Iceland: Moonscapes and Marscapes


Iceland is beautiful but strange. This is a place in which the trees have disappeared. Hollywood studios have used it to make movies with an other worldly  landscape.  Movies like The Game of Thrones or The Fast and the Furious like to film in such unearthly surroundings. It is eerily unearthly in a beautiful way. The American space program has used it to train astronauts for being on the moon. Now they have decided to use it to train upcoming astronauts before launching for Mars.

All of this beauty hides a serious environmental problem created by ignorance greed and determination. The only good thing is that we now know that other civilizations besides the capitalist ones, can destroy their surroundings. Life is hard when you are stupid.

Iceland lost most of its trees more than a thousand years ago when Vikings arrived and started to decimate the countryside. At the time 25% of the country was covered with trees. Now they are largely gone. Icelanders would now like to have their forests back because they have begun to reaize how important they are. When the trees were felled much of the soil blew away as their was nothing to  hold it together anymore. As a result the soil was seriously degraded and this in turn led to huge problems with flooding. In recent years they have planted 3million trees, but it has not done much good. Less than 1% of the land has tree cover despite all these efforts.

Because the soil is so poor it is difficult to plant new trees that will stick. This demonstrates how difficult it is to restore the environment once it is ruined. This is a lesson all countries should learn. Canada, for example, should learn this lesson too before it allows Tar Sands oil production to devastate the environment. It may not be as easy to restore as oil companies seem to think. The largest forest now is found inside the capital city of Reykjavik.

By removing trees the Vikings removed the main pillar of the environment. The introduction of sheep later on did not help. Dr. Gudmundur Halldorsson, research coordinator of the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland was not shy in in his criticism of what happened. “As a result, Iceland is a case study in desertification, with little or no vegetation, though the problem is not heat or drought. About 40 percent of the country is desert, Dr. Halldorsson said. “But there’s plenty of rainfall — we call it ‘wet desert. “Simply everything was stripped away,” Dr. Halldorsson said. “This is what people don’t realize. You can lose something like this in relatively few years.”

The situation is so bad that students from countries that are undergoing desertification come here to study the process. That is exactly what we saw today on our drive through the northern part of Iceland.

I hope the same thing does not happen to Canada.

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