Musings, politics and environmental issues

I submitted an article last week to Inter Press Service on the adverse environmental consequences that resulted when a glacial river was diverted into a lake system as part of the Karahnjukar power plant development in East Iceland. Originally I was going to wait until the article was published, but as that might be a while yet I’ll write this post in the meantime.

The fiasco shows the importance of the Precautionary Principle, whereby Nature is given the benefit of the doubt in cases in which some of the consequences are not known. But in this case, in fact, many of the adverse environmental impacts were actually identified beforehand, but Siv Fridleifsdottir, who was Environment minister at the time, decided to ignore the warnings. When Siv was minister, the government was right-wing and gung-ho all sorts of heavy industrial projects. So now the river/lake system is full of silt and sediment, its plant biota has decreased significantly as the water is too murky for the plants to photosynthesise, and the fish populations have decreased dramatically in what had previously been a good fishing environment. In addition, the birdlife has been affected in some places, the river banks have become eroded and the river water has flooded agricultural land in some places.

Concerns have now arisen as to whether the ecology of lake Myvatn will be affected if/when a geothermal power plant is developed just a few kilometres from the lake. Some people – including the current Environment minister Svandis Svavarsdottir – want a new environmental impact assessment carried out as new research has brought various things to light since the existing EIA was carried out for the plant 10 years ago. To me, the link between these two developments is clear in terms of insufficient evidence being available on the effects of the power plants on the environment.

On the plus side, new comprehensive legislation on environmental matters was passed last week in the closing minutes of the last parliamentary session. Although I cannot remember all the details about the legislation, I seem to remember it will eliminate some loopholes in existing legislation. Let’s hope so.

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