects they can drive the price of energy even lower making them more attractive to the corporation. Each new potential smelter project if it goes ahead can mean an increase in the economic foothold of the aluminium lobby or if it’s defeated can be a strategic victory for its opponents strengthening resolve and building networks of resistance. Another example, this time of Alcoa using this tactic; last Christmas the Trinidadian government was forced by a sustained campaign of direct action by local residents to disallow Alcoa a huge gas powered smelter near Chatham. The government then announced that instead Alcoa would be allowed a smelter on reclaimed land in Otaheite bay, far from being demoralised residents of Chatham and Cap de Ville celebrated their victory and vowed to fight the new plans alongside the fishing community of Otaheite. Resistance is not futile, with every victory we become stronger and resistance grows.

What are the consequences if these projects go ahead? Answer by Jackal

As well as the recent revelations that Hydropower is worse for the climate than burning fossil fuels mentioned above, there is a myriad of of environmental problems specific to the industrialisation of Iceland’s fragile landscape.

As Siggi points out above soil erosion is huge problem in Iceland, in the right weather conditions the cloud of dust blowing from Iceland can be seen as a brown streak across the Atlantic from space. Iceland’s major rivers are glacial this means they carry with a huge volume of very fine silt and if dammed this silt will be deposited in the reservoirs, as the water level drops it will be blown by the wind into huge dust clouds. As well as making life unbearable for those that live in their paths the dust clouds will settle on the land and smother vegetation and without vegetation the problem of soil erosion and more dust clouds will get worse, snowballing out of control.

The silt will also cause the reservoirs to clog up, reducing their lifespan to some say as short as 40 years. But a more grave and pressing concern with the silt is that if it ends up in lifeless reservoirs it won’t be able to flow to the sea where it is of great importance to the biosphere and all life on earth. This is because Iceland’s glacial silt has been found to feed the ecosystems of the ocean floor where huge amounts of carbon dioxide are ‘sunk’ i.e. taken out of the atmosphere and made into limestone rock.

Its important to remember that hydropower damages irreparably not only the ecosystems it floods but also all those downstream, right out to sea. The Heradsfloi bay for instance where the 2 rivers dammed at Karahnjukar and Eyjabakkar flow to sea is important for all sorts of marine life including being a cubbing ground for harbour seals. The interruption of the rivers’ flow also has grave consequence for people in the area such as the farmers at Husey, who’s land is doomed to be eroded by the sea. As well as rivers running dry there is the problem of waste water from hydropower ending up in other river systems, a rivers ecology depends on the fine balance of sediments and nutrients in the water. This is bound to happen soon as the waters from the Jokulsa a Dal end up in the lake Lagarfljot. Landsvirkjun plans to divert the silty Skaftá river into the lake Langisjor which will turn the beautiful and ecologically unique lake into another shit-brown reservoir.

While some of us will never forget the stunning beauty of the land now drowning under Halslon, all too soon Thjorsarver, an internationally protected wetland, one of the most important sites for bird life in the entire world could be drowning too.

Geothermal power too comes at a cost to the environment, you only have to see the lava fields on the Reykjanes peninsula after only being drilled for tests devastated and ground to rubble and dust. Many targeted geothermal fields such as those at Kerlingarfjoll are in incredibly remote locations and will require roads, pylons, plant and heavy machinery to be brought in causing massive damage to very fragile ecosystems that can damaged just by being walked over.

The smelters themselves will cause huge amounts of pollution, Lemy Beck gives a comprehensive breakdown above. Aluminium smelters are responsible for some of the worst pollution on earth, a pod of whales in Brazilian waters was found to have the highest incident of cancer ever recorded outside of humans, their feeding grounds lay just offshore from a smelter owned by Alcoa. You don’t have to be an environmentalist to see that poisoning the seas is not in the interests of most Icelanders, all those who depend on the fishing industry or the whale watching industry in Husavik for instance should be fearful for their future.

But just about all Icelanders’ livelihoods could be under threat, the economic effect of such huge developments in a small economy creates conditions where high interest rates and a strong Krona make Icelandic exports less competitive, this has already caused fishing facilities to shut down. Also industrial changes always give employers a chance to erode workers rights and working conditions. Icelandic trade unions have complained that Impregilo has been allowed to ride roughshod over labour laws and regulations at Karahnjukar, with new smelters come increasing casualisation and a wholesale attack on working conditions.

Won’t the smelters provide jobs? Answer by Siggi

Of course smelters provide jobs. That has been the main logic when the public of Iceland is being pressured to accept the building of more aluminium smelters in their homeland.
But, first of all. Unemployment in Iceland is a little more than 2% as this is written. It is hard to find active individuals in Iceland who can not find work. The work ethic is very strong in Icelandic society.

New jobs are being created all year round with new small businesses being formed and kept running. This may not be the fact for some of the smaller communities who lost their fishing quota and are far from the activity in the Reykjavík area, like Reyðarfjörður in the east (where Alcoa are about to start running a smelter) and Húsavík in the north (where Alcoa has interest in building another one).

The Icelandic media has shown us interviews with people living in Reyðarfjörður, voicing optimism about their future since the smelter activity begun. On the other hand, a social study from the University on Akureyri shows that there has been no increased movement of people back there. I dare foresee Reyðarfjörður turning into a camp of foreign workers and the locals making their business around them.

People tell me that there have been various attempts at increasing the economic activity in Húsavík but young people are still moving away to the bigger towns like Akureyri and Reykjavík. Will the young people stop escaping the small towns they grew up in when given the option of working in a aluminium factory? Maybe reasons other than employment that makes them move away? Do they simply want to rock out in the big city?

And even if a aluminium smelter in Húsavík would provide 400 jobs? Do all those people deserve to have their livelihoods depending on one factory, owned by one multinational company, depending on one product that has been shown to have a fluctuating price on the world market?

What will happen to them if Alcoa is taken over by another greedy multinational? What if oil prices go sky high so they can not import and export across the Atlantic anymore?

A strong economy consists of multiple different things reacting to each other. Making a small community dependent on one product owned by one (foreign) company sounds like bad news to me.

One Response to “FAQ”

  1. sil says:


    When looking at the houses in Iceland, I picked up an interested in the material the houses are build of.
    As I did some researched I have some questions about these aluminium production in iceland.
    Could you tell me of all the aluminium that is produced in iceland how much percentage stays in Iceland?
    Which usage has this aluminium ? Is it also used to make the couregate metal for the building of the “traditional” houses ?
    Why did iceland begin with smelting the raw materials for aluminium ?
    Is there a link with the British import of these corrugated metal plates ?

    Will the distracting of the geothermal energy have an influence on the lifestyle of the icelandic people or on the world ?

    Are you afraid that the aluminium industry will grow bigger ? Bigger then it should be, then is needed…

    Thank you for the information

    Kind regards