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Iceland’s Slippery Slope on Climate ChangeIceland’s Slippery Slope on Climate Change

Iceland’s Slippery Slope on Climate Change

Father Raymond de Souza tempers this week’s dust-up over Elections Canada limiting partisan climate debate with the reminder that elsewhere only anti-warmers are welcome.

Raymond J. de Souza
3 minute read

The recent fracas about what Elections Canada considers “partisan” speech in regard to climate change got me thinking about Iceland and how advocates talk – or don’t talk – about the changing climate. 

In regard to the great climate debates, I often think about Iceland. I visited a few summers back. It’s a fascinating place and super eco-friendly in a very Scandinavian sort of way. The whole country may be carbon-neutral for all I know, as it sits atop more or less an active volcano, and there is an endless supply of very hot water coming to the surface. The challenge for Iceland is to cool down the water it draws out of the ground for use in homes. 

Plenty of Icelandic buildings – floor to ceiling glass to capture as much sunlight as possible in the dark months – appear to be very energy inefficient. But it doesn’t matter, as through the radiators flows scalding hot water from the underground springs – no limit, no cost, no carbon emissions. It’s ideal but not readily transferable for those parts of the world that are not atop volcanoes.

Back to climate change though. Peter Stockland rehearsed the controversy recently here, namely that Elections Canada has determined that asserting that climate change – of the anthropogenic kind that gets the environmental lobby both hot and bothered – is partisan speech for the purposes of the upcoming federal election. Thus climate activists have to register and follow the rules on election advertising. It’s a silly ruling, but Elections Canada is stuck with enforcing a silly law. It’s not really their fault.

Cries of censorship – or at least of burdensome regulation of speech – have gone up from the climate change community. I am sympathetic to them. They emit, year-round, vast amounts of activist speech, and it seems odd that continuing in the same vein is not allowed during an election.

But back to Iceland. Climate speech may be unreasonably subject to limits in Canada. But in Iceland – and elsewhere – there is a sort of self-limiting going on. On Aug. 18, Iceland unveiled its first “memorial” plaque for a defunct glacier.

The Okjökull glacier – known as OK – covered 15 sq km a century ago; it was 50 metres thick. Now it has shrunk to less than one sq km and less than 15 metres thick. It is the first of Iceland’s 400 glaciers to lose its status as a glacier, hence the memorial plaque. 

“In the next 200 years, all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path,” the plaque reads, in Icelandic and English. “This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.”

OK is not okay. And the plaque seeks to raise the alarm about other Icelandic glaciers not being okay. All which is pretty standard climate change stuff. No censorship here. 

Yet the very fact of Iceland raises a climate question. There are no indigenous Icelandic peoples. No one lived there before the first Vikings arrived in the ninth century. And why would anyone stay, if the whole place was covered in ice? 

It wasn’t. Not then. The Settlement Museum in downtown Reykjavík re-creates what Iceland was like when the Vikings arrived. It was quite green and heavily forested. The Vikings cut down all the trees and over time it got much, much colder. Climate change of the non-anthropogenic variety caused the glaciers to grow over the intervening centuries. 

Which, to an non-expert like me does not tell me that this or that theory of climate change is true. But in a discussion about glaciers dying in Iceland, shouldn’t there be a mention that Iceland was, at one point, not very icy?

What’s going on there is non-state censorship by activists who, seized with the urgency of saving the glaciers, do not wish to be delayed by answering awkward questions. I don’t doubt there are answers to such questions, but the activist mindset often does not wish to give such answers, for to do so suggests the questions being asked are legitimate. The desire to silence alternate views, or delegitimize them by characterizing them as partisan, does work in both directions. Bureaucrats at Elections Canada are not the only ones who consider certain kinds of climate talk to be party political. 

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