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Just don’t look up at the glacier

Just to alert you to a new post I’ve written on how climate change is manifesting in Iceland, over on the THINK site:

This past weekend, Iceland’s foreign minister gave a speech at the United Nations in New York. Amazingly, only a small part of the speech dealt with Iceland’s current economic woes – the rest was devoted to climate change.

It is great to hear a prominent member of our government is concerning himself with climate change. Great because it has seemed a definite non-issue in Iceland over the past few years. Granted, in the past 12 months Iceland has had some other pretty serious issues to contend with, such as a full blown economic and political crisis – so it’s perhaps not all that surprising.

But I don’t think it’s just the crisis. I suspect a major reason climate change hasn’t got much press in Iceland is because, so far, well – we kind of like it. I mean – what’s not to like? Our summers are warmer now, so we can do things like sit outside at cafés, lounge by the poolside and work on our tans, even swim in the ocean. Things that used to cost us a fortune when we had to travel abroad to do them.

Read the rest of the post here.

IT WAS SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY TODAY
Started off a tad cool [2°C], but with the most amazingly gentle sunshine – a perfect autumn day. It managed to warm up a bit as the day wore on – to, oh, 8°C or thereabouts. I actually did TOURISTY stuff today, went to the Laugardalslaug swimming pool and then up to Perlan [perched on top of the geothermal hot water tanks] for a little filming with my new Flip HD camera. The view from Perlan was amazing. Right this moment it is a frosty 1°C [34F]. Sunrise was at 7.26 am and sunset at 7.08 pm.

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  • Dave Hambidge September 29, 2009, 6:35 am

    Ah ah, now we can see the real Alda!

  • 9uy September 29, 2009, 9:29 am

    I think Icelandic officials need to reconsider their priorities.
    Climate change is good for Iceland (at least for now)

  • James September 29, 2009, 10:04 am

    An excellent title. It looks like Iceland is a net gainer from global warming, if only you ignore that pesky glacier and the dot on Mt. Esja… But Ossur Skarphedinsson’s speech, although on a worthy topic, nonetheless seemed a little self-satisfied and complacent. His musings on Iceland’s climate achievements (“the success of Iceland”, “what we did, others can do”, etc) reminded me of Icelandic politicians’ self-satisfied musings in 2005-2007 on their economic achievements. For under the bluster, the hidden reality can be very different. In this case, the 8th worst ecological footprint out of 143 countries is, perhaps, not a success that others should aspire to.

  • Schnee September 29, 2009, 10:05 am

    Hey, you used my picture of Esja. Sweet! ^_^

    (Funny thing is that I didn’t even recognize it as such first – I just thought “hey, I just uploaded a similar picture recently, I wonder how mine compares to this one”, and it was only when I checked that I noticed it really was the same. But yeah, I’m glad you were able to use it! ^^)

  • alda September 29, 2009, 10:38 am

    Dave – elaborate, please! Has the real Alda been absent?

    9uy – indeed. for now.

    James – I agree with you about Össur’s speech, for the most part. I thought some parts of it were OK, but I think it’s particularly unfortunate that he didn’t mention the loan from the Faroe Islands. He mentions Poland, but no mention of the Faroes.

    Schnee – oh, you’re vovchychko? Well thank you very much, then! 🙂

  • Schnee September 29, 2009, 10:41 am

    Yup, I am!

    “vovchychko” is a nickname a friend of mine gave to me (I think it means “little wolf” in one of the Eastern European languages, but I’m not entirely sure there), and I chose that on Flickr – but I did end up using my “regular” name for my photostream URL (so it’s flickr.com/photos/schneelocke/ ).

    And you’re very welcome! 😀

  • Gary Volster September 29, 2009, 11:55 am

    That speech was analogous to a few of the passengers on the sinking Titanic complaining about the color scheme of the deck chairs.

  • Sigvaldi Eggertsson September 29, 2009, 3:20 pm

    James, seeing that countries that heat their houses with coal and get the electricity for their heavy industry from coal-fired plants are listed in the study you mention as having a better ecological footprint than Iceland does makes me a little doubtful about the quality of that report.
    Alda, the period 1960 to 1990 was a cold period here in Iceland, glaciers grew, the snow on Esja persisted (it did often disappear in the preceeding decades) and we grew used to a colder climate.
    That makes the last decade feel so warm when it was actually similar to the 1930 to 1950 period in terms of temperature, receeding glaciers etc.
    The Breiðamerkurjökull has been receeding since the start of the 20th century but there was no glacier there before 1400.

  • Ljósmynd DE September 29, 2009, 8:24 pm

    I have been taking pictures of Icelandic glaciers for the last 20 years and by comparison it is very obvious, that the glaciers have been retreating pretty fast during this time, particularly in the last few years. So, if the glaciers are gone, what is Iceland supposed to do with constructions like the Kárahnjúkar dam? Some more kreppa ruins?

    My understanding is, that climate change is also accountable for more extreme weather, e.g. heavy storms. So, Iceland might not always be on the bright side. And it’s also not necessarily always about steadily increasing temperatures. After all, the climate in Iceland depends on the Gulf Stream and changing ocean circulation patterns might even cause local cooling at some point.

    I haven’t looked into the article about the ecological footprint very close, but given the fact, that aluminium smeltering etc. is responsible for Iceland churning out more greenhouse gases per capita than the European average, makes this statement quite plausible. In addition – many Icelanders drive large cars with high CO2 emission and the recycling quota is very low.

  • idunn September 29, 2009, 8:57 pm

    Iceland may be one of the few nations to benefit, in part, from global climate change. Greenland, another. More warmth possibly beneficial in some respects, and welcome.

    Some of the downsides could more than cancel that out. Alaska and, I believe, Siberia are experiencing quite rapid changes with large expanses of forest dead and dying. In time the flora will adapt, but difficult now because this is all so rapid. Iceland, alas or not, at least doesn’t have much forest to contend with, but all else will be affected. Water, for one, and there will be less of it, at least reliably from glaciers.

    As an island, there also the same issues as any other nation with ocean coastline, and dealing with a steady and rather rapid rise in sea level.

    A lot of these changes will affect aspects of the economy, such as it presently is. Rising seas will affect all ports, for one. Depleted glaciers will allow less water for hydro and electricity, affecting aluminum smelters for one. Most significant may be disruptions in international trade as the economies of other nations struggle to adapt to widespread dislocations and internal disruptions. Most everything likely less certain and problematic, with the stability important in international trade often lacking.

    Perhaps most problematic for Iceland would be the slowing or cessation of global ocean currents. While relatively well positioned to escape a good deal of the strife possible elsewhere in the world, should these ocean currents fail the result for Iceland, and Europe for that matter, would be nothing less than catastrophic. There is some evidence they are already being affected. Although other factors may catch up with mankind before he can substantially affect these.

    Well, anyway, a bit warmer summer would be nice.

  • James September 29, 2009, 10:41 pm

    “makes me a little doubtful about the quality of that report”

    Sigvaldi: Ecological footprint is defined as the amount of land a citizen requires to provide for all their resource requirements plus the amount of vegetated land required to absorb all their CO2 emissions and the CO2 emissions embodied in the products they consume. The measure was developed ecologists and is championed by organisations such as WWF and Global Footprint Network; the Welsh Government uses it as one of the headline indicators of sustainability; Eurostat is considering incorporating it into its set of sustainable development indicators; etc. So, NEF (who produce the report I mentioned) is just one of many users of ecological footprint data which goes back at least 45 years for every country. The methodology and data does seems pretty solid and respected.

  • Dave Hambidge September 30, 2009, 7:20 am

    Just the photograph, ma’am. Not seen one of you before.

  • Mike September 30, 2009, 10:25 pm

    Ah it would all have been so much easier if Iceland had kept the original name of Butterland 😉

    Iceland’s being the canary in the coal mine (not that you have them of course), that the climate IS warming and we’re pretty much at the peak temperatures seen during the Settlement and the colonisation of Greenland – except this time we’ve got here a lot faster and it’s likely its our consumption of fossil fuels that’s brought it about.

    It’d be a tragedy to lose those high icecaps – this summer was so gorgeous; Snaefellsjokull seemed to be visible almost all the time during my stay – sometimes it was nothing more than a white patch in the haze, other times it seemed really close to Reykjavik (if you ever go to Seattle, Rainier performs exactly the same illusion); and even Hekla was on show – which was very cool as that was the one mountain I wanted to see – it didn’t do the decent thing and erupt though*

    Mike.

    * One for any Icelanders, is there any recent news on Hekla? When I was there the mountain was closed to hikers because of the threat of an imminent eruption (we drove up). Is it still considered likely to blow its top?

  • Stuart Jensen October 3, 2009, 10:56 pm

    Interesting that you should frame things in this way and try to bring personal experience to what is, for so many people, a rather abstract issue. I’ve been observing one particular area that previously was a persistent snow field above my city for the 40 years that have elapsed since my only direct encounter with your nation. (That was 2 hours on the ground at Keflavik on a low overcast afternoon in late April with a 30+ Knot wind and the temperature slightly above 5 Celsius.) I’m in another sea port, about 3 degrees further south and nearly 130 degrees to the west from Reykjavik, that buts against a range of major mountains.

    http://images.travelnow.com/hotels/ANC_MILL-exter-2.jpg

    My interest in this particular terrain was assessing the potential for summer skiing in very close proximity to my city’s population, and it was conveniently centered in a large eastern facing window in my home. Up until the mid ’90s it remained white most years, at least in its upper reaches and always at the base of the avalanche courses on its edges. Every year now, the avalanche piles are gone sometime in August, and the sloping bowl is quite green by mid July, before turning brown in early September, and receiving its first coat of white “termination dust” near the Equinox.

    The water in the foreground of this night image is a lake less than a kilometer from the ocean and 30 meters or so above the high tide line. I think the season is mid to late May. The light colored objects on the right, just above the trees are houses that extend nearly up to 600 meters elevation. Perspective is foreshortened by a telephoto lens, but this is the first one I found on the net, after more than a few pages of searching.