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Eyes landed on Iceland

2016 June 19

We are writing this from the Keflavik airport, where our flight is delayed by over 3 hours, in typical WOW airlines style.  We have commandeered a corner of a cafe, and are watching the close match between Iceland and Hungary for the second time.

Since our last update, we have completed the Ring Road, and had some relaxing days in the Reykjanes Peninsula, navigating around other tourists for the first time since we left on our journey.  After dropping our fifth puffin at the airport, we enjoyed a relaxing day in the surprisingly cute town of Keflavik.  For dinner, we drove to the scenic Golden Circle area.  On our way, we stumbled upon, by way of a random gas station encounter, the Viking Festival at Fjörukráin.  It was National Day after all (June 17th) and the attendees were in full Viking regalia. Kim and I had our fortunes told, translated by a 14-year-old Philippino girl, while Cory shot arrows, and James chatted up shop-owners. Several rocks pained with iconic birds were purchased.

Continuing on, dinner was along the gorgeous Þinvallavatn Lake at the Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel.  Despite its corny name, this is one of the best restaurants in the country, and the food presentation was to die for.  The glass-walled bar was tended by an LA hipster, and our servers were mostly from the Czech Republic.  We finished the evening with a soak in our private hot-tub at the AirBnb, watching the sun/moon turn various shades of pink before setting at 4am.

The next day consisted of a long walk around the harbor area of Kevlavik, driving to Grindavik, and walking as little as possible around the harbor area there, due to the heavy rains and closed cafes.  In the time it took us to cross the peninsula, the skies had opened, the wind had roared, and we could not even open our car doors without fear of them blowing away.  We ducked into a tiny fisherman’s cafe, decorated with nets and buoys.  The menu consisted of soup, self-service with self-service coffee, but this was not just any soup.  This was Bryggjan, with the best lobster soup in the world, as we were told, with people coming from all over the world to eat it.

We struggled to find any rooms still open in this run-down town, asking around until we found ourselves in the peeling stairway of a fish factory, with screams coming from the upper floors.  We were told to wait there, until a woman come to lead us to a partially completed house, without a locking door or a completed kitchen.  We paid whatever she asked, in a combination of cash currencies.

Finally, we drove all of seven minutes to the famous Blue Lagoon, the most infamous tourist trap in the country.  Not a single Icelandic native came that day, to brave blinding winds and chilly waters.  We dodge from hot-spot to hot-spot, leaving the water only at a dash to get to the steam room or sauna.  My hair still feels stiff, like salted fish.

Today, before the airport, we did a final round of Reykjavik shopping and downed an under-whelming “natural” breakfast.  I snuck into the Reykjavik Art Museum, and James purchased an authentic Icelandic wool blanket.  We still have almost three hours of the heavily commerced airport to wait, before we bid this country with its endless fields of volcanic moss and falling water ado.  Now to “Joe & the Juice” for out last round of vegetables before a long, dehydrating flight ahead…

Our top list of Iceland includes (and not in order…):

  1. Blue whale sightings and the all-whale feeding frenzy
  2. Epic waterfalls along amazing hikes
  3. Natural baths and sulferic waters (aka Blue Lagoon and Myvatn)
  4. Glaciers floating on the iceberg lagoon
  5. Looong days and hours of sunlight
  6. Visiting the northernmost tip of the world (for us, thus far)
  7. Cooking collectively at home (omelette, eggplant pasta, risotto)
  8. Staying in cabins on farms and by the sea
  9. Dinner at the Grillmarket and lobster soup at Bryggjan
  10. Stories from old fisherman and at the Viking village

Genteel Giants

2016 June 15

Iceland may be best known for Björk and Eyjafjallajökull, but a few whisper of its even greater strengths: whales and bubble baths.  Today, we sought out the best of both, as we crossed the north from Sigló to Seydisfjordur on the east coast.

We sketched out an ambitious itinerary last night, and managed to make it if anything a little more ambitious as the day went.  Following the coast brought us to a pair of endless tunnels, cutting two whole finger-like peninsulas off the top of the island.  Before long, we were in Húsavík, the capital of the world for whaling (or whale-watching, but I’m reclaiming the word).  11 species come here for feeding, to get fat and ready to be ostracized to the desolate seas near Boston which they try to leave again as soon as their young are ready.

We sprung for an excellent fast boat with Gentle Giants, which started with Puffin Island.  We confusedly stared at the pretty but puffin-less island that the boat first approached, before it turned back to sea and waded into a crowd of puffins thousands large.  Each one looked like a rubber duckie, slowly spinning in place, until it decided to make another flight attempt, wagging its clumsy arms but only able to raise itself inches from the waves.  Our next stop was a real treat: a rare blue whale sighting.  We chased after its double-blows, approaching within 100 m of its massive crests, each time before it took another dive and surfaced a random kilometer away.  Then we approached the mountains and abandoned monastery, first finding a single humpback and admiring its warty maw and patterned tail.  We were all feeling satisfied, but had no idea that the best was yet in store.  Our final stop brought us into the middle of an impromptu feeding frenzy.  A half dozen humpbacks and minke whales circled us, cresting often in unison and flashing tails, while the air filled with sea birds following closely.

We lunched at a hip new restaurant called Fjaran, feasting on baked brie and sweet potato fries, and a lobster salad and a barley pesto fit for Brooklyn.  A short 45 minutes later, we got to the geothermal gem of the North: Mývatn Lake.  Every nook of the lake has lava sculptures and steaming vents.  We hiked around Hverir, an alien landscape of sulfur yellows and fungal-looking purples, with black and grey muds bubbling.  Next we scrambled up the slippery mountain,  not really sure where we were headed nor why, until our path disappeared in the dust.

After some head scratching, we got back in the car and not 4 km up the road, we arrived at natural sulfueric baths,Mývatn Natural Baths in English or Jarðböðin, where we luxuriated in 14.5 degree water, silk with minerals.  There were empty watery expanses, socializing crowds, coveted booths, a packed hot-tub, and saunas.  We slinked from steaming pools to shivering wind and back, and all emerged feeling thoroughly bendy and chill.  Two hours later, we arrived at a cute cabin on yet another single-occupancy road, for an elaborate home-cooked meal to finish our quintessential Icelandic experience.

The never ending story of our drive

2016 June 13

Following the museum, we drove out to the Snaefelsnes peninsula where we hiked along the cost, from Arnarstapi to Helnar (5km).  Stunning views including rock formations and an ever changing terrain of mossy meadows to scrambled rocks. Rita suggested we “ground” and reconnect to the earth in bare feet.  We had a filling dinner at Helnar hotel catching views of proposes/finned creatures that may have only been rocks.

 

Several more hours of twilight driving brought us to the “town” of Borgir, which is more of a sheep pasture.  We arrived at 2am, which was still bright enough to see the sea.  This morning (Monday, 6/13) we are enjoying solitude and warm beds. Recommended if you want to feel very remote and have packs a car full of provision. See photos of outstanding breakfast creation.

We are about to set out to Siglufjörður and enjoy the hot springs later this afternoon, aka 10pm.

Eating up Iceland

2016 June 12

James and I landed, picked up our off-road-approved vehicle and set off along the violet flower-lined road to meet our friends in Reykjavík. We had a partial address for our Airbnb (the street of Njálsgata, this listing) and with the help of several group WhatsApps and a note to our host, we arrived at our cute, well-located flat. Situated perfectly for exploring on foot, and our first stop was the Phallological Museum, dedicated to the phallus of all species.  The museum contains a collection of more than two hundred and fifteen penises and penile parts belonging to almost all the land and sea mammals that can be found in Iceland.  Since we arrived within 20 minutes of closing, I bargained for a “cut” price.

Together up with Kim, Cory and Rita aka #teamicelandyeah aka #5puffins, we wandered up the pedestrian only streets, found cafes and outdoor bars where the locals drank (heavily) in t-shirts, entertaining us with stories about their lives as tug boat captains.  It’s true what they say that locals are extremely friendly and not at all put off by tourists.  A couple more hours of weaving in and out of wool shops, we stopped for a quick snack or “snarl” as it’s said here, at Taco Barinn, the Mexicanish space with a cool crowd, decorated with body art, and puffed chips and creamy guacamole.

Dinner was at the outstanding Grill Market, thanks to my colleagues Jenny and Virginia for the tip!  Some of the top delicacies were a local “Redfish”, with a meaty, snapper-like taste, and the Viking boat filled with desserts including a fruity mush not on the menu.  This memorable meal only ran up a bill of $500, which we are quickly learning is “about averages” for a nice dinner out.  After dinner it was only midnight, and we had hours before the streets were to fill up with the clubbing crowd, we strolled around (legally publically drinking) in and out of bars, in search of live music.   At 2pm, we wandered into a rock/punk/house bar where we danced to abandon on the strobe-lit dancefloor.  A few elderflower and lime ciders later, we wandered back home around 3:30am, feeling like we had given the city a go and were ready to go. Worth noting: the sky was the same color it was at 8pm, and the streets were rush-hour-busy.

This morning we woke up at the dusky hour of 9.  The sky had been the same shade of blue grey all night.  We packed our bags and set out for the Laundromat for what was a massive and gratifying brunch, particularly the Clean Brunch with sand-dollar-sized pancakes, granola and honey yogurt, and a yellowy hummusy mush. Such a great concept for a business too—washing machines, café and a children’s play area.  Also, the wifi passcode of iloveyou is worth replication.

We were extremely full, but why stop?  Rita made a bee line for the reputed “best” hotdogs in town and chowed down on a goat, beef and lamb dog, with all the toppings.  We photographed the monumental event.

I’m writing this post from the Settlement Center where James, Cory, Kimberly and Rita went to learn of Iceland’s Viking heritage.  I took a walk around the peninsular town.  A few things they learned:

  • Going “berserk” was the way to make Iceland possible
  • A woman can own as much land and she can lead a calf around in day
  • From Rita “they are Vikings, not at all Inuit, but, huh #Bjork?”
  • The greatest Viking was a poet—Egil, also handy with a plow.

Avoiding the flood: Paris and beyond

2016 June 10

In Paris for about 25 hours of adventure!

Though we arrived on Tuesday evening, due to hours of flight delayed on the budget WOW airline, we are only today getting the chance to embrace the City.

I was in London for work Wed-Thur, love my colleagues, the lovely office and rare sunshine, while James was teaching at a Columbia University Summer School,. co-hosted with Sciences Po.

This morning, we woke up, caught up, sent up a large quantity of emails and then headed up to the summer school to hear Marion Dumas speak about policy, complexity and economics. I was mostly there for the free snac– er, the international dialogues about the pressing climate issues of our time.

We are now exploring the Latin Quarter and more on foot, taking a quick stop at a cafe to do some much needed work-work. Also, we are planning our upcoming (Saturday!) Iceland trip with some friends. Follow us on Instagram #teamicelandyeah.

Our itinerary at the moment has us whirling through the Ring Road in a mighty 4×4, which is actually just an SUV, staying in AirBnBs along the way:
6/11: Reykjavik
6/12: Snæfellsnes
6/13: Sigló
6/14: Seyðisfjörður
6/15 – 6/17: Skógar (recovering from a 23 km hike here)
6/17 – 6/18: Reykjavik

2016 March 15

Book Review: Environmental Debt

2014 August 2

 

Untitled 

Reviewed by Johanna Goetzel, Lead Researcher for Environmental Debt.

 

Environmental Debt: The Hidden Costs of a Changing Global Economy connects the financial and environmental crises – both causes and solutions. Author Amy Larkin shows how the costs of climate change, extreme weather and pollution combine to wreak havoc on the economy, as well as the earth, creating what she calls, “environmental debt”. Larkin proposes a new framework for 21st century commerce to empower profitable business that coexists with the environment. As she succinctly states: “No nature, no business.”

Intended for business leaders as well as those who acknowledge that ’business as usual’ cannot continue, Environmental Debt presents complex and provocative ideas in easy-to-read prose and includes numerous cultural touchstones to help ground the reader. Larkin artistically combines her expertise as an entrepreneur, producer and environmental activist, to deliver an approach for business to succeed without compromising nature.

Larkin introduces the “The Nature Means Business Framework”, comprised of three tenants: (1) Pollution can no longer be free and can no longer be subsidized; (2) The long view must guide all decision-making and accounting and (3) Government plays a vital role in catalyzing clean technology and growth while preventing environmental destruction.

Pollution can no longer be free and can no longer be subsidized.

In this first section, Larkin focuses on the example of externalities from coal production. A study developed by Greenpeace and researchers at Harvard showed that in just the United States, the full cost of coal extraction and combustion to society on top of the coal companies’ costs is $350 – 500 billion a year. These hundreds of billions of dollars, called externalities in economics, represent actual bills paid by fisheries, businesses, schools, municipal water systems, and unwitting families and their healthcare providers. Despite conventional wisdom, coal is not a cheap energy. Its price is cheap only because it is subsidized by its own victims. Larkin included two similar studies that estimate the externalities of oil in the United States at over $800 billion annually. In total the external costs of coal and oil is well over $1.1 trillion, the annual 2012 United States deficit. The section concludes that environmental debt is a serious contributor to fiscal instability. Larkin and her team at Greenpeace, where she worked as the Solutions Campaign director for six years, decided to take their names off the Harvard report so that it would have more salience in the business community.   As an environmental activist and businesswoman, Larkin and her book navigate this space expertly, drawing on personal anecdotes and peer-reviewed publications.

The long view must guide all decision-making and accounting.

This section recounts the catastrophic 2011 floods in Thailand and the historic land degradation that compounded the impact. These intense storms became catastrophic because of massive deforestation, much of which occurred in the 20th century. Without enough trees, the ground was unable to soak up the floodwater.   Local Thai factories that produced car parts were closed for months. These closures caused shortages for Toyota and Honda, and both companies were forced to suspend manufacturing in Kentucky, Singapore and the Philippines. Toyota alone suspended production of 260,000 vehicles (3.4% of its previous annual output) and tens of thousands of workers lost their jobs. Larkin explains how the logging in 20th century Thailand caused financial havoc around the world in 2011 — a good 20 years after it occurred. The people of Thailand, several governments, numerous companies and shareholders from around the world all paid the logging’s environmental debt. This section stresses the importance of long term planning with regard to business decision-making. Larkin commends Unilever, the first multinational corporation to do away with quarterly earning reports. Taking the long view requires a more holistic view of business success, focusing on the means to justify the ends.

Government plays a vital role in catalyzing clean technology and growth while preventing environmental destruction.

Calling on government to help support changes to the business world, Larkin focuses on how funding infrastructure has benefits for businesses and individuals. She provides the example of the Internet, one of the pieces of government-funded infrastructure we most take for granted today. The Department of Defense began work in the 1960s and 70s, and it was later catapulted to its full potential by the High Performance Computing Act of 1991, and is now used by everyone, thanks to government support. With regard to the role the government can play for energy transformation, Larkin suggests that it will inevitably end up spending billions of dollars to keep the lights on, as “this is government’s job.” The choice is whether to pay now for clean technology or pay later with environmental debt.   Larkin re-frames the current energy debate with this in mind.

Conclusion

Environmental Debt is Not Doom and Gloom

One of the book’s surprising revelations is that large numbers of multinational corporations are pushing for smart regulation in concert with activist non-profits and are implementing environmental changes in their own operations ahead of regulation. Environmental Debt showcases the courageous work of Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Tiffany’s, Unilever, Walmart and others as well as the frontier of innovation in design, financial reporting, and biomimicry to name a few. The emphasis on leaders within corporations helping to transform the Consumer Goods sector (a consortium of 400 of the world’s leading consumer brands and retailers) is inspiring. Larkin’s personal experience with these senior leaders allows her to draw on numerous examples of ‘revolutionaries in suits’ changing the world of business practice.

The book resonates with readers of all ages and no mater where they are in their professional careers by localizing examples of how transformations are possible. She concludes, “Today, wherever you are, there is a sense that the ground is moving, both financially and environmentally. We need to reboot a crashing system. There is a real hunger to build a foundation so that the twenty-first century doesn’t feel so bloody scary. Look around your office, your home, your school, your government. We are all facing very difficult choices. It is time to work together.”

Johanna Goetzel worked with Amy Larkin developing the content for the book, providing editorial support and guidance. Previously Goetzel and Larkin worked together on the Greenpeace Solutions campaign, helping transforming the business sector in the US and abroad. Goetzel now works on environmental health policy, focusing on the ROI for population and planetary health. She eared her Masters in Climate and Society at Columbia University and a Bachelors of Arts from Wesleyan University. She can be reached at jgoetzel@gmail.com

 

 

 

Addressing the Global Obesity Epidemic: Collaboration is Key

2014 June 8

By Johanna N. Goetzel and Mark J. Harris

As part of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation conducted a systematic analysis of obesity rates from 1980-2013, showing a consistent upward trend worldwide. Underscoring the costs and health impacts of the obesity pandemic, the C3 Obesity policymaker survey 2014 provides data from 11 countries and indicates increasing awareness by policymakers about obesity.

These reports highlight an opportunity to focus efforts both in and outside government in order to support the World Health Organization’s goal of 25% relative reduction in the risk of premature mortality from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by 2025. The economic benefit is also clear: obesity alone currently accounts for 0.7-2.8% of total global healthcare expenditures, with medical costs of obese individuals typically 30% greater than that of their normal weight peers.

Key areas for improving health include increasing physical activity (insufficient exercise was noted by almost half of policymakers as having a ‘very strong impact’ on future risk of obesity) and improving access to healthy foods. Moreover, marketing of unhealthy food was recognized by 98% of policymakers as impacting the risk of obesity, with 28% saying it has a ‘very strong’ impact. Focusing on both individual action and environmental structures that can promote or hinder health is a way for government and industry to collaborate on program design and implementation for a common goal of healthier populations.

Concerted global action is needed to combat the rising tide of obesity around the world. The time is ripe: according the C3 report, over 2/3 of US policymakers believe that employers have a role to play in encouraging healthy lifestyles, hopefully paving the way for strong cross-sector collaborations across government, healthcare organizations, and employers to build healthier communities.

Population Rates of Overweight and Obesity by National Policy Status. Source data compiled from: http://www.c3health.org/c3activities/documents/obesity-policymaker-survey-2014/

Johanna Goetzel is a policy analyst for the Vitality Institute. Mark J. Harris is a dual MD/MPH student at Columbia University. You can follow their thoughts on Twitter at @johannagoetzel and @MarkMDMPH, and the Vitality Institute at @VitalityInst.

Get Healthy for the Planet: World Environment Day 2014

2014 June 7

By Johanna Goetzel and Shahnaz Radjy

Today, June 5, is World Environment Day, an opportunity to connect the environment with health for a holistic approach to a more sustainable future for individuals, communities, and the planet.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has launched four celebrity-endorsed challenges (see image below) on this occasion, which we think connect beautifully to health goals – demonstrating once again the win-win opportunity of tackling health and environment related problems in collaboration.

To participate, you can…

  • Go Greener: come together as communities, supporting businesses that are committed to sustainability such as B-Corporations, who care about their environmental impact and the well-being of their workforce in addition to the bottom line
  • Purge Plastics: trade plastic bottles for water bottles with a filter, so you can be healthy and drink tap water (almost) anytime and anywhere
  • Power Down: walk or ride your bike to work to be more carbon friendly (the European Cyclist’s Federation ECF has calculated and compared the carbon dioxide emissions of cycling, driving a car, or taking the bus) and get your daily physical activity fix.
  • Reduce your Foodprint: reducing food waste can reduce land and water resources used unnecessarily for production, and doing so by favoring low-carbon options along with reducing portion size can help address the global obesity epidemic, too

There are a number of resources available to help make these changes, whether you want to endorse one of the above challenges, are a student (check out Harvard’s Planet Health Curriculum), or are part of your country’s government (read about the Milan Protocol).

In case that was not enough to convince you, did you know that it has been shown that improvements to the environment, even in small measure, have an exponential impact on health?

Stay tuned for more about health and environmental linkages – we’re just getting started.

Source: www.unep.org/wed/wedchallenge/

– See more at: http://thevitalityinstitute.org/blog/#sthash.8T0ElNEO.dpuf

Power down to power up: Screen-Free Week 2014

2014 June 4

May 5-11 is this year’s national Screen-Free Week, encouraging everyone to turn off digital entertainment and turn on life. At work, trends of increased sedentary behavior have proven negative health impacts but a screen-free philosophy can encourage regular breaks, improving your concentration and your health.

Since 1970, Americans work an additional 200 hours per year, translating to more hours in chairs and in front of screens. Both of these ‘risk factors’ contribute to the growing weight of the nation.

Dr. Wilmot, a research fellow at the University of Leicester, found that people with the highest sedentary behavior had a 112 per cent increase in their relative risk of developing diabetes; a 147 per cent increase in their risk for cardiovascular disease; and a 49 percent greater risk of dying prematurely — even if they regularly exercised.

According to research by the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) employers incur large costs from their obese employees, between USD $644- 2,500, per person per year. Companies are now reevaluating metrics for financial success and worker productivity, investing in their office environments to promote health.

A fun way to take a break, for physical and mental well-being can be to follow the lead of Dr. Yancey, professor of health services at UCLA who advocates for group exercise breaks and a simple workout that can be done at work. Studies show that these can reduce sick leave and workers’ compensation claims. As an employer, investing in well-being leads to productivity increases, with absenteeism costs falling by about $2.37 for every dollar spent.

Power down to power up and take a moment to move away from screens this week.

Source: Washington Post Workout at Work Poster (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/health/workout-at-work/images/office-exercise-poster.pdf)