We’d been wondering when Iceland’s biggest cultural export Björk would speak out on the Icelandic financial crisis. Finally, today she weighs in with an op-ed in the The Times of London, arguing that Iceland has sold out its green, high-tech interests to large commodity firms (Alcoa and Rio Tinto) and that in light of the crisis, the country will be forced to sell out further. The piece is cleverly titled After Financial Meltdown, now it’s Smeltdown:
After touring for 18 months I was excited to return home a few weeks ago to good, solid Iceland and enjoy a little bit of stability. I had done a concert there earlier this year to raise awareness about local environmental issues and 10 per cent of the nation came to it; but I still felt it wasn’t enough.
So when I returned I decided to contact people all over the island who had attempted to start new companies and bring in new greener ways of working but had not succeeded. For a long time Iceland’s main income was fishing, but when that become uneconomic people started looking for other ways to earn a living. The ruling conservatives thought that harnessing Iceland’s natural energy and selling it to huge companies such as Alcoa and Rio Tinto would solve the problem.
Now we have three aluminium smelters, which are the biggest in Europe; and in the space of the next three years they want to build two more. The smelters would need energy from a handful of new geothermal power plants and the building of dams that would damage pristine wilderness, hot springs and lava fields. To take this much energy from geothermal fields is not sustainable.
The first paragraph is actually the most jarring part of the entire piece. We knew Iceland was small, but so small that 10% of the population could fit into one Bjork show? Crazy.
She ends with a plea for the future of Iceland:
Flexibility is important: we will have to live with the three aluminium smelters that are here already and try to find ways of making them greener. But do we need five? In the past, having all our eggs in the same basket has proven far too risky, as we discovered in the days when we got 70 per cent of our income from fish. Now we are facing a disaster from betting everything on finance. If we build two more aluminium smelters, Iceland would become the biggest aluminium smelter in the world, and be known only for that. It would leave little room for anything else. If the price of aluminium falls – as it is doing – it would be catastrophic.
Iceland can be more self-sufficient and more creative – and still have an approach that is more 21st than 19th century. It can build fewer, smaller and greener dams. Let’s use this economic crisis to become totally sustainable. Teach the world all we know about geothermal power plants. Support the Icelandic seed companies. Support the grass roots. It may take longer to build and deliver profits but it is solid, stable and something that will stand independently of the rollercoaster rides of Wall Street and volatile aluminium prices.
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