Date: 15.08.08 at 15.00 in the literary tent "The Green Man Festival" in Wales.
Info regarding the lecture:
It's a standing joke, albeit one that its populous keep to themselves, that one particular Nordic country is the 'per capita' capital of the world. Who exports more bananas (per capita) than any other nation? Who has Europe's best state pension system (per capita) and who, you might wonder, will become one of the world's largest polluters (per capita, of course) in the next few years?
The answer to all these questions is Iceland - that slightly mysterious rock in the North Atlantic that boasts the largest area of unspoilt wilderness in Europe, a stunning alien landscape of glacial rock formations, blue green fjords and moss-covered lava fields, and a population of just 300,000 people. Despite this precious natural resource and years of prosperity gained through positive international trade activity and a strong global reputation, the country has recently, some believe, shaken hands with Beelzebub and begun building numerous highly-polluting industrial projects that will change the island forever.
One of the most prominent figures in the fight against such developments is Andri Snær Magnason, an author and environmentalist who's become a leading voice of reason in the increasingly-tense dialogue between people in favour of such industrialisation (mainly the Government and the companies who stand to profit from their investment) and those standing against the destruction. Magnason was propelled to the forefront of the debate with the release of his book Dreamland, a best-seller recently released in English that details how Iceland came to the point where its rulers were willing to sign over rights to entire areas of their own country (for, its alleged, a bargain price) to corporations with a less than perfect reputation and suggests ways in which a potentially disastrous future can be avoided.
The book struck a chord, as the writer explains: "I heard of people reading it on business class and I got a letter from a 95 year old lady that said that my thinking was just like hers. The response was quite interesting because normally people take care not to step out of their boxes. People even said it changed their minds on various issues which is also rare. I think the most important part is installing an alternative way of looking at the world and our possibilities."
"To understand the destruction of nature on a global scale we can look at the aluminium industry," continued Andri, when asked about how his book and general views on the debate are relevant to the world's ecological and economic problems, rather than just Iceland's issues. "Beer and cola cans are thrown away in America that could renew the commercial air fleet four times a year - causing demand for destruction of rivers in Iceland and forests in Jamaica. Locals want jobs and are often not offered alternatives other than damaging their own environment." The analogy commonly used is that Iceland is the canary in the mine – whatever fate befalls Iceland will soon follow in the rest of Europe (and beyond) unless someone comes up with a real alternative to systematically abusing natural resources.
That's not to say the Icelandic people, and Europeans in general, are against developing their natural resources for economic and social benefit. Its just that many people, such as Andri Snær Magnason, strongly believe that this can done in a way that doesn't cause irreversible damage and doesn't benefit large corporations, such as Alcoa and Rio Tinto, more than the people who've populated such a vast, beautiful country since 900 AD.
As well as inspiring the recent Náttúra gig, featuring Björk and Sigur Rós, Andri is also responsible for The Story of the Blue Planet, the first children's book to receive the Icelandic Literary Prize, a 'Lights off – Stars on' initiative which saw all of Reykjavik city's external lighting turned off so residents could see the night sky fully and several other published works plus musical collaborations with fellow countrymen Múm.