I remember when being Green, or whatever it is called nowadays, was generally referred to as being: an environmentalist, a hippie, or rather tastefully, a weirdo. It was like being in a constant state of committing a faux pas. Around the same time I was rather young and quite into Captain Planet, the cartoon, and his band of eco-conscious friends who would often thwart the dastardly plans of conglomerate corporations bent on raping Mother Earth.
Since then, a lot has changed; being Green has, essentially, become quite hip, at least in Europe and especially in England. There even the trashy tabloids that report daily on environmental issues, focusing on carbon footprints, both the ones we leave and the ones that we generate with our shopping and how products arrive into our shopping carts. Hence, it would seem that England along with other countries such as Sweden and Germany seem to be leading the way towards greener lifestyles and policies.
So that raises the question: Where does that leave Iceland? Are we looking ahead or lagging behind with China and suburban America? The answer might not be as simple as one would want to believe. On my way here, right now I am writing this article in lovely eco-friendly café Kaffi Hljómalind, I counted the cars that were driving down the street to this exact spot. I counted 66 cars, despite the fact that I walked rather briskly. Moreover, at least twenty vehicles had only one occupant – and since I have been here there has been a car driving down the street at ten to fifteen second intervals. Hundreds and hundreds of cars creep along slowly for the weekend glance of Laugavegur and its part-time denizens.
Personally, I do not understand the appeal of watching other people walk down the street from a car. Emitting carbons and wasting oil driving down a street seems to be a popular leisure here in Iceland, known as “rúntur”, which is sort of like a ‘50s style teenage leisure activity in some suburban nightmare with a Freudian edge. My question is why is this so popular here? Are these the same people who throw trash on the street, do not recycle and scoff cynically with the typical Icelandic stubbornness at the term “global warming”?
From my own personal experience, I seem to have discovered one thing about “certain” Icelanders – yes here comes the generalization. Because, as you all know, some people just can’t handle the truth. Those who scoff at green thinking seem more inclined to try and rationalize whaling by saying: they eat all the fish. There you have Solomonian wisdom at its finest. The same kind of Icelandic person never recycles, as he or she sees no point in it – and considers the epitome of modern culture to be the cultural wasteland that is the American mass consumer society. If these people got to decide Iceland’s future I am sure that we would become the 51st state with 50 aluminium smelter plants to boot.
On the other hand, being Green has become a fashionable vote baiting commodity in the agora of Icelandic politics. The main proponenent of Green values hitherto has been the political party, the Left Green Movement, and of course they have put Green politics on the map here in Iceland – although at a price. If you cast a vote for Left Green, you are casting a vote for nanny state politics, which is a steep price indeed; not to mention their occasional shelving of Green values for political gain. Not to be “left” out of the mix are the Independence Party, priding themselves with a generous clap on the shoulder: we have seen An Inconvenient Truth as well. The sad fact that remains is that being an environmentalist is still on the fringe of Icelandic society, although we have made progress, e.g. hydrogen buses, carbon footprints (kolvidur.is) and numerous other initiatives.
However, being an environmentalist doesn’t really mean you have to conform to some kind of stereotype or adhere to certain politics, it is more of radical new Social Contract that depends on the cooperation of everybody involved. So, here is hoping that more Icelanders ride a bike, use local transport systems or use cars less, demand less packaging in their groceries and recycle. The change has to start with Icelanders that have an irrational phobia of being Green. Because, of course, one of our national pastimes is talking about how great the country looks. Somehow I don’t think Iceland is as attractive with Marlboro packages, coke cans, aluminium plants and various trash scattered around – not to mention the fact if the country (and world) finally becomes a true uninhabitable wasteland because “To be, or not to be: that is the question.” I just think the answer needs to be a resounding yes.