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It’s time to get furious

Sometimes – very occasionally – something you hear, or see, or read, evokes powerful emotions. It speaks to you. Makes you see something in a different light, appreciate something in a different way, shifts something inside. It moves you.

Such a thing happened to me today when I read an article by Andri Snær Magnason in Fréttablaðið. Andri Snær is a brilliant writer, and more than that, is gifted in that he has the ability to distill the truth into a powerful potion. He has recently published a book called Draumalandið – sjálfshjálparbók handa hræddri þjóð, or ‘Dreamland – a self-help book for a frightened nation’, in which he opens up a completely new perspective on the current demolition of this country in the interests of huge multinational aluminium producers, most notably Alcoa. This book has sold 8,000 copies in three months and is in its third printing – record sales for books sold out of the Christmas season in this tiny nation.

I’ve yet to read it, but after reading an interview with Andri Snær in The Grapevine and now this article in Fréttablaðið today, I’m determined to secure myself a copy at the first available opportunity. I’m also determined to follow his resounding call at the end of the article and take part in a march tomorrow, to rally against the sale of our beautiful land for short-sighted interests that, if not averted, will surely lead to utter catastrophe.

In his quiet intense way, Andri Snær lifts the veils one by one.

1. Those of you who have visited Iceland may have noticed the aluminium smelter by the side of the road when you drive from the airport to Reykjavík. That smelter is owned by Alcan, and its directors have openly stated that, unless permission is granted for that smelter to be enlarged to 500,000 tons a year [a tripling of the current size] it will ‘have to be closed’. If and when it is enlarged, despite the government’s propaganda that ‘relative pollution will decrease’ [whatever does that mean?], greenhouse emissions will increase in the amount equal to the doubling of Icelanders’ entire automobile fleet. In other words, carbon dioxide emissions would go from the current 3,500 tons to 6,900 tons per year, and the cloud of smog that hangs over this city on calm clear days in winter will become uglier still.

2. Recently it was announced that Húsavík, a village in the north, had been selected as the site for the next aluminium smelter in Iceland. A party was organized by the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service’s correspondent in the North, during which people met and waited breathlessly for the announcement of which of three sites would be the lucky winner in the ‘who-gets-the-smelter’ lottery. When Húsavík was announced, there was much jubilation at the party organized by the newscaster, who had set it up so as to be able to obtain ‘footage of people rejoicing in Húsavík’. He even made up the slogan they chanted – “álið er málið!” – or, “it’s all about the aluminium!”.

What people didn’t discuss, however, was that the smelter they want to build in Húsavík is really only half a smelter. Its capacity is only 250,000 tons. However, as Alcan has already declared, a smelter with a capacity of less than 500,000 tons is not viable as an operation. In other words, when the Húsavík smelter is built, they’ll have to enlarge it. And to enlarge it, they’ll need more power. No-one has yet broached the subject of where that power will come from. The major rivers up in the north have already been earmarked for the smelter, but it’s not enough. They’ll need more power from somewhere else, just as they needed more power in the east, where they are now tragically destroying a huge portion of this beautiful country, that also happens to be the natural habitat of many different species of birds and animals. Meanwhile, despite all these variables, it is as though a decision to build the smelter in Húsavík is a mere formality, and everyone passively accepts it as a given.

3. Alcoa recently awarded a ‘grant’ to a new national park that is to extend from Skaftafell to Jökulsárgljúfur canyon, in the north. The grant was for the amount of ISK 20 million [a piddly USD 300,000] and has already been accepted. This means that from now on, Alcoa can use the national park as propaganda material and spread the message throughout the world that all this beauty is thanks to Alcoa. The great irony of course is that nothing is a greater threat to these places of breathtaking beauty than the aluminium industry. And a company that is engaged in the greatest destruction ever of Icelandic nature should not be permitted to act as a symbol of its protection.

4. Already the annual capacity of the five existing or proposed aluminium smelters in Iceland is 1.5 millon tons. Four of those will need to be doubled in the future – it’s an illusion to believe otherwise. The two parties that currently make up the coalition government are in favour of more smelters; contractors want them; the Icelandic Federation of Labour wants them; the opposition Social-Democratic Alliance is also on board in some municipalities. Iceland is en route to becoming the largest aluminium smelter in the world.

5. Alcoa has some of the most hard-hitting, clever, cunning negotiators in the world. If power is a chess game, those who make up the councils of Icelandic municipalities are playing against the grand masters. They’re completely out of their depth. They get bulldozed – literally and figuratively.

If Century Aluminium, which owns the smallest smelter in Iceland and which is a tiny company on a global scale, were to merge with Alcoa [quite conceivable], Alcoa would own four smelters in Iceland, all of which would have to be doubled in size. While Icelandic entrepreneurs are doing incredible work on an international scale, producing, for instance, some of the best prosthetics, online computer games, scales for the food processing industries… the government is doing very little to help them stay in the country [whereas countries like Canada, for instance, come to Iceland expressly for the purpose of wooing them with tax breaks etc.] So while all this innovation is being moved out of the country, the aluminium giants are pressing to move in. And they will, as they do now, seek to gain entry through political means. And incidentally, none of the Icelandic political parties have open accounts. There is no transparency.

Tomorrow municipal elections will be held throughout Iceland. I shall attend the planned march, and the rally afterwards. And then I shall go and give my vote to the party that will not cast the pearls of this nation before swine.

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