Victims of Global Warming: The "Lucky Ones" Got Shot

Not a single chunk of coal is burned for electricity in Iceland. Instead, they power their booming economy with renewable geothermal and hydropower.
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I'm back in Iceland, and although it might seem strange if you are familiar with my previous adventure here in the dead of winter I'm happy to report that July is definitely a better month for visiting than December. No howling winds or pounding rain. Fleece is still the garment of choice but the sun never goes down. I'm here at an annual cradle to cradle conference (well more like a gathering) with eco architect Bill McDonough who first came to Iceland with Benny Goodman thirty five years ago. (Bill put himself through architecture school working as Goodman's chauffeur and the two became good friends.) McDonough is now the leading authority on cradle-to-cradle design in which there is no end to a product's usefulness, everything is continually recycled, eliminating the concept of waste entirely.

The conference schedule in Iceland sure takes some getting used to. Salmon fly fishing by day, lunch at three, dinner at ten, discussion begins at! Ideas really sound good around then. You don't know what a long summer day is until you've spent one in Iceland! Hitting the hay at three in the morning requires an eye mask and heavy drapes.

The most impressive fact about Iceland is that they went from a completely fossil fuel dependent nation to a completely coal independent nation. Not a single chunk of coal is burned for electricity there. Instead, they power their booming economy with renewable geothermal and hydropower (and they heat around 90% of their buildings with geothermal too). (Iceland has no nuclear plants either.) It can be done. They proved it!

But even though Iceland is energy independent, they are seeing firsthand the effects of global warming. Two weeks ago a couple polar bears, sitting atop two separate icebergs drifted all the way from Greenland to Iceland. The first bear was spotted by a ten-year-old girl walking along the beach, and because of its proximity to a farm, it was shot immediately. The second bear, because of the public outcry to the first shooting, had a slight reprieve. An expert was brought in from Denmark to try to figure out how to save it, but ultimately that bear was shot soon after as well.

I heard about this rare occurrence of polar bears drifting to Iceland from the fly fishing guide Hallur Lund (a mechanical engineer during the off season) who thinks global warming is the reason the polar bears ended up in the wrong place. "They would never swim from Greenland to Iceland. No way," Hallur said. If two polar bears hit this tiny little island I wonder how many end up floating past, never bumping into a shore and end up drowning. You could say the two who landed were the lucky ones; at least they found land.

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