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Feeling the vibe

Thank you to everyone who voted in the little poll I posted yesterday [don’t forget – votes are being tallied until Friday] and most especially to those of you who emailed me or left comments. I very much appreciate your frankness. I was pretty sure the subscription idea was a long shot but wanted to put it out there anyway to see what sort of response I would get, thinking that even if it didn’t come to fruition it might lead to something else, because that’s often what happens when you throw out an idea. But I didn’t expect this flood of great alternative ideas, which was a wonderful surprise. I’ve now got my work cut out – to go through them all and see which I can use, and which I cannot.

Throughout today I have been surrounded by this immense creative vibe. First, reading your comments; second, I had a long conversation with a friend that left me totally energized; and finally watching Kastljós this evening, which was chock full of energy and brilliant ideas.

See, this whole economic depression thing is a multi-faceted phenomenon. One day all seems bleak, the next day there is this explosion of creativity and innovation. Although people are worried and fearful about the future, there’s also a lot of excitement about constructing a new society and the opportunities inherent in that.

Today, for instance, I had a moment of profound mental clarity. At that moment I felt really great that all this had happened – that the city of illusions had come crashing down and that all of a sudden we have something real and tangible to work with, something that makes sense. As opposed to all the distorted, stupid, insignificant things that have seemed important in the last few years. All this gold dust in our eyes. Being dazzled by things that weren’t even real – as has become blatantly obvious in the last month or so. What were we thinking?

Then I caught a glimpse of old Björk Guðmundsdóttir on Kastljós, talking about building a new society. I’ve got to hand it to her – she’s been so active lately, working tirelessly to champion the cause of How to Do Things Differently. She – like many of us here – is worried that the government will take the quick-fix band-aid solution, namely to plonk down another two aluminium smelters, bringing the total to five [the three we already have are the largest in Europe]. [In case you missed it in the comments a couple of days ago, the link to an article she wrote about this in The Times is here.] Of course the pressure is on, and f*cking Alcan has been going door to door in Hafnarfjörður to get people to sign a petition to hold another referendum about the enlargement of the smelter in the town, which would be a total disaster. And it absolutely cannot be allowed to happen.

Anyway, Björk and a couple of her friends have devoted the last eight weeks to rallying people here in Iceland, bringing together some of the best minds and greatest innovators in this country to hold symposiums and conferences and brainstorming sessions, on how to grow budding businesses and support new innovative ventures. There are a number of such companies here that started several years ago and are now doing exceedingly well, and there is, according to Björk, no shortage of innovative ideas. What is needed is dialogue and for people to work together. Which is another upside of this depression – it forces people to come out of their complacent little cubbyholes, share ideas and work together.

Sort of like what happened in YT’s comments box last post.

BEAUTIFUL WEATHER TODAY
Very gentle, refreshing, a bit of snow on the ground that started to melt as the day wore on and temps crawled up above freezing. Some sun, gorgeous sunset. Currently 1°C [ 34F]. Sunrise was at 9.02, sunset at 5.19 pm.

Comments

comments

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  • Jessica October 30, 2008, 12:52 am

    Hey Alda, the Kreppa has already sparked your creativity as witnessed by the new additions to the site. Case in point: creative use of polls and the new “latest headlines” widget. And on that thought….
    “Authorities consider refusing British surveillance in Icelandic airspace as a result of diplomatic row [29.10]”
    What the hell!!? (Does that mean the Americans are moving back into the Keflavík base?) Ha. I have this mental image of Iceland and England as 2 toddlers in a tantrum at a daycare facility…

  • Keera October 30, 2008, 6:31 am

    I sure am learning a lot about Iceland! I didn’t know about the smelters or that Iceland had Europe’s largest. I read Björk’s article and I hope that she and people who think like her prevail. Many western nations (if not all) are faced with this paradigm shift (even if most governments are not yet aware of it): Business as usual or a complete change of heart and method?

  • alda October 30, 2008, 10:34 am

    Jessica – yes, the creative energy is just buzzing these days! – As for the Brits, yes Ingibjörg Sólrún stated this yesterday. They were due to take over here for a few weeks as part of a NATO agreement, but now the authorities are thinking of turning them down, in light of recent events – although they’re also citing costs, etc.

    Keera – yes, alas! Three of the largest AND they buy energy at a fraction of the price of the rest of us (one-fifth, to be precise before transporting their product out of the country. It’s fricking colonization. One of the things Björk and her pals are criticizing is the fact that the gov’t sells Alcoa et. al. energy at these super-duper discount rates, while people who are e.g. trying to set up an organic farming business have to pay in full.

  • Vikingisson October 30, 2008, 12:47 pm

    I’m very happy to hear that there is a silver lining in all of this. “Necessity is the mother of invention” as my mother used to say. Innovation and creativity is much more productive than the ‘minimal violence / anger’ that I’ve been reading about. Björk is correct in saying that these times are critical to prevent wrong decisions being made for short term fixes that will have long term problems. Big business got us into this mess and big business will do what they can to help themselves and make their stranglehold even tighter going forward. I don’t think there is time to waste or to even organize much.

    More smelters is not the solution that’s for sure. Like I said before, more greenhouses and the like. But how to get it kick started when the entry cost is much higher than if you were a tycoon with a lot more power? In the old days you would join a collective and pool resources but there also needs to be fair play in general. I wouldn’t expect to pay as low a cost for energy for my little greenhouse as a smelter that can build an entire power plant but I would expect the barrier for entry to be much cheaper than it currently is. All those greenhouses together can feed the nation. Better they are dispersed around the country rather than the big factory farms that are destroying the North American food chain that like the smelters, are more beneficial to a few rather than the many.

    I can’t find much information about an aluminum product industry other than a small domestic sector. Indeed I’ll be looking for the famous Islenskar Ponnukokur when I get there but why not export manufacturing seeing that so much aluminum is produced there? First you need to lower imports in general but if you have so much aluminum being produced whether you like it or not then produce more products for export with that material.

    Local weather here: taste of winter again. Frost and unstable air putting me in an Icelandic state of mind.

  • alda October 30, 2008, 12:57 pm

    Víkingsson – aluminium product production is totally out of the hands of Icelanders. The big multinationals that hold all the power there. They produce it here in their plants, and they export it for their own use. It doesn’t count as a domestic industry at all.

    As for the anger / violence – I suspect we haven’t seen anything yet. There will be revolt soon enough, as soon as people are out of work and defaulting on their mortgages / loans.

  • Andrew October 30, 2008, 1:09 pm

    Do these smelters actually provide many jobs for Icelanders? Do they really benefit the country at all as far as you can see? Have you personally seen any of the pollution that they cause – such as damage from acid rain?

    Bjork is right. You ought to go for small very high-tech industries.

  • Vikingisson October 30, 2008, 1:52 pm

    Well no wonder I don’t find much about aluminum products, there is very little. Time to demand more from the industry. And not the usual thing that only feeds the lawyers that at best drives up the ‘cost of doing business’ slightly. Forcing good environmental rules is one thing but how about demanding access to the product for an independent domestic industry? Build them next to the smelter with access to the same cheap energy. But owned by Icelanders with full independence from the smelter owners.

    I’ll be disappointed if I find aluminum products with a ‘made in china’ sticker on them. If I find a pancake pan that isn’t made nearby I’ll join the protests myself.

    I just had the same daydream I’ve been having for a few years now. I dream of being a beekeeper traveling around to the Icelandic greenhouses.

    Andrew, sure a few jobs can be had in the industry but not much. Most of the labour is imported during construction and then sent home. The country gets some revenue but you can imagine where much of that goes. Not worth the destruction of a country. They can make it better though if instead of trying to kill off the smelters already there they make them more beneficial to the country as a whole. And don’t build any more.

  • Susanna October 30, 2008, 2:05 pm

    @Andrew – I don’t know how many are working at these three smelters, but there are also the side-industries to be considered. A lot of mechanical and electrical contractors depend on maintenance work at these smelters, also the large engineering firms get most of their work I think from servicing as well as designing and building these smelters. So if we didn’t already have this export industry in the country I’m afraid that the ‘kreppa’ would hit us even harder.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m against the idea of bringing more smelters to the country and don’t think that is a solution at all. As an engineering student, I would like to see the resources of these large engineering firms we have used in other more innovative ways, but that’s easier said than done and it takes courage and resilience to be able to step out of the aluminum shadow.

    As for pollution from these smelters It isn’t very visible. We don’t get acid rain here as far as I know (although the sulfur emissions from the geothermal powerplants are thought to damage the surrounding plant life). But just because we don’t see it doesn’t mean the pollution isn’t there.

  • RH October 30, 2008, 4:31 pm

    I loved your coriander news headline That’s the spirit Alda!

  • Rúna October 30, 2008, 6:27 pm

    Śorry to spoil the party Alda but your optimism is misplaced. Iceland is in deep shit and it will be many years before we get over this. Plan for the worse.

    Rúna

  • alda October 30, 2008, 7:50 pm

    Rúna – that may be true, but does that mean I have to have a deep-shit attitude?

  • Penn October 30, 2008, 9:19 pm

    The global press is ignoring Iceland. I know nothing about the country’s day-to-day. How the supermarkets most recently? Are deposits processed at banks? Please, I’m dying for some real-life info.

  • alda October 30, 2008, 9:26 pm

    Have you voted in my poll from last post?

  • Marc October 30, 2008, 10:22 pm

    Alda,

    Re your headline that the public debt taken on by the treasury amounts to 85% of gdp. I would be interested in hearing some more detail about this. Wikipedia states the Icelandic public debt estimate for 2007 as 27,6% of GDP. What does it mean that the treasury has taken on this debt, surely this must be Iceland as a state? I doubt the treasury could default on its own. And so to my next question: does this mean that public debt now exceeds 110% of gdp (which gdp incidentally, since it is likely to decline significantly). Or is total public debt now up to 85%?

    And, at risk of sounding really anal, if Iceland took on so much public debt, what did it get in return? Are there any assets it can sell in return for this burden? And if there are, what is the governments plan with these assets, how long does it intend to hold them? The time question is important for your country’s budget. A debt of +100% will easily eat between 30 and 45% of the annual budget (depending on how high taxes are).

    There is another question on my mind, but it would be too political for your blog.

  • ruthibelle October 30, 2008, 10:56 pm

    Fantastically articulated: we now have the chance to start over, build somthing new, something different, adn hopefully something better! I sincerely hope we all rise to the challenge and, as you said, come out of the cubbyholes and start pooling resources and ideas to push teh world past this slump into some glorious (and heretofore unknown) future!

  • Rúna October 30, 2008, 11:19 pm

    Alda

    I was simply suggesting you be realistic. We have very grave problems ahead. I’m not sure what you mean by a ‘deep shit attitude’ but these sort of remarks to one of your commenters reflect badly on you.

    Maybe you should close comments on your blog. It’s clear from recent snide and sarky remarks that you’ve made to others that some are getting to you. You should look after your own mental health particularly if work is drying up for you.

    Rúna

  • alda October 30, 2008, 11:52 pm

    Marc – one of the things I was hoping to achieve with a subscription-based area of the site was to be able to address questions like yours. Unfortunately what you’re asking would require me to conduct a fair bit of research, which I’m not in a position to do… at least not while I’m maintaining this site as a hobby.

    Perhaps other readers can help?

    ruthibelle – Thanks. Most of us don’t have a lot of choice about what’s going down in our communities these days, but at least we have a choice about our attitude.

  • maja October 31, 2008, 4:31 am

    It’s great what Bjork is trying to do for Iceland. I hope it works! I think it’s great to maintain a positive attitude and look at the good things that have come out of the global meltdown. People’s attitudes are changing and maybe this is a cleansing process we all needed.

    Hey that’s good news about fresh coriander in the shop!

  • Rozanne October 31, 2008, 4:41 am

    I totally agree with you about more smelters not being the solution.

    All governments need to be thinking of long-term sustainable solutions these days esp. about any project that involves limited, nonrenewable natural resources.

  • CarolQ October 31, 2008, 6:45 am

    Loved you ‘headline’ tucked in at the end of “Headlines” that you found coriander; fresh, no less, at the market. Woo hoo!! Maybe we all should be looking for the little things during this uncertain political/economic unrest.

  • jpeeps October 31, 2008, 11:39 am
  • Rachel October 31, 2008, 12:33 pm

    Is there any chance the smelters could be turned to the public good? If they export all their product, a ‘financial crisis export tax’ might help Niceland balance its books, or at least pay the interest. How much is the industry worth?

  • Rachael October 31, 2008, 12:45 pm

    Well done to the Icelandic women’s football team… nice to see some good news there amongst all the gloomy headlines!

  • alda October 31, 2008, 9:57 pm

    Rachael – indeed! They played an excellent game and this is the furthest and Icelandic A-list team (if that’s what it’s called) has ever got. wOOt!

  • Marmitelover November 1, 2008, 6:29 am

    I’m so glad I’ve discovered this blog. I had no idea things were this bad in Iceland. Our press is not talking about it. We will soon all be in the same shit, I imagine, but Iceland as a more remote island is obviously more vulnerable.

  • Omega Mum November 1, 2008, 9:52 am

    I’m sure you’ve already thought of this, but how about contacting one of Brit papers and placing a piece on what it means to be ordinary family and a diary of your feelings, what’s been happening etc. If you’ve done this already, ignore this.

  • wally November 1, 2008, 1:35 pm

    wow, Alda, the suggestion by Omega mum is a very good one. All of the papers there are hungry for content and there are many of them. I am sure you could negotiate a good exclusive. You would probably want to be very careful with what editorial rights you signed away though.

  • alda November 1, 2008, 1:50 pm

    Yes, it is! 🙂