Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for May, 2013

Fin whale meat and dog treats – updated

Japanese company Michinoku Farms has decided not to buy fin whale meat from Iceland after pressure from at least four environmental groups. The company had intended to use the meat in the production of dog treats. I know that there have been promotion campaigns in Japan to boost the sales of fin whale meat lingering in storage there, but I hadn’t realised that the situation had reached the stage of using it in the pet food industry. The firm also uses kangaroo meat from Australia and horse meat from Mongolia in its pet food products.

Meanwhile, Avaaz have sent out a global petition to pressurise the Dutch PM Mark Rutte to ban the transit of Icelandic whale meat from Dutch ports. I seem to remember a similar campaign a few years back in 2010, though with Greenpeace instead of Avaaz. ON JUNE 26 THE DUTCH AUTHORITIES SAID THAT THE ONLY SHIPPING COMPANY THAT SERVICES THE TRANSPORT OF ICELANDIC WHALE MEAT WILL NOW STOP DOING SO, DUE TO INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE. Similarly, US animal rights groups such as PETA have called on Barack Obama to usurp sanctions on Iceland because Iceland is about to resume whaling again. Again, in 2011 Obama decided to impose diplomatic sanctions, but not trade sanctions, on Iceland to pressurise them to stop fin whaling. Iceland did not catch any whales last year, but I suspect it was much more due to lack of demand than to diplomatic sanctions.

Maybe the Michinoku decision will force Kristjan Loftsson from the whaling company Hvalur to change his mind about the economic benefits of whaling. But I doubt it.

Minke whales have been hunted continuously since 2006, although the number caught is always much lower than the quota allowed. Apart from a miniscule amount, Minke whale meat is only sold on the domestic market.

CO2 Electrofuels conference in Reykjavik

This is probably mostly of interest to people living in Iceland, but it’s a Nordic initiative so I’ll publicize it anyway.

Last year there was a seminar on CO2 Electrofuels in Reykjavik as the two-year project had been started the previous November. As the CO2 Electrofuels website puts it, “CO2 Electrofuels are hydrocarbon-based fuels (e.g. methane, methanol and DME) that are produced by combining CO2 from sustainable sources, such as biomass, with hydrogen produced by new, efficient electrolysis techniques.” The conference will review new fuels and progress that has been made during the project.

It is an exciting project – I wrote about it last year and have assisted with the website – and  registration both for those coming from overseas and within Iceland is available now,while programme details can be seen here (but overseas visitors seem to get an extra day). The conference will be in English, but be warned: the language can be technical.

See you there.

Iceland’s new fisheries and agriculture minister to deal with environmental issues as well

From an environmental point of view, holding a press conference to announce the priorities and ministers of the new government in a location 80 km from Reykjavik instead of the capital itself is bad enough. But Iceland’s new government, which will be headed by Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson of the Progressive Party, clearly has no qualms about environmental issues of any kind, as it is not going to have a special Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources – “at least not for the time being” – but will let the minister for fisheries and agriculture cover environmental issues as well. They say that this does not mean that environmental issues will be pushed under the table, and point out that natural resources was added to the environment ministry in the last government. They say that the ministry itself will still exist.

Energy matters will be lumped with Industry and Commerce (it is currently under Finance and Economic Affairs). This fits, as the new government wants to exploit as soon as possible any reserves of oil and gas that are found off Iceland.

At the broadcasted press conference, Gunnlaugsson and his buddy Bjarni Benediktsson from the Independence Party were cagey on issues to do with the environment, priority over development of power plants and continued development of the Helguvik aluminium smelter. “We have to remember that Iceland’s energy is renewable and clean,” they said, implying that development of power plants in Iceland is thus acceptable. Their attitude is reminiscent of Siv Fridleiksdottir, environment minister at the time the Karahnjukar plant was under discussion and later development (see my blog last month). And the last government’s actions in putting various controversial power plant options into “more research needed” or “protected” categories will be reversed.

Gunnlaugsson says that the make-up of the new government reflects its priorities of slashing home loans, creating more opportunities for industry and cutting taxes. I suspect the environment will suffer over the next four years – a pity really, because Iceland is known for it’s non-polluted environment.

Regarding EU accession, the duo want to review the progress of the EU accession process as it stands in Iceland, review the position of EU as a whole on a state-wide level and present the results to the Althingi. No further progress will be made regarding accession talks until after a referendum on the issue, but no date has been set – “it will be after the review of the process has been completed”, says Gunnlaugsson.

Whaling and whale-watching

Over the last seven years or so, there have been constant disputes between the people operating whale-watching boats – especially those who operate from Reykjavik – and those who hunt minke whales. The antis say that the behaviour of minke whales has changed since hunting began in the same region, as the whales have become more timid so are seen less by whale-watchers. The minke hunters say that they keep out of the way of the whale-watching boats.
Now, hunters of minke whales are up in arms as the outgoing Steingrimur J. Sigfusson, outgoing Minister of Industry and Innovation, has implemented a regulation on the enlargement of the part of the Faxafloi Bay inside which minke whale hunters are not allowed to operate. Faxafloi is the bay in which the Reykjavik whale-watching ships operate. The whalers say that the regulation will put 80% of their hunting area into the protected zone, and say the ministry must have worked extremely hard in order to be able to implement the regulation today – a day before the next government of Iceland will be announced and Sigfusson will hand over the keys to his successor.
Those who have a good memory might remember that a day after the “crash government” fell in January 2009, the outgoing Fisheries minister, Einar K. Gudfinnsson, implemented a regulation that allowed for commercial whaling of up to 150 fin whales and 100 minke whales for the following five years. Many people wondered if he actually had the authority to do that as his government had fallen.
In a way, today’s regulation by Sigfusson could be called tit for tat.

Undercurrents magazine now available online

Once upon a time, before the arrival of the digital age, there was a magazine of radical science and technology called Undercurrents. All work on the magazine was carried out on a voluntary basis, and I became involved in the late 70s when living in London. The magazine was started in 1972 and died out in 1984 (or, depending on how you view it, got taken over by Resurgence).

It is safe to say that at least some of the features in Undercurrents magazine, especially those on alternative technology, were pioneering at the time, and since then some of the collective members have gone on to work at places such as the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales or the Open University’s Energy and Environment Research Unit. But besides alternative technology, there were also whole issues and articles devoted to communes and collectives, food, agriculture, women and science, cooperatives and the like. All good stuff.

Members of the collective have kept in contact, and now three-quarters of the material has been scanned into a computer by one of the magazine’s founders so old issues of the magazine can now be read in their entirety by anyone interested, thanks to WordPress and Issuu technology. Just click on the issue that interests you, and there you are. Enjoy.

Update on elections

I’ve just had an article published by IPS on the elections here in Reykjavik. Check it out.

As predicted, it is the Progressive Party and Independence Party who are now negotiating together in a rural summerhouse about how the next government will pan out.

Hydrogen sulphide pollution adversely affects sound equipment

Sound technicians are complaining that expensive sound mixing equipment in Reykjavik has a much shorter service life than the equivalent equipment in Europe, the US or even in North Iceland. The reason? Hydrogen sulphide (H2S) pollution from the Hellisheidi geothermal power plant, 30 km east of Reykjavik.

The problem first became apparent after the Svartsengi geothermal power plant was opened  southwest of the capital in 1976, but worsened considerably after the Hellisheidi plant was opened in 2006.

The technicians say that H2S precipitates on the copper and silver parts of the equipment, increasing the corrosion rate. Sometimes the buttons start creaking after only a few weeks of use. In expensive equipment, the contacts are made of silver as this normally accelerates conductivity, but this does not happen if they are subject to H2S deposits. Prior to Hellisheidi, the equipment was subject to routine maintenance several years after being brought into use, but now it has to be replaced after one to two years.

In cheaper equipment, plastic or nickel are used as conductors. These are less affected by H2S pollution – but the sound quality is also inferior.

But at least the problem should not worsen. Last week, the environment ministry rejected a request by energy companies to delay until 2020 the introduction of more stringent rules on H2S emissions that are due to take effect on July 1 2014. After this time, the concentration of H2S must never exceed an average of 50 µg/cubic metre over a 24-hour period. The ministry said that the solutions that were being researched had not been exhausted. This means that another geothermal power plant near the Hellisheidi plant (pictured below), which was intended to power the Helguvik aluminium smelter that is still under construction, will not be built until a solution has been reached.Image