Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for October, 2017

Iceland elects corrupt politicians yet again

Eight parties won seats in the Icelandic parliamentary elections on Saturday, held 364 days after the previous elections. The run-up was short and there was little discussion of issues – I think that many politicians thought that general public would remember their last promises – and the campaign revolved more around personalities. 63 seats were contested.

Despite the Left-Greens having a marginal lead early on, Bjarni Ben used his 4th life (like cats, I’m convinced he has nine lives and unfortunately hasn’t used them all up yet) to bring his party to 25.25% share of the vote and 16 elected candidates, whereas the Left-Greens got 11 people in and 16.89% of the vote.

Three weeks before the election, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson of Wintris fame, who was booted out of his Prime Minister role after the Panama papers interview and who had done virtually zilch after he lost his position as leader of the Progressive Party, formed his own party, the Middle Party, and got 7 people in, some of whom had been representing his old party. He will, I suspected, remain alienated from other political parties with the exception of Bjarni Ben’s crowd, who have no scruples. But now it appears he is in league with a new “populist” party, the People’s Party, that got in with 4 candidates on the basis of working on behalf of the elderly and disabled. Some of their policies had been somewhat spurious but I suspect that at least some of the people who voted for them did so on the basis that they were not SDG or BB.

The party that walked out of the last coalition government, Bright Future, paid for their allegiance to BB with a disastrous election result of 1.22%, and at the time the last coalition was formed only 25% of BF voters were happy with the idea. Those people switched their allegiance to other parties this time round – and the same thing will happen to Inga Saeland and her People’s Party.

The other coalition party with BB, Vidreisn/Reform, also lost seats in this election. On the other hand, the Social Democrats (who had also had a bad experience of working with BB’s party prior to the bank crash) rose up from the ashes to get 12.05% of the vote and 7 seats this time instead of scraping in with 3 like last time.

The Pirates lost 4 seats and now have 6 – they admit that they probably forgot to talk about issues. Their main issue was the need for a new constitution, which is important but obviously not enough to win supporters. SDG’s old party, the Progressive Party, got 8 seats and 10.71% of the vote. As part of the opposition over the last year, they had become (temporarily at least) left-wing.

Katrin Jakobsdottir from the Left-Greens wants to have a coalition government made up of the four parties who were in opposition last time around, i.e. Progressive Party, SDP, Pirates and Left-Greens, and will have a one-seat majority. BB of course wants to form a government and so does SDG, but both parties will have difficulty finding enough parties willing to work with them due to the corruption scandals of their leaders. (Interestingly, the investigative paper Stundin had done an article on how parties would handle corruption and two of the three parties which didn’t reply were those of BB and SDG – which are precisely the parties that need to address the issue the most.)

Although Iceland has proportional representation, its voting system is somewhat complicated so that the PP got more seats than the SDP despite having a smaller proportion of voters electing it. This is something that a new constitution should address.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Education and traditional knowledge main themes of 2017 Arctic Circle Assembly

This year’s Arctic Circle Assembly, held in mid-October in Reykjavik, provided masses of information. At times there were up to 5 interesting seminars scheduled at the same time which would have been worth writing about. I had the task of writing up the event for InDepthNews, the flagship of International Press Syndicate, but it was difficult to write up the event in 1000 words or so as each session I went to could have formed the basis of an article.

Although I personally thought that the article I sent off read extremely well, I was told that it read too much like minutes of the event and my articles were usually more “journalistic”. So I rejigged it, but that meant that some bits had to come out.  The final article can be read here, but here are a few tidbits that I had to take out.

  • Some issues came up repeatably, such as pressures affecting Arctic youth; indigenous peoples, traditional knowledge and climate change; education in remote areas; sustainable development goals; energy; the South Pacific; environmental issues and the military, and fisheries in a warming climate. Some of the presentations can be viewed via the Arctic Circle homepage.
  • In July this year, the Cook Islands unanimously passed a resolution to open up a new marine reserve, the Marae Moana, to tackle environmental and economic issues such as fisheries and the new threat of sea-bed mining. The energy scenario of the Cook Islands aims for 100% renewables by 2020.
  • In her introduction to the first of the monthly discussions on implementing sustainable development goals (SDGs) in the Arctic, which will report back to the next Arctic Council meeting in September 2018, Dalee Sambo Dorough from the University of Alaska Fairbanks told participants that “We can’t preach one goal without working towards the others… Most of the SDGs are very applicable to the Arctic.”
  • Mitchell White, a Canadian Inuit now working at the Gordon Foundation, brought up an often neglected issue when he pointed out that “Third World decisions really exist at home, for instance in Inuit communities in Canada.”
  • Action appeared to be a key word at the Arctic Circle this year, as UNFCC Chief Executive Patricia Espinosa said in her speech, “The weather won’t wait for us to act,” while Peter Seligmann, Chair of Conservation International, summarized the Roadmap session by saying, “We cannot address climate change without protecting nature.”
  • Ragna Arnadottir from Landsvirkjun, Iceland’s national power company, pointed out that Landsvirkjun’s newest hydropower stations had been redesigned to increase capacity by 10% before being built, in order to take advantage of increased flow due to climate change.
  • Very little research has been done recently on the environmental effects of the military, and most of the existing literature is at least 20 years old.
  • Canadian Michael Byers from University of British Columbia gave an account of the problems caused by UDMH rockot fuel and its toxic effect on three Inuit communities.

200 substances emitted from United Silicon’s smelter, but results inconclusive

United Silicon must be facing a difficult decision. The Norwegian company NILA released their final report yesterday with the results of their research on odour-causing pollutants that have emanated from the beleaguered silicon metal smelter at Helguvik, Southwest Iceland. The report states that about 200 different compounds are emitted from the plant, including some that can create odour, but none of them are released in sufficient quantity to produce the odours about which local residents have complained.

But the Environment Agency (EA) say that they received few complaints on the days that the monitoring was taking place, which would not help in producing required results. Members of the local council are also amazed about why readings were not taken at times when the odours were worst.

As before, NILA are most concerned about anhydrides and formaldehyde, but say it is difficult to monitor these substances. Formaldehyde is highly volatile and cannot be monitored with the equipment used in July, so the EA monitored it with different equipment in August. They detected it in the exhaust from the plant but not from the residential areas. Anhydride was then measured separately by NILA and a considerable amount was found at the plant inside the baghouse, but the actual concentration of anhydride was uncertain. Anhydride can cause temporary irritation of eyes and respiratory tract, like those that local residents have experienced. NILA recommend further testing.

And that’s the problem. To do so requires the plant to be operated, and the EA closed the plant down on September 1. They will only allow the plant to start operating again when they are satisfied that each of the deviations they identified in the plant’s operation have been fixed. And United Silicon can’t fix the odour problem without operating the plant, which they’re not allowed to do.

It’s a chicken and egg affair. And remember that when the EA allowed the plant to start up again after the last fire there in August, supposedly on a temporary basis of a few weeks, they did so on the premise that odour-polluting substances would be monitored and put an end to the problems that local residents have had to put up with. Which didn’t happen.

I have a feeling that the company will give up in December – their problems must surely be insurmountable.