Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

Sexist political comments create rage amongst Icelanders

Last month, six Icelandic politicians from two political parties, the Middle Party and the People’s Party, were drinking together at a bar opposite the parliament building (where their fellow politicians were still meeting). They were there for over three hours and were making loud, derogatory, misogynist remarks about a number of their fellow women colleagues (and former colleagues) as well as boasting about corruption incidents that some of them had been involved in.

Unknown to them, another guest was so disgusted by their behaviour that he recorded the conversations on his phone and later sent them to three of the more radical media outlets, two of which – DV and Stundin – worked with the recordings.

The politicians also made fun of Freyja Haraldsdottir, a disabled activist who was an alternate politician in the Althingi a few years ago. The comments about her have enraged the disabled rights’ movement.

Two of the politicians were Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson and Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson (remember him?). While he was Foreign Affairs Minister, Gunnar Bragi had set up the Barbershop “He for She” event in New York in 2015 to support non-sexist male attitudes and behaviour between men. Rather ironic really. The national committee of UN Women has said that GBS has damaged the reputation of He for She.

The two PP politicians, who made derogatory remarks about their leader, Inga Sæland, have been expelled from their party but will still be in the Althingi because they were elected as individuals. The PP now has only two members in the Althing.

The expelled members might well eventually join the Middle Party, as that was part of the conversation recorded in the bar. They have denied this, however – or at least have said that the time is not opportune to join another party. As many people have suspected, the Middle Party say that their policies are actually very similar to those of the PP party.

Meanwhile, GBS and a fellow Middle Party politician have decided to talk a break from the Althingi for an unspecified amount of time. They were “uninvited” to the traditional celebration held by Iceland’s president to celebrate Iceland’s sovereignty over Denmark, which took place on Thursday night.  The female MP politician, Anna Kolbrun Arnadottir (AKA) has said she is considering her situation (she and SDG were at the party).

In some countries, such as Sweden, politicians resign over mild scandals. But that rarely happens in Iceland.

Icelanders are enraged at the situation and a demonstration was called at short notice for today. It was expected to be attended by over 3,000 people, but was probably attended by more. The organizers are demanding that all six resign from the Althingi and get replaced by their alternates. One person said that an election should be called, as that’s the only way to get rid of them. Stay tuned.

Anyone want an article on this?

Update, December 5: There is such a tense, uncomfortable atmosphere now in the Althingi because 4 of the 6 are still present (and AKA and SDG have now both said they won’t resign) that I predict another election because the current atmosphere is unworkable.

 

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First fin whales killed off Iceland

Kristjan Loftsson, the man behind Iceland’s fin-whale hunts, originally said that his two whaling boats, Hvalur 8 and 9, would head off to sea around June 10, so a protest was organized that day in front of Hvalur 8, which was still moored in the Reykjavik harbour opposite the whale-watching boats. But nothing happened that day, and Loftsson said that there would be a delay before the boats went out.

Hvalur 9 is still in the slip, but Hvalur 8 sneaked out of the harbour on Wednesday night with its GPS device switched off so the boat could not be traced using the Marine Traffic app. They returned late on Thursday night with the first whale, then went out again and returned with the second whale early this morning. They are allowed to catch 161 whales this season, plus some of the unused quota from last year, totalling 190. The hunting season is around 100 days so I doubt they’ll catch all of them.

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A page has been set up on Facebook called Stop Whaling in Iceland to publicize protests.

Other than watching when the boats go in and out of the whaling station at Hvalfjordur, it is nigh impossible to keep track of how many whales have been killed as Hvalur hf, the company behind the whaling operations, does not have a website and although the first whale killing is usually reported, this does not always happen. The same goes for the minke-whale killing operation: they used to have a website which was updated every so often with “another two whales have been killed” and the like, but their webpage no longer exists, so it will be very difficult to keep track of whales killed by them. Jon Gunnarsson, the father of the man behind the minke whale killings, is a member of the Althing (Icelandic parliament) for the Independent Party, and Throstur Sigmundsson, the husband of Progressive Party MP Silja Dögg Gudmundsdottir, carried  out minke whaling in 2016 when the boat he bought came with a minke whale quota, so there are strong minke whaling interests within the Icelandic Althing.

There is an article about Kristjan Loftsson in the latest issue of the newspaper Stundin. As always, Loftsson could not be contacted, but it was interesting all the same. Loftsson is no longer connected to the fishing giant HB Grandi so cannot use profits from there to subsidize whaling operations.

The Icelandic government appears split on this issue, and has requested a report from the Institute of Economics on the economic ramifications of fin whaling and its effects on industry and another report from the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute on the food needs of whales and their importance in the marine biota off Iceland.

I have no faith in either of these, see the article I wrote a number of years ago which criticizes a previous report by the Institute of Economics, partly for its assumptions that whales kill fish that could be caught for eating. Another article I wrote last year describes the importance of whale faeces for fish populations.

Information on the social impact of whaling has also been requested.

Opposition to whaling mounts in Iceland

The first fin whaling boats were expected to leave Reykjavik harbour today, but for undisclosed reasons their departure has been delayed a week. That didn’t stop a demonstration from happening in front of one of the whaling boats at Reykjavik harbour at lunchtime today. The demonstration, organized at short notice by the Icelandic Vegan & Vegetarian Society (Samtökin grænmetisæta), Vegan Organization (Vegan samtökin), Earth Friends (Jarðarvinur) and Hard to Port, a German activist group, was well attended, with about 40-50 people. Hard to Port will arrive in Iceland in a few days time and will stay all summer, so more demonstrations can be expected. No doubt there will also be a demonstration at the whaling station in Hvalfjordur when the first fin whale is brought back to land.

A possible reason for the delay is that one of the two whaling boats owned by the fin whaling company Hvalur is currently on a nearby slipway. The man behind the fin whaling, Kristjan Loftsson, usually has two boats out at a time.

Although fin whales are being spared at the moment, the same is not true for minke whales as the man behind that enterprise, Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson from IP útgerð, announced last week that their boat Hrafnreyður would start minke whaling last Thursday.  Given that they only caught 17 whales last year, out of a quota of over 200, Jonsson says he’s not sure if the venture is going to pay. I’m sure it won’t.

In a survey on attitudes to whaling carried out by MMR in late April/early May, 34% said they were very opposed or fairly opposed to whaling starting again (fin whaling did not happen in 2016 or 2017), 34% were pro-whaling and 31% said they were neither opposed or supportive of it.  Obviously opinions are very divided, yet opposition is growing as a 2007 survey carried out by Capacent for the Iceland Nature Conservation Association and IFAW in early October, 2007, disclosed that 66.3% agreed with the decision of the outgoing Fisheries Minister of the time, Einar K. Gudfinsson, to allow fin whaling to recommence, 22.6% said they were against it, and only 11.1% said they were neutral about it.

Update, 11 June: The first minke whale has been caught.

Update, 24 July: Minke whaling has stopped. They’ve given up, having caught 6 whales. See this article I wrote for more about opposition to whaling.

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.

 

 

 

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.

Environmental damage in Iceland minimized

The minke whale hunting season for the year has finished, with a final total of 17 whales. That’s their worst catch ever, and they clearly haven’t caught any since the end of July as I updated Minke whaling gets off to a shaky start on August 1 with the news that only 17 whales had been caught this year. They had been hoping to at least equal last year’s catch of 46 whales, and preferably to exceed it.

The main person behind minke whaling, Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, says that they will “most probably” go out whale killing next year, though the hunting season will be shorter, only two to three months. I can’t see how it’s economical for him to employ people for the season and catch so few. Maybe next year there will be no whaling in Iceland and most of the rest of the world will rejoice, as fin whales have now not been hunted for the last two seasons due to bureaucracy in Japan, not to mention stores of unsold meat.

Another piece of good news is that Silicor Materials has told Icelandic port officials that it no longer intends to build the solar silicon plant in Grundartangi, which had been highly controversial and I had already predicted would not be built. They had had funding problems, amongst other things. The decision will please many people.

The United Silicon plant will remain closed for the next few months – if it ever reopens at all.

Iceland’s oldest aluminium smelter, currently owned by Rio Tinto Alcan and located just outside the Greater Capital Area, is up for sale. Apparently some entities have shown interest – my inkling is that Century Aluminium might be interested, as their proposed aluminium smelter close to the United Silicon smelter has never been completed. But Rio Tinto say that if they can’t find a suitable buyer, they’ll keep the plant.

The other big news, of course, is the fall of the Icelandic government and the election which will now take place on October 28. Apart from the stated reason for the election, which centred around the father of our current Prime Minister signing a letter of support for the clemency of a sex offender, it’s obvious that Bright Future and Vidreisn (Reform) had always been dissatisfied to some extent with working with the Independent Party in the Coalition, both in terms of working procedures and having to water down their politics. Everyone knew the situation was delicate from the start.

Fun and games.

 

Foreign news rarely reliable

Foreign news may actually be reliable sometimes, but I suspect it’s either because the news is very short or because a foreign correspondent (or “stringer” as they seem to be called) actually lives in the place where the reporting is from. Basically, reporters who get their news from elsewhere, or from an agency, don’t have the background to be able to understand the complexities of issues they’re writing about, or don’t know that the underlying premises are wrong. Or they take things out of context.

For instance, sometimes the Icelandic Foreign Affairs Ministry and other institutions have had to spend considerable time correcting incorrect information after inaccurate articles. Such articles come from “foreign news” journalists of national overseas news media, who may be able to report trivial news like the Icelandic president liking pineapple on his pizza but who do not have the background to report on issues such as Icelanders’ views towards EU membership, the housing crisis or other significant issues. It’s not just what IS reported that matters. What is left out, intentionally or unintentionally, is also important (that statement is actually valid for all reporting).

A friend in Kenya pointed out inaccuracies in how the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service incorrectly reported the latest elections in Kenya, and it’s well known that bad news sells, so that if a news agency journalist reports violence at a demonstration, that will be reported worldwide, whereas usually violence is only a very small part of demonstrations. During the pots and pans revolution in Iceland in 2009, there was violence one night, but it was NOT perpetrated by demonstrators but by petty criminals, who were using the opportunity to their advantage. The demonstrators ended up by protecting the police.

Another current example concerns the recent programme on CBS about how virtually 100% of Downs’ embryos are aborted in Iceland after screening. The head of the obstetrics department at the National University Hospital here is now having to explain that the statistics were used to prove their point, which means that viewers were being misled.

Some media sources have foreign correspondents based in particular countries, and such people SHOULD be able to report relatively accurately. And that’s fine. But for news from smaller countries,  I suspect that news media rarely use input from outsiders, even though those outsiders may be ideally suited to report in detail on issues.

So this is a plea to print, online and broadcasting media: develop a network of stringers in different countries and use them. Like me in Iceland, for instance.