Björk and Andri Snær Magnason, the renowned artists and spokespeople of the Protect The Park conservation NGO, held a press conference today about the latest skirmish in the war to protect Iceland’s highlands from industrialisation.
“Iceland has a deadline,” said Björk, sitting in the Petersen Suite at Gamla Bíó. “Iceland currently has the largest untouched area of nature in Europe. The government has plans to build over 50 dams and power plants, and to start next year. This could end Iceland’s wilderness in just a few years. We propose to start a national park in our highlands. Surveys already to prove that the majority of Icelanders agree. We have eleven days in which to voice our opposition to these plans. We ask the world to join us against our government: to help us protect our wilderness.”
The immediate threat is the building of a power line across the Sprengisandur plains. “It’s a symbolic act,” said poet-turned-activist Andri Snær Magnason, “that would cleave the wilderness into two areas.”
But devastating as the power line would be, a larger issue looms on the horizon. Reuters recently reported new plans for Iceland to export power to the UK, after meetings between Iceland’s Prime Minister and David Cameron.
“This story just doesn’t make sense,” said Andri Snæar. “If we dammed every river in Iceland we could still only provide 10% of the UK’s energy. We get very worried when we see these hype stories about exporting endless clean volcanic energy, because we have seen the devastating damage that needs to be done to produce this energy. Real places will need to be destroyed if these plans go ahead.”
The Protect The Park organisation last year threw a big event named STOPP at Harpa, and with the funds raised, have been able to hire some staff to power along the campaign. One of the new recruits is Steinar Kaldal, who said: “Now is the time that organisations, individuals and others can send their argument about why this should or should not be done. After that deadline, in eleven days, the government has to take all the voices into account.”
This call to arms goes out to both Icelanders — who are encouraged to send their objections to the planned proposals to the email address email@example.com — and the international community.
“This government has two years left in power, and they could power through these developments in that time,” said Björk. “We need the world to help us pressure the government – it’s the last route open to us. We’re going to collect people together in our Facebook – Gaetum Gardsins. We want to collect people who support us from around the world, and inform people of various ways they can support is: we’re improvising what that will be, but right now, just the support means a lot. Foreigners in large numbers support and amplifying and mirroring back our views helps us to be heard by politicians.”
“Average Icelanders don’t know what’s going on,” she continued. “The plans are made behind a curtain, so spreading information is an important weapon – letting people know what’s happening, and getting them involved. 80% of Icelanders want to see this land remain untouched. I am a musician, not a politician, and I prefer to stay at home and write songs. But I feel like that 80% needs a spokesperson, and I can use my platform to make their voices heard.”
Björk’s father, Guðmundur Gunnarsson, has also joined the campaign. “If we got the go-ahead, we could found a national park around this whole area over the weekend,” he said. “80% of the population wants this new national park, but it’s the people with money invested in industry that are pushing the development forward. It’s being pushed down the throat of the nation, and we have to do something about this. Our prime minister and president are talking nonsense in the foreign media: that we can save Britain’s electricity supply? We couldn’t even support London. We want our prime minister and president to talk sense and not make these promises.”
“Iceland is still a magic place,” finished Björk. “It’s a tiny island with a vast wilderness. There’s almost no infrastructure, because of the small size of our population. So things can happen fast here – sometime a good thing like a music festival, or a green movement: but sometimes it means bad things can happen fast too. We have to act together, now, to stop that from happening.”