An International Model of Right and Wrong

Throughout the documented history of Iceland, the people inhabiting the island have undergone many serious tests and trials involving their geological disaster, disease, economic crises, and sustainability issues with resources. There is a plethora of available comparisons between the nation of Iceland and the United States starting with their colonization. Both countries became nations in relatively the same manner. Iceland was discovered and first inhabited by Norse explorers moving to new frontiers, and the United States was also established as an organized power from European exploration and colonization. This characteristic creates many similarities in the way that the initial societal foundations were laid as nearly independent entities, striving to be self-sustaining.

Genetically speaking, Iceland and the United States occupy polar opposite ends on the spectrum. Iceland’s geographic location and isolated island layout prevent the population from fluctuating easily from immigration or exodus, whereas the United States has traditionally held open borders to produce the melting pot of ethnic diversity it is today. Volcanic eruption and disease like the black plague has helped contain the population of Iceland, whereas the United States has grown exponentially. As one author states, “Iceland seems to be inhabited by one enormous family, not one of whose members ever leaves the neighborhood where he was born,” but the United States has relatively high regional ethnic diversity (Specter. 1999. pp. 41).

One of the most recent problems that Iceland has undergone is the economic crash of 2008. The island is still under the effects of the problem, and this will mark the “longest period of economic decline in its history.” Even so, the government seems to be turning the economic issues around with the introduction of “widespread measures to protect the finances of homes and companies” (Valdimarsson. 2010). As with the majority of other nations, the United States is currently undergoing an economic recession and any lessons that Iceland is able to provide on how to reverse this hardship are beneficial to accept and imitate.

Another problem Iceland has encountered that is very pertinent to the rest of the planet is the issue of sustainably utilizing natural resources. Occupying a landmass approximately the same size as the state of Washington, Icelandic renewable resources like the birch forests that used to border the coastlines have diminished significantly. This has in turn set additional concerns in motion such as soil erosion and shifting to other means for fuel and building supplies. In the seas, the Icelandic people are setting additional regulations in place to control over-fishing the coastal waters and depleting the marine environment. In the inland rivers, the “take” is “regulated and the harvesting [is] being done by permission (at a price) from the owners. Very limited netting has taken place in the tidal rivers” (Peper. 1973. pp. 53).


The Icelandic dams are not developed on important spawning rivers for the fish, together all of these regulations help to keep the native species of aquatic life alive. Any country with a fishing industry is able to take away knowledge about preservation from this model of sustainability. Another method that Icelandic people are using to be sustainable and avoid higher energy costs at the same time is through the renewable geothermal energy where “much of the country heats its houses not by burning fossil fuels but just by tapping volcanic heat” (Diamond. 2005. pp. 197). In the United States we have geothermal sites, including the largest geothermal site in the world, which could be utilized in a similar manner to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels.

History is an integral aspect of our lives in the United States, and personal pride in knowing the past is also a very important aspect of the Icelandic society. The Icelandic model of life is chocked full of customs and traditions, exhibited by the list of their sagas still well known hundreds of years later. Some of the most well known sagas including the Vinland Sagas help to preserve the views that the Icelandic ancestors had of the world along with the somewhat chronological timeline. This is important for nations such as the United States to realize, because without documentation in media like sagas, generations in the future will be able to see the timeline of events in the country’s history, but will be unable to sense how the people of the time felt. In a way I think that the cinema industry in the United States is producing “sagas” to preserve the perspective of the people. Another way for the Icelandic people to maintain their individual identity is through their language. They have drawn bits and pieces from each of their historical influences, but now as a developed entity they have developed “only a minimum of regional and pronunciation differences” (Lacy. 1998. pp. 26).

As a whole, Iceland differs greatly from the United States in size, population, ethnic diversity, and industry to name a few, but shares common interests such as pride in history and desire to live sustainably. These commonalities allow each nation to learn from the other, so that when one nation experiences extreme hardship the same negative process can be avoided or counteracted in the other.


Works Cited:

Diamond, Jared M. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking, 2005.

Lacy, Terry G. Ring of Seasons: Iceland, Its Culture and History. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1998.

Peper, Eric, and Jim Rikhoff. Fishing Moments of Truth. [New York]: Winchester, 1973.

Specter, Michael. "Decoding Iceland." The New Yorker 1 Jan. 1999: 40-51.

Valdimarsson, Omar R. "Iceland Economy Contracted 8.4% Last Quarter as Recovery Halts." Bloomberg Businessweek 3 Sept. 2010. Print.


Written by Jonathan Schillios
Major: Mechanical Engineering
Expected Graduation Date: May 2012
Hometown: Spokane

When I write, I enjoy applying the topic to my own life in my imagination first, and then finding a way to write my assertion off of that thought process. This way I am able relate more to each work and take something away from the assignments I do.