‘Five percent growth, five brownie points’


Bjarnaflag Geothermal Power Station and Diatomite Factory, Reykjahlid, Iceland

From Sign and Sight:

“In Iceland the politicians promised to deliver 30 terrawatt hours of energy in an environmentally sustainable manner. So everyone immediately thinks, oh, that is scientific, rational and probably true. In doing so, they wanted to sell all the rivers of Iceland to these heavy industry companies and make us totally dependent on them. But this was presented as green energy, as a smart decision in favour of economic growth. For politicians ‘growth’ means brownie points. Five percent growth, five brownie points. With smileys on top. Shows their doing a good job. Our politicians constantly received brownie points. From the OECD, all the international organizations, the rating companies.”

That’s how things went until the collapse of the banks and the near bankruptcy of the state in 2008. Afterwards, the island all at once became more environmentally friendly. People had to save. Rubbish levels dropped by half, traffic decreased some 20 percent. And for a time there was not enough money for new energy projects. The new government of Social Democrats and Left-Greens is more open to environmental issues.

But for Icelanders the transformation is happening too slowly. “There are still the same people in positions of power, who say, calm down, we’ll change. But if you don’t change the people, nothing changes.” There is some progress, regions that are now under environmental protection. But the energy machine is very hungry and very powerful. For this reason the message of the book so much of which can be applied to other countries is: “There is no hope.” Andri Snaer laughs as he says, “We were a small, beautiful country, but we ruined it.”

“In February I was in China, and the first thing I saw on the street was the evil omen of Iceland: a black Range Rover. It’s like a black cat. It means that your future is bleak. Then I saw those endless blocks of apartment buildings, just like the ones built in Iceland as investments, but just ten thousand times larger. It was as if I was standing right in the middle of the Icelandic real estate bubble, clapping my hands together and saying: ‘There’s no place like home.’ I read that they have 60 million empty apartments. It’s going to be a huge crash.”

At the moment a new constitution is being reworked on the Internet according to an open source concept. Art students are thinking up new ideas for agriculture with the farmers on their farms; intelligent minds like Noam Chomsky are coming to Iceland with their ideas. In Iceland the environmental movement has always been in the hands of the musicians, the creative industry, the small high tech companies, says Andri Snaer. And things are changing, there is a mental shift away from heavy industry to creative approaches that in the past were met with resistance.

“Just one pyramid”, Daniela Zinser, Sign and Sight