Icelandic Youth Mark One Year of Weekly Climate Strikes

Climate Strike Iceland

Students demonstrated in Austurvöllur square on Friday, demanding that the government take action on climate issues. Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the first weekly School Strike for Climate in Iceland. To mark the day, primary, secondary, and college students gathered in front of Hallgrímskirkja just before noon and marched to Austurvöllur square, in front of the Icelandic Parliament, where student leaders delivered speeches demanding action on climate change.

Vísir reports that young Icelandic activists involved in the ongoing #FridaysForFuture school strikes say the government has yet to take meaningful steps towards addressing climate issues in the country. This was the 52nd Friday that young people in Iceland have demonstrated in support of climate change action.

Jóna Þórey Pétursdóttir, the president of the University of Iceland’s Student Council, told reporters that she believed students’ ongoing protests have had a measurable impact thus far, particularly in terms of making the topic of climate change a public debate and raising awareness about climate issues. “…[W]e’re showing that young people are ready to take matters into our own hands. The goal, of course, was to demand increased measures from the government and we’ve yet to see those. Which is why we’re going to continue,” she remarked.

“We want a bright future,” Brynjar Einarsson, a student at Háteigsskóli primary school, told reporters. “A future that isn’t polluted. One where we can live without needing to be worried that we’re going to die because of climate change.”

Brynjar’s 13-year-old classmate, Jökull Jónsson, has been involved in the school strikes for climate from the beginning, and expressed a certain amount of pessimism about the future, although he did have specific ideas about ways in which Iceland could meaningfully address climate change issues.

“Really, we just need to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible and try to be environmentally friendly.”


Year in Review 2019: Society

Reykjavík walking district laugavegur

From Iceland’s last McDonald’s order turning ten to a dramatic increase in injectable filler procedures, here are a few news stories of note involving Icelandic society in 2019.

Minister for the Environment meets with climate strike organisers

In March, Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson met with organisers of a weekly climate strike. The strikes are organised by the National Union for Icelandic Students (LÍS) and the Icelandic Upper Secondary Student Union (SÍF), with the aim of urging governmental action on climate issues. At the meeting, the Minister and strike organisers reviewed the protesters’ demands, which first and foremost involve immediate and more ambitious measures to fight climate change and increased budget allocation to address the issue. The Minister and organisers agreed that the government could not solve the problem alone; however, the organisers emphasised the importance of the government taking the lead, as it holds legislative power. 2019 also marked the “funeral” of the former Ok glacier. Writer Andri Snær Magnason authored the text for Ok’s memorial plaque, which was installed in August.

Inhabitants of Iceland to reach 434,000 in 2068

In November, Statistics Iceland published population projections for 2019-2068. The forecast was predicated on statistical models for migration, fertility, and mortality. As of January 1, 2019, the population in Iceland was 357,000, but according to the forecast’s median variant, the Icelandic population is expected to grow by 77,000 over the next 50 years, reaching 434,000 in 2068. The median variant also predicted that from 2055 the number of yearly deaths would exceed the number of births. Life expectancy at birth is expected to increase from 84.0 years in 2019 to 88.7 years in 2068 for women, and from 79.9 to 84.4 years for men. By 2035, 20% of the population will be older than 65 years. By 2055, that number will rise to 25%. After 2046, inhabitants of Iceland over 65 years old will become more numerous than those inhabitants under the age of 20. Immigrants in Iceland currently account for 14.1% of the population.

Iceland’s last McDonald’s order turns ten

In 2009, Hjörtur Smárason purchased the last McDonald’s burger sold in Iceland before the fast-food restaurant ceased operations in the country for good. One decade later, the burger, and its accompanying fries, still look as good as new. The order is currently being displayed at a guesthouse in South Iceland, which provides a live stream of the peculiar exhibit. “I had heard something about McDonald’s never decaying, so I just wanted to find out for myself whether this was true or not,” Hjörtur explained. Hjörtur gifted the burger to the National Museum of Iceland, who sought advice from a Danish specialist on how to preserve the item. The specialist deemed the task impossible – though Hjörtur pointed out it seemed to be doing just fine. “I think he was wrong because this hamburger preserves itself.” Hjörtur eventually reached out to friends who run Snotra House in Þykkvibær, South Iceland, and the burger and fries are now on display in the lounge of the guesthouse. Ten years since their purchase, neither seems to show any signs of decay. McDonald’s opened its doors in Iceland in 1993. In October 2009, the chain announced that it would be closing its doors, with less than a week’s notice. The decision was attributed to the 2008 banking collapse, which had doubled the fast-food restaurant’s expenses for meat, cheese, and vegetables.

Icelandic names will no longer be gendered

As part of the Gender Autonomy Act, which Parliament passed in June, Icelandic given names are no longer designated “male” or “female” in the national naming registry. The new law applies to both parents naming their children and to adults who want to change their names officially. The new legislation means that anyone can now take any name in the registry, irrespective of gender. The law marked a significant change in Icelandic naming conventions. Per the previous provisions of the country’s naming laws, “Girls shall be given female names and boys shall be given male names.” The Gender Autonomy Act also gives individuals the right to change their official gender according to their lived experience and register as neither male nor female (denoted with an “x” on documents). The first person to legally change their name was farmer Sigríður Hlynur Helguson Snæbjörnsson (formerly Sigurður Hlynur Helguson Snæbjörnsson), who adopted the name in honour of his grandmother.

A dramatic increase in unregulated injectable filler procedures

Beautifying procedures involving injectable fillers saw a dramatic increase in 2019. The Directorate of Health does not regulate such procedures. “There’s just been this explosion,” Björn Geir Leifsson senior physician at the Directorate of Health stated earlier this year. “It’s become so popular, and there’s become such a market in Iceland, that foreign doctors have even begun inquiring what they must do to inject their clients with fillers.” Procedures involving Botox – which is categorised as a drug – are regulated by the Directorate of Health, but as injectable fillers are not classified as healthcare, they are not regulated by the Directorate of Health. According to Björn Geir, this needs to be changed: “These operations aren’t without their risks. We’ve received several damage-related complaints regarding these procedures.” The Directorate of Health is currently drawing up a proposal for the Ministry of Health. “We need to review the regulatory environment,” Björn Geir stated. “It’s full of grey areas and, at times, rather patchy. These are invasive procedures where bodies are being injected. We need to monitor who is doing these procedures, how they’re being done, and what kinds of fillers are being used.” More and more people are injecting fillers into their lips, cheeks, chins, jawlines, or into the area beneath their eyes.

The ninth annual slutwalk

Reykjavík’s ninth annual Drusluganga, or SlutWalk, took place this summer. The main goal of the march is to “create a platform for solidarity with survivors of sexual violence and return the shame to where it belongs, with the perpetrator,” organisers wrote, as well as to bring an end to rape culture. The Reykjavík SlutWalk has grown continually since it began in July 2011. Last year, 20,000 people took part. The protest was founded in Toronto, Canada and took place in April 2011 after a police officer suggested that if women didn’t want to be assaulted, they “should avoid dressing like sluts.”

Parental leave extended to 12 months

In its final session before Christmas, Parliament passed new legislation extending parental leave to twelve months. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir called the new law a huge step forward for Icelandic families, and also an important step toward greater equality. The history of parental leave in Iceland traces its origins to 1980. In that year, a new law guaranteed women a three-month maternity leave with six months’ worth of compensation. Mothers who worked from home were entitled to one-third of what working mothers received. In 1986, Parliament extended maternity leave to six months. The right of fathers to paternity leave was enacted in 1998. Otherwise, the parental leave system remained almost unchanged for twenty years, from 1980 to 1999, until the 2000 legislation that extended the leave to nine months.