1st December, 2003
Costing over $1 billion, the Karahnjukar hydroelectric dam in Iceland is a hugely controversial project. Mark Lynas journeyed to the blasting face, hoping to work out for himself whether this industrial elephant is green or brilliant-white.
I had only been in Iceland three days and it was all going wrong. I was there to investigate the massive Karahnjukar aluminium smelter project, a huge hydroelectric dam currently being built in a remote area of the country’s eastern highlands. Highly controversial during its planning stages, Karahnjukar triggered national demonstrations, international email and fax campaigns and even a hunger strike by the singer Björk’s mother. Having previously watched dam projects destroy natural landscapes and human societies in places like India and Brazil, it already seemed pretty clear to me that big dams were generally bad things.
Yet I found myself sitting in the office of Mr Thorsteinn Hilmarsson, press officer for the Icelandic national power company Landsvirkjun, being convinced that Karahnjukar was actually beneficial. ‘A lot of the debate has been “either-or”,’ he was saying, ‘as if either you use rivers for energy-intensive industry or you leave nature unspoilt and have tourism.’ But in Iceland, Hilmarsson pointed out, the construction of roads – a by-product of energy development – was helping promote tourism.
And how, he asked, do tourists get...
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