For some Icelanders, in a country whose inhabitants have survived 1,100 winters without central heating, the environmental costs of aluminium smelting are worth paying if the alternative is a return to a life in grass-roofed huts.
To many, that choice does not feel far-fetched. Andri Snær Magnason’s grandfather, for example, worked continuously on the land and sea in order to survive. As the author of Dreamland recalls, “my family caught fish, burned driftwood, milked cows, and herded sheep. Food was life for twenty to thirty people in a house of 1,400 square feet. Everything edible was cut and dried: One sheep represented a month and a bit of human survival next winter. That was their reality”.
The vitality of that living memory is one reason debate about Iceland’s economic future seems to have been limited to a stark choice: sell the country, body and soul, to global energy and extractive interests – or go back to those huts.
The search for a third way was one underlying theme at last week’s Poptech in Reykjavik on the theme “Toward Resilience”. My invitation (from Andrew Zolli) to take part afforded a welcome opportunity to re-connect with a country confronted by an agonising choice: “eaten-alive-or-growing-to-live?”. Read More