Musings, politics and environmental issues

Posts tagged ‘Inter Press Service’

Article up on the economic and trade repercussions of whaling

Inter Press Service finally published my article on the economic and trade repercussions of whaling for Iceland. It seems that minke whale hunters have not been particularly active this summer as by August 11 only 19 whales had been killed, cf. 74 fin whales. The minke whale hunters had initially hoped to catch 50 whales this summer, but at the current rate this is very unlikely to happen as the season ends around the end of September. Last year, 38 minkes were caught.

Two months after Japanese whale meat had arrived in Japan via the cargo ship Alma, the whale blubber was still in cold storage in Osaka customs.

Renewable energy for “cold” areas

My article on renewable energy for “cold” areas, i.e. those without access to geothermal space heating, was published on Friday on the Inter Press Service website. I think it’s really interesting, and would like to get it published elsewhere too as I have a lot more material I can use. Most of the article concentrates on energy solutions for the island of Grimsey, just above the Arctic Circle, where oil is currently used for energy – one of the few places in Iceland that still uses oil. But the use of heat pumps is covered too. Check it out.

Iceland’s whaling under pressure again

Once again, Iceland’s whaling activities have made it the focus of anti-whaling activists. Last month, a number of environmental and animal welfare groups calling themselves Whales Need Us highlighted the links between fishing company HB Grandi and its subsidiaries with the whaling company Hvalur, run by Kristjan Loftsson who is also one of the owners of HB Grandi and Chair of the HB Grandi Board of Governors. Subsequently, some companies decided to stop buying fish from HB Grandi or from wholesalers who buy fish from that company.

The campaign also asked Barack Obama to make use of the Pelly Amendment because Iceland’s sale of fin whale products outside of Iceland (they are not sold within Iceland) contravenes the international CITES agreement. Last week, Obama stated that he WOULD invoke the Pelly Amendment and outlined eight measures to be taken. Although these measures are diplomatic rather than trade sanctions, one of them involves compiling a report in six month’s time on the effectiveness of the measures taken.

Coincidentally, a group of eight Opposition MPs in Iceland have put forth a parliamentary proposal to compile a report into the economic and trade consequences of hunting both fin whales and minke whales.

I have written an article about this topic for Inter Press Service, but at the time of writing it hasn’t yet appeared. Update: It’s just appeared, April 14, here.

Meanwhile, after Japan lost the court case about “scientific” whaling in the Southern Ocean off Australia, animal rights group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said they would probably turn their attention to other whaling countries – Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

And Hvalur has just sent 2,000 tonnes of frozen whale meat directly to Japan on the freight ship Alma, after having been banned last year from entering European ports. Earlier this year, Hvalur surreptitiously tried sending its whale meat to a Canadian port, Halifax, then sending it by train to Vancouver on the other side of the country and sending it on to Japan from there. This worked, but consequently caused an uproar in Canada so will not be tried again.

As a journalist, I can say that getting information from Hvalur staff is virtually impossible, and any information obtained is likely to be in the form of one-word answers. The company is obviously getting more and more paranoid, as they have now removed their phone numbers from the Internet listing of Icelandic phone numbers, so now the only information that appears is the whaling station address in Hvalfjordur. Luckily for me, their phone numbers still exist in the printed telephone directory (and I have copied them to my address book).



Update: Whale meat and whale beer

Washington DC-based Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) has just sent out a press release saying that Iceland is now sending whale meat and blubber to Japan via Norway.  From there, it is re-exported to Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd, a company heavily involved in Japan’s highly controversial “scientific whaling” program currently underway in the Antarctic Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

According to the press release, Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha announced last month that that it would begin imports of Norwegian whale meat in 2014, stating that it needed to import and sell whale meat “in order to help subsidize future Japanese scientific whaling efforts.” That same month, Lofothval, a whaling firm based in Reine in Norway’s Lofoten Islands, received two permits from Norway’s Environment Agency to send whale products to Japan. One shipment of 5,000 kg is identified as whale meat only from Lofothval, while a second shipment is identified as a re-export of 5,000 kg of Icelandic minke whale meat and blubber.

A second Norwegian company, Myklebust Trading AS, has sought government permission to ship up to 34,381 kg of minke whale products to the Toshi International company in Japan. This would be the second such shipment from Myklebust to Toshi International in the past year. In addition, Norwegian import statistics show that 14.1 tonnes of whale meat were imported from Iceland into Norway in February 2013.

Meanwhile, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society have also been in the Icelandic media today as they were protesting about the proposed use of whale meal in Icelandic beer. Yes, beer. The whale meal comes from the company Hvalur, who hunt fin whales. The owner of Stedji brewery, Dagbjartur Areliusson, says that it is a healthy option “because whale meal is full of protein and is very low fat, while the drink has no added sugar”. Hmm. I don’t think much of that excuse. The drink will only be sold during the month of Thorri, from January 24 to February 20, when Icelanders traditionally partake in Thorrablot feasts consisting of singed sheep’s heads and other disgusting edibles of a similar ilk. Which can now be washed down with whale beer.

I have already written many articles on the whaling issue for Inter Press Service and have also blogged on the subject quite frequently. Anyone else want an article on the subject?

Note: The West Iceland Health and Safety Authority banned (January 13) the use of  whale meal in the beer as it comes from whale bones and Hvalur doesn’t have a licence to produce whale meal for the food industry.

But today (January 24) Iceland’s “environment minister”, Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, decided to allow the beer to be sold anyway.


New article up on women’s health after the bank crisis

My article called Bank Crash Hits Women Harder has just been published on Inter Press Service. It’s about women in Iceland being more affected than men both by stress-related diseases and heart diseases after the bank crash in October 2008.

Some information I obtained originally was embargoed until publication of a paper on the subject, which will appear on December 4. I will update this blog then with the information I included originally and had to take out.

Geothermal energy and hydropower – are they really eco-friendly?

I’ve just had an article published in the Icelandic magazine Iceland Review on whether or not Iceland’s main energy generators – geothermal heat and hydropower – are really environmentally friendly. Basically, geothermal energy is unpredictable and needs to be handled gently and power plants expanded slowly to ensure that the energy reserve remains sustainable and without negative consequences. These include the production of too much hydrogen sulphide (H2S), generation of earthquakes (when reinjecting waste steam to the ground to recharge the system) or overexploitation of the resource, which can mean that less energy is produced than anticipated. All of these have happened at the Hellisheidi power station 30 km east of Reykjavik.

On the other hand, the use of geothermal energy for district heating is generally sustainable.

I’ve already written about some of the problems that hydropower can involve, both in this blog and in an Inter Press Service article. Space limitations prevented me from delving deeper into this, but issues such as the impact of cutting the silt and deposits from the river below the dam and how that influences the coastline and coastal ecosystems need to be addressed. What worries me is that the Planning Agency decided that expansion of the Burfell Hydropower Plant in South Iceland by 140 MW does not need an EIA done on it. OK, the power station already exists and the environment has already been damaged to a degree, but I feel that some aspects could be investigated further before expansion goes ahead.

Late last year, the national power company Landsvirkjun set up two pilot windmills near the Burfell site to assess the potential of wind energy in Iceland. They are very pleased with the results – which should come as no surprise to anyone who has visited Iceland as it is a windy country. Wind energy is now seen as a third potential energy source for Iceland.

Of course, wind energy has it’s problems too, but I won’t talk about that here – at least not yet.

Article now up on renewed push for aluminium plants in Iceland

Check out my latest article for Inter Press Service on the Icelandic government’s renewed push for aluminium plants and power plants. In addition to what is in the article, other obstacles are still in the way for Helguvik: the problem of transmission lines has not been solved and, according to investigative journalist Sigrun Davidsdottir who found the information in a new report by the plant owners Century Aluminium, financing has not been procured for the plant.