Facebook is overflowing with pages devoted to the beauty of Icelandic nature. There’s “Icelandic Nature,” “Icelandic Nature Travels,” “Icelandic Nature Tours,” “Icelandic Nature Photos by Snorri” and the list goes on, but the most important and most political page is arguably Halli Björnsson’s “Protect Icelandic Nature.”
Like the other nature pages, the majority of posts are pictures of the flora and fauna, the sun setting over a lake, waterfalls in winter, waterfalls in summer, waterfalls at sunset and the Northern Lights. But the page is also one of the few English language resources for non-Icelanders who care about those flora, fauna, lakes and waterfalls.
“I noticed that a lot of the information about environmental politics isn’t really available to people who don’t read Icelandic,” said Halli, who created the page last September. Since then, he has kept the page’s followers, up to 9,600 now, updated on the developments in the fight between nature preservationists and pro-industrialists.
How Is This Okay?
Today Halli lives in London, where he runs Lockwood Publishing, but he was raised in Reykjavík and Kópavogur. As a kid he would spend his summers visiting his grandparents in Stokkseyri, on the south coast of Iceland. And he said those visits might be what kick started his environmentalist instinct.
He started the page after visiting Iceland as an ex-pat and noticing the effect heavy industry was having on the landscape. “I go to Iceland at least twice a year and between those visits there has been a massive amount of change, a large amount of which is destruction,” Halli said. “Obviously you need to harness the resources you have, but I felt in many cases it was done so badly.”
A few particularly glaring examples of what he saw as destruction are the open surface mine next to Selfoss and the decline in the fish population in Lagarfljót following the completion of the Kárahnjúkar dam. Several of the nature spots green lit for construction on the Master Plan for Hydro and Geothermal Energy Resources in Iceland, including plans to dam Þjórsá, the longest river in Iceland, are also problematic for Halli. “It’s kind of unbelievable that people thought this was okay,” he says.
Inspired By Icelanders
The “Protect Icelandic Nature” page takes its lead from two large-scale efforts to preserve Iceland’s untouched nature: the 2009 documentary film ‘Dreamland’ and a non-profit environmentalist group called Landvernd. ‘Dreamland,’ directed by Þorfinnur Guðnason & Andri Snær Magnason, is based on the 2006 book by the latter, which covers the largest industrial effort undertaken by the Icelandic government: the Kárahnjúkar dam in Reyðarfjörður.
While industry has the backing of multinational corporations like Alcoa and the national power company, Landsvirkjun, there is not a huge environmental lobby outside of environmentalists like Landvernd and the makers of ‘Dreamland.’ “Historically, the energy sector has a much bigger influence in government,” Halli said. “They’re entrenched in the way things happen.”
One group that would benefit from supporting pro-nature initiatives is the growing tourism industry, which contributed 5.9% of the country’s GDP and provided 5.1% of all jobs in 2009, according to Statistics Iceland.
Of course Iceland’s major appeal for tourists is the country’s nature. According to a report released by Promote Iceland in February, 80% of summer tourists and 71% of winter tourist listed Icelandic nature as a factor influencing their decision to visit the country.
The Protect Icelandic Nature page has drawn followers from across the globe and the page is currently looking for people to translate resources into languages other than Icelandic and English as, Halli explained, he sees Icelandic environmentalism as a global issue.
“A lot of people have lost what we still have in Iceland,” Halli said. “Places around the world have already lost this thing that still exists in Iceland and would hate to see us destroy it.”
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