A perfect vision for the future
Article by Paul Michael Herman for Wow Airline.
Photos: Courtesy of Pálmi Einarsson
Imagine this; it’s the summertime, and you’re driving out to a growing community where you’re thinking about moving. When you arrive first thing you see is lush fields. It’s been a good season and if it continues the harvest will be abundant. There are a few people working in the fields, some middle aged, some young and some old. Everyone looks happy. As you drive on you see lovely gardens, lots of vegetation and some unique and beautifully designed buildings. Big buildings in the center house large scale organic food production facilities and an industrial complex where a wide variety of ecologically friendly goods are being manufactured.
Conceptual sketch by PE.
Well placed in various locations are restaurants, a geo-thermally heated swimming pool, a health spa, educational and research centers, a hotel and a senior citizens enclave. A public relations officer greets you and gives an orientation. “Our biggest industry is organic food production and processing. Because of the weather conditions in Iceland we grow a lot of food indoors which means fresh food all year round. Everyone here eats the ‘homegrown’ fruits and vegetables, and families and individuals can come any day and pick what they like, depending on the season. Senior citizens have an option of working a few hours a day in the main gardens and groves, but some of them have a little plot where they grow whatever they want. Either way, working the grounds keeps them active and fit.
“Another industry we’ve developed is the manufacture of finished goods made of industrial hemp from our own fields. A lot of people don’t know it, but hemp can solve many of our modern day problems. There’s always a lot going on. During the school year we get weekly visits from the local students. Teenagers come and teach the elderly how to use new technology and the elderly share the old way of doing things with them. Besides this, guests often come from abroad to learn what we are doing. Some of them take courses. Many of the things we do here can be duplicated in other countries, and if geo-thermal energy and hydropower is not available, industrial hemp can be used; a cheap and environmentally friendly material that grows easily and; not many people know this, is exactly what Henry Ford built a car out of in 1937 and used hemp ethanol to run it.” This surely sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?
Now back to present day reality and meet Pálmi Einarsson. As an industrial designer Palmi is always looking for ways to improve things. For the past year he has been giving his attention to Iceland’s economy and environment and to the health and well-being of its people. In a recent interview, I asked Palmi to elaborate.
“My background education is problem solving. To me, design is 90% research and 10% design. So when a designer gets a project, one of the fundamental things he or she has to do is become an expert on the subject.”
Perspective and prospective
After posting his blog on his ideas recently and giving a couple public speeches Pálmi began receiving media attention in Iceland. He told us why he started thinking about these things.
“Two of the problems our planet is facing are food production and job creation and we keep being told that there is very little we can do about it. Now, in Iceland we have an abundance of renewable energy from our geo-thermal plants and from hydropower; valuable commodities. But up to the present day, we, as a nation have been selling this energy in bulk to private foreign corporations. This has created many jobs in the country. However, the revenue from this, for the general population has been primarily from income tax revenues of the workers in these factories. So far we are getting very little revenue from the energy sales. The main profit for these factories ends up in the hands of a few private foreign investors. Besides this, these ventures have been taking their toll on the environment, both on the land and potentially in the ocean where it can affect our fish stocks, another big natural resource of ours, that is, if we go ahead and start doing the offshore drilling [for oil] that we have been talking about,” says Pálmi.
“Compounding the problem regarding the factories is that they have, at times been built in small towns or rural areas where large sums of taxpayers’ money has been used to develop the infrastructure e.g. schools, private homes, roads, electrical lines etc. to serve the people moving in to work in these factories. With the bulk of the profits going to foreign investors and only tiny returns coming back through the revenues from income taxes many decades have to pass before replenishing the taxpayers’ investment. We need a better return on that investment,” he stated.
What Palmi and growing number of people in Iceland are looking for are long-term compressive solutions that serve the nation as a whole making sure the general public is both informed and in control of the steps that they believe must be taken to bring the kind of progress that a wise appraisal and a concerted effort can bring.
“Today in Iceland we already have a huge amount of electricity just sitting in our electrical grid. One suggestion from our politicians has been to invest in an electrical line from Iceland to the UK and to start competing on the energy market there. On the one hand, this will probably not produce many jobs for Icelanders; on the other hand, it will be a massive investment for our small population.”
Fruits and vegetables, fiber and fish
Learning about the problems is always good, but what about solutions; I listened with compelling interest.
“What I’ve suggested is to establish our own businesses and building our own facilities that in the beginning will be paid for through taxes, therefore, owned by Icelanders, manned by Icelanders and powered by cheap energy. The products created would include organically grown fruits and vegetables and other goods made from them. Presently, we import 1700 tons of tomato based products annually. Whatever it cost, we can do better and without leaving a carbon footprint from overseas transport. The other main production item we can produce can be finished products from industrial hemp. This way, we would be taking the profit from the sale of the items; not just the energy while building a healthy and eco-friendly industry,” says Pálmi.
The main goal of Palmí’s plan is to create jobs based on sustainability in harmony with nature. Crops would be grown and food production facilities for Icelanders would be spread around the country so everyone could get fresh fruits and vegetables and finished products from what’s locally grown.
Then, Palmi adds assuredly “One can grow pretty much anything with artificial lights; all one needs is energy, soil, water, shelter and knowledgeable people with their heart in the right place.”
Overview of facilities. Conceptual sketch by PE.
Anyone can have a vision of an ideal community but not eveyone can give a detailed explanation of the practicalities involved in realizing it. Palmi does not claim to have all the answers but he does have some clear ideas and suggestions that deal with the real issues.
“Since the foundation would be owned by the people, the profits from our production would always go toward expanding the operation and creating more beautiful, sustainable jobs. For example, we could start growing fruits and vegetables right away and as soon as there’s a profit, we would hire, say, 10 engineers and 10 technicians because now were going to start manufacturing salsa, or developing machines to process the industrial hemp.
In addition to organic farming, another way to create healthy food and organic fertilizer is to select locations for these production cells by little creeks or rivers. We would raise salmon smolt indoors and then release it in large quantities into the river/creek. In the spring when they are ready, they will run to the ocean going the natural feeding route only to return to the same river/creek a year later as full grown salmon. We Icelanders have a lot experience doing this for our sportfishing industry. We are seeing 2-3% return of full grown salmon from the release; the lost smolt will help feed other biological life forms. This is how we could create lots of summer jobs for students because netting and processing the salmon provides seasonal work during a short period of time in the summer. We would sell them as natural wild salmon filets and use the leftovers to create organic fertilizer for our fields,” Pálmi explains.
“This is of course how any nation should farm salmon rather than the usual methods. In most places, salmon are confined in a cordoned off area where they defecate continuously, suffocating and destroying the marine flora below. Because they are grown in such a restricted area, due to lack of exercise, farmed salmon are very fat and not as healthy or tasty. The other thing we should do is get the farmers in Iceland to team up with us and start growing industrial hemp. Hemp can grow well during Iceland’s long days of sunlight in the summertime. We would then harvest it in the middle of September and use the winter to manufacture environmentally friendly products such as industrial textiles, consumer textiles, paper, building materials, foods, industrial products and medicine; products we are currently importing made from other materials loaded with pollutants.”
How would you run this foundation? “Whatever you might say against capitalism, one thing we’ve gotten out of it is a lot of people who have learned how to run businesses in a profitable way. We should run this foundation exactly as we run privately owned businesses; meaning hiring people based on their education, experience and knowledge. The difference however is that now the board of directors would be the adult population of Iceland.”
What do you mean by that? “Because we would be funding the foundation with our own tax money, every Icelander with voting rights would be a stockholder. There are other options but I think this would be the best.”
Direct democracy in action
There was a time when news traveled slowly and decisions had to be left with elected representatives who were better informed. But it’s not like that these days.
“Today, thanks to the internet we have the technology for everyone to participate in the decision making process. We would simply open up a website where we would advertise job openings, for example, for a CEO and a few project managers. We would post job requirements for each position and anyone can apply for the openings. The selection process would be a matter of the stakeholders either ‘liking’ or ‘disliking’ an applicant. By doing it this way we will remove the risk of cronyism and other forms of inefficiency and corruption and we should get the most qualified people for each position.”
Palmi explained how by using the pattern of private corporations, a business model can be formulated but in this case the board members are all the qualified voting public thereby placing the interests of the nation as a whole in the forefront. “Like any other private corporation we should have a clear statement of purpose and core values. Our values should all be based on love, compassion and cooperation, and everything we do should be based on these values. The group should create the foundation for our short- and long-term objectives that will then be brought up to the board of directors. The board will then vote, giving us a clear list of objectives along with a plan of action for the foundation to work from. The foundation will then be run according to these objectives and like any other good business, give quarterly progress reports posted online for the board to review and comment on. If any of the board members have information about any wrongdoings of the officers this should also be posted as a comment with the relevant evidence and then the people could decide whether the individual should stay in their position or not.
The perfect gift to our children
Palmi is confident that people all over the world have within their reach solutions to the economic and environmental that they are facing today, and that it’s time to start working on them.
“The foundation should establish a number of sites that would operate in a similar way but the design of each location would be a unique expression of the environment, resources, local culture and creativity of the people. My vision is that these centers will be self sustainable for energy – completely unplugged. Icelanders have a lot of knowledge due to our long history of producing energy from our geothermal and hydropower resources. We should team up with our engineers to start researching and developing alternative energy sources with a goal of making each facility completely self-sustainable in energy production so
there won't be the need for more land destruction from our power plants.
“After developing completely sustainable production cells, producing food and consumer products completely in harmony with the people on the planet and the planet itself and leaving a system and a way of life we can be proud of, then we’ll give our children an inheritance, they can enjoy and develop into something even better for future generations.”
Currently work on a website is being built for the project and the address is going to be www.arfurinn.is (Arfurinn means inheritance in Icelandic). This is where progress reports and feedback from participants will be posted.