« Celebrations and Reversals | Main | Apologia: Haibun »

April 18, 2010


I'm very interested to hear your friend's comment on the financial crisis in Iceland, Beth, and I'm sorry that he and his family are now undergoing another crisis due to the volcanic eruption. Even if this situation is familiar to them, it must be very hard to cope with. Could you tell us more about what it's like living under that ash cloud, H? I'm in London and it's only the side-effects I'm aware of, insofar as they affect travel. I've just posted a blog about it.

Thank you for sharing this, Beth and H! I've been following both crises and wondering how individuals are coping with the magnitude of all of it. I sincerely hope that things will improve in Iceland very soon, rather than worsening. Our hearts go out to the Icelandic people, even as we admire your courage and fortitude.

Thank you for your kind words, Natalie and Marja-Leena.
On the ash cloud: As I, like the majority of Icelanders, live in the capital Reykjavik, almost 100 miles west of the volcano, and the winds have stayed westerly, we have had nothing of it yet. Most of the ash goes rather straight up into the upper part of the troposphere, nearly only affecting the neighborhood of the volcano. The wind will turn, probably tomorrow night or on Tuesday, and then some of the ash will probably fall on the city, if the volcano is still going as strong then. So, most everybody have been quietly preparing, since this is something we have prepared for so many times before. History has tought us that eruptions are unpredictable, but it is more likely than not that the ash production will come down soon, and in any case, in this age we are not dependent on the meat we grow ourselves so nobody will starve, and the farms all have big, weathertight houses for the livestock so there is little actual risk there anyway. The real worry is the timid, tepid tourist. It doesn't take much for him to cancel his vacation here, and this, sadly, just might shoot down his courage, most probably for no reason. At almost 30% of our GDP, that would be a shame.

Thanks, H., for replying. Iceland is due for some better luck, it seems to me, and I sincerely hope that if the volcano calms down it may bring tourists rather than frightening them away.

I received this question for you by email:

"I recall not too many years ago seeing an inspiring magazine article on the Icelandic energy policies, where a carbon-free energy economy seemed to be a realistic short-term goal, given the thermal and intellectual resources, but perhaps also some leveraged investments. Farsighted common infrastructure projects and the good people who dreamed them seem to hold promise for the future, or have these dreams been damaged in the financial crisis as well?"

Iceland has taken a drastic turn, politically, following the crash. As seems so often to be the case in times of turmoil, people are desperate for some clear, convenient and concise answers to what appears overwhelming.

Currently, the first "pure" left-wing government in our history is in power. They have taken quite drastic measures after assuming control, starting with drastically raising taxes across the board, leaving us, in this severe recession, with an income tax that is probably the highest in the world, rivalling even the (other) Scandinavian nations. A mötley of other pet projects have become a priority, including an extra tax on sugar and foods containing sugar, a ban on nudity in public performances, and hostile measures aimed against any privately-provided healthcare. The party is also widely expected to aim to curb property rights, in general, with one of their members of parliament quoted as saying that property rights are "overrated".

Another about-face has been in the energy politics. While Iceland has hitherto been prolific in harvesting geothermal and hydroelectric energy, one half of the government, the Green Socialists, now holds the Ministry of the Environment and uses it agressively to clamp down on any new plans for any new energy production.

Finally, the socialists have made permanent the far-reaching currency controls, including a near-ban on the export of foreign currency, which were instituted temporarily in the wake of the crash.

So with the drastically changed tax environment, hostile stance toward corporations, a freeze on energy harvesting, and the far-reaching currency controls impeding any foreign investments, a carbon-free economy has sadly become an elusive goal for Iceland.

Thanks, H, for posting this, and thanks Beth for hosting it. I'm fascinated, in a grim sort of way. And I've always admired Icelanders for hanging on to this amazingly apparently inhospitable piece of the planet.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.