Iceland is one place that I’ve been increasingly encouraged to visit lately. I’ve watched it trend as a destination within the travelling community until it has got on almost everyone’s must see list in the past year or so. The crowds are lured by the gorgeous and adventurous nature of the land of ice and fire.
Obviously I haven’t been there yet, which doesn’t qualify me to speak any further of its natural merits. I did however recently learn some very interesting information about its sustainable economy, and here I am caring and sharing it with you in the spirit of extending my Earth Hour’s celebration beyond the hour.
You all know how touchy feely I get about our beloved planet earth!
Earlier this month, the president of Iceland, HE. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, addressed the Masdar Institute community in Abu Dhabi in an event organized by my fantastic team. He highlighted the innovative methods through which his struggling nation transformed its crumbling economy into a much healthier and cleaner one.
Did you know that Iceland holds the honorable title of the leading clean energy economy in the entire world?
100% of Iceland’s electricity and heat is now generated from renewable resources. It is pretty mind-blowing, considering that only 40 years ago it imported fossil fuel to generate over 85% of its power, like most of the rest of the world.
Until the 70s Iceland was classified a developing country by UNDEP. It has for centuries been amongst the poorest in Europe, a persisting nation of farmers and fishermen. According to President Grimsson, if you’ve lived through that period you would’ve found it hard to imagine that the thick black coal smoke cloud that enveloped the city of Reykjavik will one day be replaced by clean fresh air.
In the following decades Iceland gradually shifted its energy dependence onto hydro and geothermal resources; the kind of change that takes a strong visionary leadership to guide the people through the mission, but it seems the country’s politicians never came together some half a century ago and agreed to initiate such an assignment, apparently it takes a bit more than that!
So how exactly did Iceland set itself free from its fossil fuel dependence?
“Street by street, house by house, city by city, district by district” said Grimsson.TRUE STORY!
Instead of singing glory to his own extended administration (in effect for the 5th term since 1996), Grimsson praises the bottom up approach that provided multiple business opportunities in the clean energy sector, a series of initiatives taken by local communities, small villages, individual entrepreneurs, and responsible experts. The real change was brought about by the people.
Overtime it has created an interminable dynamic of sustainable business innovation and resulted in a complete national transformation.
It is no secret that planet earth is in trouble. The irreversible challenge of climate change is occurring a little too fast to be controlled. “We have the largest glaciers in the world. We are studying them and we know what is happening in the world” announced Grimsson.
He advocates seeking a solution by engaging in a global discussion that positions the economy in the center of the conversation rather than energy resources. I bet things will be different when the world realizes what a profitable enterprise this energy shift is. Besides, it is paradoxically an area to be morally correct while making seriously big bucks. You can’t say the same for most current global economic affairs.
Five years ago the Icelandic banks collapsed. With its new economic module the country has given a valuable lesson to other European nations on how to survive a major financial hit. Thanks to the lasting investment in clean energy that started decades ago, Iceland has 3% annual economic growth, and less than 5% unemployment rate. The cost of power and heat has significantly decreased making the economic standards for families as well as companies much better than they were before the crisis.
The energy shift turned Iceland into a magnet for large foreign investments. Some of the biggest Aluminium smelters, data storage centers and IT brands in the world are based there due to the long-term availability of clean energy on fixed prices. The strong marketing positioning it gives them doesn’t heart neither.
To enhance the country’s food security the local network of farming families capitalized on greenhouse cultivation methods. This nation knows exactly where its food comes from and how it’s grown, organically behind glass walls or in fish farms. Visitors enjoy having these clean meals with their large doses of fresh air. This is the home of the biggest (glass cased) banana plantation and soon to be the largest exporter of organic tomatoes in Europe.
To enhance the food security of other nations while reaping economic benefits, a mechanism for drying and exporting unused fish parts was developed using clean energy. Instead of throwing it back to sea, Iceland sells it to African countries that lacks the technology or facilities to do it themselves like Nigeria, at zero infrastructure cost.
A country that looks as good as Iceland has to see significant growth in the tourism sector. The blue Lagoon, the most popular attraction in Iceland, was named a world wonder by National Geographic last year. It sees more than 600000 visitors every year; to put things in perspective the entire population of Iceland is about 320000. That’s not even the surprising part; you’ll be amazed to know that in essence the lagoon is nothing but a spill of hot water from the Svartsengi geothermal plant. It did not exist 30 years ago, and was created by clever Icelandic engineers to attract tourists who pay 40 Euros to bath in the magical steaming blue water.
Another popular tourist attraction in Reykjavík is the Perlan revolving restaurant complex that sits on top of geothermal tanks, providing a fantastic panoramic view of the city.
Today, Iceland isn’t just a modular example of green living; it is also doing its bit to heal the globe by trading sustainability education through its UN Geothermal Training Programme. Since 1979 it has trained many professionals from developing countries with geothermal potential. The knowledge is also exchanged on diplomatic level with geothermally rich countries like Ethiopia and China.
Don’t mean it to get more technical, but I guess the point that I am trying to make here is that change is possible. It only takes believing and a certain level of commitment to make it really happen.
The example of Iceland is incredibly unique, but it isn’t country specific. An individual is not alone if joined by enough others aspiring to achieve the same goal. Which is why we must get our priorities right as responsible citizens of the world today.
To humbly play my part I thought the least I could do is to write!Source
All this talking of Iceland made me very excited to see it, one day…
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