Thursday, 14 January 2010
Greenhouses at the Icelandic Agricultural University in Hvanneyri.
This is a continuation of Millennium People's Icelandic Saga...
The first question to come out of every Icelander's mouth on hearing that we were a group of architects from London, and that we were interested in the end of the world, was "why on earth did you come to Iceland?" This apparent self-deprecation in fact masked a rather bizarre understanding of the current global condition: they didn't think Iceland was a very good place to look for the end of the world.
Economic ruin, melting glaciers, massive deforestation and dwindling supplies of fish (the only real product to come out of the country in any appreciable quantities) and yet the people of Iceland were irritatingly blasé about everything. The economic woes will pass, they felt, and if the glaciers melt, well, that's just how it is. Rising sea levels? Iceland sits at the junction of two continental plates, and is growing all the time.
'Do you realise', I said 'that the world is quickly running out of oil?' They smirked into their hardfiskur (fish dried to resemble balsa - mine gave me a paper cut). All they have to do is a dig a hole and practically unlimited amounts of power and hot water come out. The vast majority of this energy goes into refining aluminium, but, so scientists at the Agricultural University told us, if this energy was diverted to agriculture Iceland could easily grow several times as much produce as it needed.
At their campus, rows of glasshouses cascading down a hill in Hvanneyri, the glowing warmth of sodium lamps shines out into bitter cold and eternal crepuscule that is Icelandic winter. Inside the hot houses: room after room of perfectly shaped tomatoes, enormous cucumbers, coffee, bananas, kiwis. Also one room, apparently without purpose, filled with examples of cacti. One scientist speculated on perhaps growing wheat next winter. The idea of vast fields of grain grown under an Eden-project like roof in the freezing north of Iceland does my head in a bit.