Lessons from Iceland for Canada, British Columbia, Vancouver Island and Sooke

This article is reposted from the Sooke Pocket News and was published on 11 April 2015.

Lessons from Iceland for Canada, British Columbia, Vancouver Island and Sooke

By Michael Clouser

With the recent visit by Kinder Morgan to the Sooke Council, and the recent referendum in Sooke regarding the passage of oil tankers through the Juan de Fuca channel, I thought it a good time to write an article about Sooke’s potential for economic development and sustainability. In particular, the purpose of this piece is to convey some lessons from Iceland.

Six years ago, Iceland was being called a “failed state” by leaders of the world, including the President of the United States himself. However, Iceland was to become the most successful State in dealing with its financial crisis — by letting the banks go bust and jailing some fraudulent banksters, something every other Western government failed to do, as a side note. Not only did it successfully transition out of economic demise and quickly recovered, but it became an example as the world’s leading green economy. This small and nimble country has set the benchmark for the world and has used the transition to green to embark on a diplomatic mission with numerous countries of the world in order to spread knowledge, build ties, and help reduce carbon emissions globally.

entrepreneur-IcelandIceland is a relevant case study for it has a lot of similarities to Canada, Vancouver Island and Sooke. First, it’s an arctic nation blessed with natural resources. Fishing was, for a long time, an important economic driver just as it was in Sooke. Think of Iceland as a big fishing village. Iceland also has a small population (40K square miles and 325K people) on a large Island the size of England, not too much different than Vancouver Island (12K square miles and 850K people).

Below you will find a link to a talk by the President of Iceland at Cornell University this past November on the transition of Iceland to a “Green Economy.” There are many detailed examples of the actual initiatives in Iceland, in addition to some general principals of transition. I have pulled out the main lessons as I see them and listed them below.

“The solution lies in a complete energy transformation from fossil fuel dependence to alternative energy” -President of Iceland, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson

First and foremost, it is crucial to highlight what the President of Iceland, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, emphasized was his most important and crucial point: The transition to a low carbon was not motivated by an ideology, such as “saving the planet”; rather, it was a market-driven, pragmatic, profit-oriented transition that motivated the move. It was simply good for saving energy costs, making money, and exporting to other countries. It was a long-term economic strategy that made good sense. Finally, it was to be a complete energy transition from fossil fuels to alternatives.

“I bet things will be different when the world realizes what a profitable enterprise this energy shift is.”                                  – President Grimmson

Second, the transition was made at the grassroots level, and came from the bottom up — “house by house, street by street, city by city, district to district.” The government encouraged, but did not force, the transition. Instead of regulating, it communicated the economic benefits of a green transition to the country and its people over both the short and long term.

Third, government leaders must set good examples for others to follow. This might mean ditching their cars and biking to work, installing green technologies in their homes, investing in clean-tech start-ups, and diversifying their personal portfolios out of polluting company equities. Leading by example is the key point here.

Fourth, the geothermal potential — the energy inside the earth — is enormous. Even .01% of it could provide us with enough energy for the entire globe for 10,000 years. To a major extent, Western governments have yet to tap and exploit this resource. Furthermore, The potential of the wind, the sun, and the heat in the crust of the earth for energy are enormous and all the earth needs for energy. What is needed is understanding and engineering talent.

Fifth, regarding China and Iceland: The Chinese government has contracted Iceland to teach it how to effectively build and manage greenhouses in the north for the growing of foods. A great example of a partnership between a very large and a very small country. Greening our planet should result in collaboration, shared knowledge and innovation, and ultimately peace. Not expensive wars over territories in the Middle East that only benefit the military-industrial complex, and more “booms” in Sooke that threaten to move the plates beneath our earth.

Sixth, Iceland’s green economy artifacts, including its greenhouses, are driving tourism. Another economic benefit to Iceland. People are visiting greenhouses from afar. Canada and Sooke might also develop the same base of tourism over time. Already Sooke has industrial greenhouse projects led by the T’Souke nation. Cutting-edge renewable energy products will result in ecotourism of a curious kind to Sooke, Vancovuer Island, and British Columbia. Already the Wood Innovation Centre designed by Michael Green Architects (MGA) in Prince George, British Columbia has drawn visitors from distant lands and let to great attention from afar. See links of interest below.

Seventh, Iceland is educating its citizens through its GeoThermal training programme. It has also expanded this and is serving students all over the world now. The investment in education is beginning to pay off for Iceland. Universities and higher education play a crucial role in the transition away from fossil fuels.

Eighth, the food security issue is also a clean energy issue. The two are entwined. Much was discussed in the video about food, agriculture, and fishing. This is also a major point of focus for others on Vancouver Island. The use of Greenhouse technology is a key component of this for Iceland.

Ninth, the world is subsidizing the oil industry. This is not good market-driven behavior. Iceland does not subsidize the oil industry and has not for 20 years. Nor has it subsidized the renewable industry and it does not believe in doing so either. For starters, Canadians can stop subsidizing the oil industry and this will hasten the transition out of fossil fuels.

Tenth, other countries make good comparables as well. Especially Denmark with its wind technology cluster. It was led by science, technology, and entrepreneurial drive. “It had nothing” but is now a major global player in wind energy.

Sooke can do its part as a community in such a transition. There is a need for a sound economic development strategy as well as room for many individual and organizational initiatives. What we’d love to see is for Sooke to become itself an Iceland, and through some future low carbon innovation, be it in a product, service or system, set an example for other communities not only in Canada, but the world.

Video: Iceland’s Clean Energy Economy: A Roadmap to Sustainability and Good Business

“The President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, spoke at Cornell Nov. 21 as part of the Einaudi Center’s Foreign Policy Distinguished Speaker Series, which features prominent leaders in international affairs who can address topical issues from a variety of perspectives. President Grímsson became Iceland’s fifth president in 1996. In 2013 he announced the formation of the Arctic Circle, an organization designed for the facilitation of dialogue among political and business leaders, environmental experts, scientists, indigenous representatives, and other international stakeholders to address issues facing the Arctic as a result of climate change and melting sea ice. The event was organized in collaboration with the Cornell Energy Institute and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.”

Iceland’s Clean Energy Economy: A Roadmap to Sustainability and Good Business – Cornell University 2014

Cornell University video:


Additional Videos

Additional Resource

About the Author, Michael Clouser

Michael Clouser of the Academic Entrepreneur is an entrepreneur and former venture capitalist and incubator CEO. Currently he is a researcher with the International Triple Helix Institute (ITHI), a non-profit research institution based in Palo Alto, California. In addition he is a consultant with Invoke and Nosecone Ventures in Vancouver. Michael is an alumnus of Cornell University and the University of Edinburgh. Michael lives in Sooke and is starting the “Sooke Innovation Triad” – SookeSpace, Sookerator, and SookeSpark. These are innovation and entrepreneurial infrastructure programs and spaces that have a triad of purposes including moving Sooke to a more sustainable community where residents can walk or bike to work instead of commuting in vehicles to Victoria.


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