As the autumn starts to reach its high, it’s almost impossible to come outside and not be hit by golden light, filtered through the leaves. Here in Norway, the trees are pretty predominated, especially this time of the year. The combination of the golden light and the sound of the wind, rustling through the coloured leaves, speaks to me. It reminds me of why I came here. It reminds me of why I love the North so much.
It also made me wonder, how an Icelandic autumn with trees would look like. Even though September is my favourite month in Iceland as it is, with its unique autumn decor. I still wonder how it would have been, had Iceland stayed inhabited.
It’s a two-sided thought, because I can’t name one place on earth that looks so fairytale-esque as Iceland. The combination of black mountains, green moss and the ocean, all under that special light, is decor I always imagined for magical stories and tales.
With a population density of 3 per square meter, Iceland is almost an example of how pristine nature looks like. With its wild interior, its glaciers, waterfall and fjords. Iceland’s clean water and fresh air is a national proud. But even though all those things are true, the Icelandic landscape still hides an enormous human influence.
It’s a little deceiving, because everything looks so natural, so pure. Still, human kind managed to lose almost all Icelandic forests since the first settlements, almost 1150 years ago. Before those times, up to 40% of the Icelandic surface was covered by trees. That is a lot, considering the space needed for beaches, glaciers, river and other tree-unfriendly surfaces like lava and the soil around hot springs and other active volcanic activity.
Around 1950, the percentage of surface covered by trees, had gone down to less than 1%. People even started forgetting, Iceland was once a forested country. The new wind brought thoughts of how trees just couldn’t survive in Iceland. How quickly the human beliefs can change. How quickly we can forget and deceive ourselves.
The main reason of deforestation, is the same as elsewhere on our home planet. The creation of grazing land for livestock and the subsequential regeneration failure due to this livestock grazing. In applied laymen terms: Sheep. Lots of them. But as quickly as the human mind can forget and deceive itself, as visionary it can be. Humans are capable of so much, if we take responsibility. We can be the creators of transformation.
Despite everything, forestry is actually big business in Iceland today. The IFS (Icelandic Forest Service) and IFA (Icelandic Forest Association) managed to more than double the tree covered surface in 2015. Considering the low population and the enormous surface area of Iceland, this is actually a good achievement.
Goals have been set to bring this up to 12% by the year 2100. Sadly, since the crisis of 2008, funding for these purposes have been drastically cut. It is a constant in this capitalistic world to start thinking short term when economics are not doing well. We are quick to forget how much we depend on the health of our planet, how much everything can be traced back to our basics, to our breathing lungs, our forests and our oceans. It is a depressing truth that we might rediscover the hard way in the near future.
This does not mean we are powerless. While living in Iceland, I personally came into contact with tree-planting volunteers and civilian organisations who do hear the call from our earth. Being on the front line of this revolution of transformation.
That vacation you are secretly planning in your head for when these Corona-times are over, doesn’t it sound like the perfect holiday to take part in these initiatives? I’m here to tell you that you could if you look for it.
In conclusion, when in Iceland, eat less sheep and go plant some trees. Especially in the current global political and media climate, it would be an act of kind rebellion. Let’s not forget our basics, our mother earth.
Text: Ellen Wild