Iceland is a pioneer of renewable energy
The country’s extraordinary geological features have also allowed Iceland to generate 100% of its electricity and 85% of its total energy from renewable sources. It is able to produce geothermal energy quickly and cheaply by piping water directly from hot springs and steam fields to heat 90% of Icelandic households, and its powerful waterfalls and glacial rivers make for huge hydroelectric potential. The construction of hydroelectric power plants has proved controversial, due to the loss of vast swathes of pristine Icelandic landscape. However, its massively efficient production of geothermal and hydroelectric power make world’s largest green energy producer per capita and largest electricity producer per capita, with approximately 55,000 kWh per person per year, compared to the European average of less than 6,000 kWh.
Iceland does have trees… just not a lot
Iceland’s beautiful and unique landscape consists of a plethora of dramatic and wildly varying structures: volcanoes, great waterfalls and fjords, mountains and black sand deserts, as well as its geothermal hot springs. However, to the casual observer, one common feature appears to be missing: trees! This has lead to a common misconception that Iceland has no trees at all. Indeed, today forests only cover around 2% of Iceland, but experts estimate that this figure was once between 25-40% before the original settlers cleared large swathes of woodland for fuel and to use the remaining land for agriculture and grazing over a thousand years ago. Attempts at reforestation have been underway since 1899, but progress is slow as a result of soil erosion due to its exposure to the harsh Icelandic weather conditions. Nevertheless, the country still boasts some beautiful forests, such as Hallormsstaðaskógur National Forest, and the forest at Ásbyrgi Nature Reserve, pictured above.
Polar bears aren’t native to Iceland
You’d be forgiven for thinking that they were. However, the Icelandic Institute of Natural History states that polar bears have never colonised the island, but have been occasionally known to drift southwards on ice floes from Greenland – there have been around 600 reported sightings since the first settlements in the country. Unfortunately, due to the carnivorous bears inevitably being hungry after their journey and therefore posing a risk to both humans and livestock, it is permissible to kill polar bears on land. However, under Icelandic legislation they are a protected species and must not be harmed while out at sea.
You can read more about this here (warning: the page does contain a picture of a polar bear that was shot).