Iceland is Green and Greenland is Ice

9 09 2012

The outside world has an idealistic view of Iceland as ‘green’ and clean. While this is mostly true, a culture of waste has emerged from the availability of vast renewable resources. Instead of turning down the thermostat, Icelanders open all the windows. While brushing their teeth, they leave the water running.

This house had at least 4 windows open in 5C weather! When you walk around town, it is striking how many homes are like this.

Water is not an issue here in Iceland, it is clean and abundant. While energy is renewable from geothermal and hydroelectric sources. Approximately 90% of homes are heated by geothermal sources. There are no water heaters, so does this mean I can relish in my 30minute shower? Most of the infrastructure is sustainable and the only use of fossil fuels is for transportation.

Hydropower is sustainable, however, it is quite controversial here. It can affect spawning fish, displace people, and cause ecological upheaval. And it supplies electricity primarily to industry.

As a result of the sustainable energy, it is cheap and attractive to energy intensive industries. Aluminum smelting is very energy needy and the whole process is very environmentally unfriendly. The Bayer process is the principal industrial means of refining bauxite to produce alumina (aluminum oxide). The power made in Jamaica is then shipped by boat to Iceland where it is refined and melted into aluminum. Each year, Americans discard about 2.7 million tons of aluminum. And only 50 percent of aluminum beer and soft drink containers generated are recycled. A single aluminum smelting plant uses the same amount of energy per year as a city of 1 million people (that is 3x the total population of Iceland). Next time you fail to recycle a can, remember how many countries and landscapes you are affecting!

Smelting factories like this are quite a blight on the landscape and consume enormous amounts of electricity.

If you are interested in sustainable energy, this site has some great videos:




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