FRED LOGEVALL: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to this evening's event. This is part of the Foreign Policy Distinguished Speaker series, about which I'll say just a few words in a moment. My name is Fred Logevall. And I'm here today in my capacity as Vice Provost for International Affairs. I'm also the director of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies. And I'm a faculty member in the history department. And it's just a great pleasure for me to welcome you to this event. And in particular, of course, I want to welcome our guest, His Excellency, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, President of Iceland. That's the Swedish pronunciation.
Which I don't think is quite correct, but it's at least Nordic. How about that? It's at least Nordic. This visit would not have been possible without our collaboration with the Cornell Energy Institute and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. Very grateful to those two entities for helping make this happen.
Just a word about the Einaudi Center for those of you who may be new. The Center has been in existence since 1961, so we've passed the half century mark. And what the Center tries to do is to stimulate and, to some extent, coordinate Cornell's work in and about the world. It plays, I think, a very important role in Cornell's mission to produce global citizens, to produce the leaders of tomorrow, and to give Cornell students in particular the kind of cross-cultural awareness that we feel they need to have as they enter the workforce.
The Center houses Cornell's area studies programs, which are world-renowned, as well as some thematic programs. It also has its own programming. And one of the things that we try to do in the Center, which I think bears on what we're going to be hearing about today, is we try to encourage interdisciplinary work. Because at this university and so many other universities, we have a tendency to be siloed. And whatever your home discipline is, that's the one where you do your work. And that can be tremendous, but we also want to, when we can, encourage interdisciplinary work. And I think that, for me as director of the Center, it's a priority.
This series, as the Foreign Policy Distinguished Speaker series, what it tries to do, as I think the name suggests, is to bring to the Cornell campus distinguished speakers from near and far who have particular expertise, who have experience pertaining to the pressing issues of our time. It's part of a broader foreign policy forum that we have at the Einaudi Center that tries to bring together the campus expertise we have on foreign policy issues. That includes an undergraduate course that we offer. It includes a postdoctoral fellowship program. It includes various workshops and symposia that we put on. And in addition, this series. We're very grateful for the support received from our foreign policy for this series and for our programming, in general, from the San Giacomo Charitable Foundation, from Mrs. Judy Biggs, and also from the Bartells family. And we're honored, as I suggested, this afternoon to welcome President Grimsson.
Iceland, as I think many of you know, is a small nation. It's 320,000 people. But it has become known in recent years, thanks in very large measure to President Grimsson, as a champion of sustainability, renewable energy, as a forward-thinking nation on the subject of global climate change, and as a proponent of international cooperation in the cultural area. And I was struck in a recent interview, which I draw to your attention in Foreign Affairs-- this was in the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs this year, in which President Grimmson said, "if you are small and want to be successful, and you have the cultural heritage that we have, there is no limit to what you can do. Iceland is not an isolated, small nation. It's a small nation that has been outward-looking and sought experience, education and influence from anywhere in the world. And it has--" I love this part-- "it has heralded the notion that you should not be afraid to compare yourself with the best."
Very powerful words. And I was thinking about this in terms of my own native country of Sweden, where I think Swedish leaders have also wanted to articulate these kinds of sentiments and have. And yet, when you compare the two countries, Sweden is much, much larger. It's about 30 times larger than Iceland in terms of population. And how much more powerful is it that Iceland and its president would put forth with such confidence this kind of a vision?
A few words about President Grimsson. Olafur Ragnar Grimsson is the fifth president of Iceland. It's an elected position. And he was reelected four times. First elected in 1996, reelected in 2000, 2004, 2008, and again in 2012. Those are presidential years for us as well. He took his bachelor's degree in economics and political science at the University of Manchester in 1965, and completed his PhD In political science at the same university in 1970, becoming the first Icelander to earn a doctorate in this discipline. And you could, in fact, say that President Grimsson is a founder of political science in Iceland because he held the first professorship in that discipline at the University of Iceland, beginning in 1973.
From an early point, he was active in public affairs in Iceland. He became a member of the Young Progressives in 1966. In 1974, he stood as a Parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Left Alliance and became a member of the Parliament in 1974. In 1988 to 1991, he served as Minister of Finance. He's won many international awards, which I won't list. He was a member of the Committee of the Peace Initiative of six heads of state from 1984 to 1989 and has been awarded honorary doctorates from the Universities of [INAUDIBLE], which is in Norway, and Manchester in 2001. He is the author of a large number of academic articles that have appeared in both Icelandic and overseas periodicals.
We're delighted that he's here with us in Ithaca, not just for a sort of presidential quickie visit. But in fact, we have a sustained level of interaction with the President, and we're very grateful for this. We have two really packed days of events. We have one that I just want to mention very briefly, that I already heard this morning in Olin Library. And anybody who was present with me at that meeting will know it was a very, very special event indeed. We have here at Cornell a collection, the Fiske collection, [? Fiske ?] collection, which is a very, very important collection in terms of Icelandic literature, history. And we were present, some of us, to see the Order of the Falcon, which we learned about as being a very, very distinguished prize recognition in Iceland, to the curator of that collection, Patrick. And it was just a special time for me this morning to be present and to listen to President Grimsson describe the importance of the collection to his country's history, and to his country's present, and to be there for this recognition.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my distinct pleasure and honor to ask you now to join me in welcoming President Grimsson.
PRESIDENT GRIMSSON: Thank you very much indeed for this kind and interesting introduction. I have been introduced many times in my life. This is the first time my name is introduced with a Swedish accent in this great country. And it actually sounds quite good. Maybe I should adopt the practice as we move forward. Well, I'm deeply honored to be here today and to speak about a matter which is very dear to my heart, but which is also of fundamental importance to the future or our planet. But let me first also recognize, as you mentioned this morning, when I paid my homage and expressed the gratitude for the people of Iceland to Cornell and to the people of your library for preserving here at the University the greatest collection of Icelandic books, old and new. Some of them more than 500 years old to be found anywhere outside of Iceland.
And for more than 100 years, this great university has preserved this collection and renewed it every year. And thus becomes the center of study and research and awareness of the great literary heritage of my country. Which is not just of significance to Iceland. But the sagas written in Iceland in details of the 13th century, when the rest of Europe used Latin, are indeed to Western literature what the temples and the ruins in Athens and Rome are also to the Western civilization. So while this great university preserves this collection and uses it as a forum for research and discussion, you're not just honoring my own country, you're also preserving one of the most important legacies and pillars of the Western civilization. So let me, again, here today in this public hall thank the university for this extraordinary contribution, and all the people alive and also have passed away, for having dedicated their life to preserving the Fiske collection here at the University.
For in a way, it is both an honor, and a privilege, and also a reminder of our responsibilities that I come here today also to talk about the future of our shared planet, not just to pray homage to what was done in my country 800, 900 years ago, but also to enter into a discussion with all of you on whether we can preserve the planet 800 or 900 years from now, even 100 or 200 years from now. We are all familiar with the debate about climate change. We are all familiar with the negotiations, and the dialogue, and the discussions, and the political conflict. But I sometimes say that I come from a country where we don't need to go to international conferences to realize that climate change is really happening.
When the rest of the world looks at the planet increasingly in recent decades from space, and hopefully realizes that it's our planet together, from a distance, without differences or boundaries between nations and countries, very few countries have had the privilege like we have had in Iceland to observe firsthand, both in our own country as well as in Greenland, our next-door neighbor, that indeed the glaciers, the ice sheets, are melting at an extraordinary pace. We have studied our glaciers for more than 50 years. And we know that this one, in just two years, has disappeared recently in the way that it has grown smaller. So therefore, despite the international dialogue and discussions, we don't need to be convinced that something extraordinary is happening to our planet. And if you doubt it, then you just visit Greenland, which has an ice sheet half the size of Western Europe, and it's melting fast. If only a quarter or so of the Greenland ice sheet melts and everything else stays the same, in North Africa and everywhere else, the global rise in sea level will be about two meters, affecting almost every city in the world. And let's remember that most of the big cities in the world are indeed coastal cities.
So it is a serious challenge. It is perhaps the most fundamental challenge of not just my lifetime, but the lifetime of those of you who are young here today. And therefore, it is inevitable that we come together and try to find ways to deal with this.
And there are, roughly speaking, three different approaches that can be taken. One was illustrated just a few days ago when President Obama and President Xi together declared that the United States and China have reached an agreement which will gradually come into effect in the coming years with the reduction of CO2 in this country and China, declaring that from 2013 it will hopefully start to reduce its carbon footprint. It is, in my opinion, a historic decision, a historic declaration, almost a landmark in international politics. And it highlights one of three major approaches to the climate change problem that countries can together, almost unilaterally, agree on a tactic and a principal, and declare to the rest of the world that they are actually going to do it. And if every country followed that example, we would perhaps be able to escape the negotiations in Paris next year.
About this, the second approach that has turned out to be slow or difficult, and unfortunately, not very productive, the approach of global negotiations from Kyoto onwards. And although it keeps on moving like a slow train forward and hopefully will reach results. Even eternal optimists like myself do not have great hopes that through such international negotiations, we won't be able to solve the problem in time. Because quite frankly, my friends, we only have 20 or 30 years to take action. I've only been President 18 years. And I just mention that to illustrate to you this is a relatively short time ahead of us to actually deal with this problem.
But there is a third way also, which is illustrated by the story of Iceland. And that is perhaps why I am speaking about it here today, not just because I am the President of the country and I like to speak about my country. And its policy is a fundamental element in the job description of being a President of Iceland.
But because I believe the story of Iceland in the last 40 or 50 years is a fascinating signpost, almost like a laboratory and an example of how we can execute the third method of preventing irreversible climate change by comprehensively transforming the energy system of our country. Because climate change is fundamentally an energy problem. We all know. The science is clear. The studies have been done. There's really no debate about that issue. But if we really want to deal with it, we have to transform our energy systems. And somehow, I believe that if Iceland could do it, so can everybody else. When people visit my country today and they see the clean energy achievement, which I will describe in a few moments, they somehow think it's been an easy journey. But that's not true.
If you look at Iceland behind this title which I have chosen to illustrate the road I'm going to take, that it's not really about energy. It's about the economy. It's about the economic transformation of the country to realize that to move from fossil fuel over to clean energy is fundamentally good business. It's fundamentally the road to prosperity and economic achievement. And also a safeguard against financial crisis in the future. Because as you might know, my country was hit very hard in 2008 when all the major banks actually collapsed.
So one of the main reasons why we are now perhaps that country in Europe which has achieved it best to deal with the financial crisis is the comprehensive clean energy transformation in the previous decade. But this has been done, as I will illustrate, not on the basis of a grand plan, not on the basis of a vision or a government policy 30 or 40 years ago. No, it has been done through localized, bottom-up, profit-driven initiative and actions taken by small towns, communities, different sectors, companies, and so on. But the end result is an extraordinary transformation.
But it started in a country where the capital, Reykjavik, about the time I was born was every day under a black cloud from the smoke from the coal fires and the fossil fuel, where you could smell the energy every day. And everything you hanged out in the air caused that to be dirty. And that was the situation in my country. The coal depot was the largest part of the harbor. And every week, the vessels came from Britain and Germany, bringing coal to our country. It's not all that long ago. At least, I kind of kid myself I am not very old.
And then, for centuries, we had used geothermal water primarily to wash clothes. That was it. You went out where you saw warm water coming up, you put on some equipment. And as you can see, this is 70, 80 years ago. You can see it from the clothes that the people wear. And they have been doing that for hundreds and hundreds of years. The only usage of this great energy resource was to wash the clothes, occasionally, perhaps, to take a warm bath, or so. But in terms of producing energy, zero. Nothing. And Iceland had been for centuries one of the poorest countries in Europe, a nation of farmers and fishermen struggling out there in the North Atlantic, barely surviving, being, through most of the centuries, only 40,000 50,000 people, about 100,000 or so at the beginning of the twentieth century, people who lived on open boats, worked in the fishing in an elementary way to try to grow, take the crop and the hay to feed the cows and the sheep.
So the beginning of this transformation into the leading example in the world in a clean energy economy came from a country which, perhaps, had the greatest odds against it, being able to do so. Then it all started, again by the time I was born or so, by putting pipes in mud streets in the center of Reykjavik, a few houses at the beginning. And as you can again see from the dresses of the people in the picture, this is long time ago in our minds, if you look at the style and the fashion. And that's how it began, house by house, street by street, district by district, town by town, city by city. Until 30 or 40 years later, the entire country had been transformed.
The city covered in black smoke or coal by the time I was born now awaits all of you in this way. Clean, fresh air, non-polluted, with great, modern society, fantastic lifestyle, one of the best lifestyles in the world, together with the other Nordic countries where women and men live longer than in most other countries in a fantastic lifestyle, and swimming pools and restaurants, and everything else, one of the luxury places in the world, if you compare it to the rest of the continents and the countries.
And of course the statistics are quite fantastic. This is the percentage of renewable sources in electricity production. And together with Norway, Iceland ranks up there with almost 100%. I'm sorry to say Sweden is far behind.
And not to mention the United States.
I mean, look at these columns. Why on earth is the United States so low? Remember, again, the pictures I just showed you about Iceland. The poor farmers, and fishermen, the mud streets, the poverty, the grey docks. If anybody had told my parents by the time I was born that their country would be number one in clean energy achievement, nobody would have believed it. It would be a story in impossibility. But it is the reality. And here you can see the transformation, how the relative views on the smaller graph shows how the coal, which in the 1940s and up to the '50s was a big part of the Icelandic energy picture, gradually disappeared. Same with oil. And the growth in geothermal and hydro, and you see it on the larger picture also.
So now we have the entire electricity production and the space heating of the country derived from renewable energy resources. And when we get enough electric cars, which I hope we will do in the next 10 or 15, 20 years, we have a good chance of being the first country in the world where all land-based activity will be run on renewable energy resources, a very strong signal to the rest of the world that it can, in fact, be done. And now the energy companies and the buildings and the centers have not only become locations to produce electricity or heat the houses, but also educational institutions, centers of information, a great tourist attraction.
This is the building, the reception hall of the newest geothermal power plants, which receives every year about 20% of the tourists that come to Iceland. People who enter this power plant and pay an entrance fee to see for themselves what a clean energy power plant actually looks like. And where we have young students teaching the tourists what this is all about.
If somebody had even told me 10 years ago that it could charge people to enter a power plant--
--and they would willingly pay about $30 to enter the power plant and receive a tour, I would not have believed it. But that's not the only location that illustrates how the growing tourism sector in Iceland is, to a strong extent, based on the clean energy transformation. You have the bore holes in different parts of the country organized by our experts, and engineers, and geologists, and planned in such a way that they form a comprehensive system that, although each bore hole can last perhaps 30, 40, 50 years. Then you rest it for awhile and you use the others.
So you build a comprehensive system that can go on, and on, and on, and on. There you see the pipes bringing the steam and the water down to the power plant which produces electricity, as well as sending hot water into the houses of our capital. And of course, the hydropower is, as well, a big part of this transformation. Different in scale because that has been organized by the national power company, whereas the geothermal transformation has been more locally based.
But this is one of the major reasons why Iceland has become a strong and attractive location for some of the biggest companies in the world, like this aluminum power plant initially built by Swiss aluminum in the '60s, but now owned by Rio Tinto. Alcoa has another plant in the Eastern part of Iceland. Century Aluminum, which is an American aluminum company, a smelter in the Western part of Iceland.
And it's worth mentioning that when Rio Tinto, following the fall of Lehman brothers, stopped all global investments anywhere in the world-- and remember Rio Tinto is one of the biggest companies in the world with operations I think in about 150 countries. And they terminated the entire field of global investments after the fall of Lehman brothers. But about two years later, they took their first global investment decision after the financial crisis began. And that was the modernization of this smelter in Iceland where they invested half a billion US dollars in the modernization of this plant.
At that time, Iceland was still considered by many as example number one of a failed financial country. But that did not prevent Rio Tinto from modernizing the plant because they knew there was a long-term access to renewable clean energy. And aluminum produced in this way leaves less carbon footprint than aluminum produced by most other companies in the world. So if you want to have an environmentally friendly electric car, where about or so of the carbon footprint has already existed, or even more, before you started for the first time, it's better to have an aluminum produced in this way. So the investment decisions taken by these three global companies are a great testament to the inbuilt global competitiveness of a clean energy economy.
And now, in the last 10 years, we have added the data storage centers. And I know I don't have to explain to this audience the importance of data storage in the 21st century, and the extraordinary amount of energy which is required to enable us every day to conduct our research and dialogue and communicate with a friend. But you might realize that about 40% of the running cost of the data storage center is the cooling. And contrary to what most people think here in Cornell on a cold day like today, the temperature in Iceland is reasonably balanced in the winter and the summer. So in order to cool the data storage centers in Iceland, we simply open a window.
So you let in the air in the winter and in the summer. But they're also run on clean energy. And its strength in the market profile of those who are customers in keeping the data, whether they are some of the famous car companies in the world, or risk companies, or others. So they can tell their clients and customers that their data is stored without a carbon footprint. That is an important part of the combination of the 21st century IT technology as well as the clean energy economy.
You remember the picture that I showed you before of the coal smoke-covered city. Now look at this. This is another picture of Reykjavik today. And on the graph, you see the reduction in CO2 emissions, simply due to the space heating from '61 to 2011. This is a remarkable job, not because it illustrates the Icelandic achievement, but primarily because in most countries in the world, including the United States and China, the countries of President Obama and President Xi, there are enough low and medium temperature geothermal resources to allow countries, cities, and urban communities to exactly travel the same road, to use the localized, low and medium temperature geothermal resources, to move away from electricity-driven or CO2-driven space heating and air conditioning over to locally based, geothermal energy.
So this graph is a reminder to all of you in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Do the same. And as Professor [? Tester ?] told me this morning, 25% of the total energy needs of the United States is for the heating and the air conditioning-- a quarter of your energy requirements. So imagine the transformation of the energy profile of this country alone, not to forget China and others, if you did the same thing, which you can, like we, house by house, street by street, district by district, town, by town.
So it is, in fact, an extraordinary transformation in a relatively short time, 30, 40 years. But as I said in the beginning, the driving motive was not ideology or to save the planet. The driving motive was economic profitability, to heat the houses and produce electricity in a cheaper, less costly, more effective way. To increase the standard of living of the people, to strengthen the fundamental basis of the economy. It was entirely a market-driven, profit-oriented road, not a visionary environmental journey to save the planet. Of course, along the route, we could make our contribution to saving the planet. But that was not the motive. It is perhaps my core message here today. That it makes economic sense to save the planet. And the sooner people discover that, the better.
But that was only the beginning of the story-- to produce electricity and heat the houses. Now we have multiple dimensions in our economy to illustrate the profitability of this transformation. We have built greenhouse agriculture in many different parts of the country producing tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, you name it, making our diet, of course, much healthier thereby reducing the likelihood of various diseases and enable us to live longer. But also to help the tourists to come to Iceland to enjoy this extraordinary quality. And I have to tell you, the Icelandic tomatoes are much better than the ones you get here.
For an obvious reason-- one is that the water is better. But the other is an environment completely without pesticides, completely without any earth. It is done in a way that there is zero possibility of some chemical contamination of other resources. And you only have to taste it once to realize that.
But there are many other aspects to it. We also grow the bananas at the greenhouses. We have the proud record of having the largest banana plantation in Europe.
Admittedly, it's under glass in the greenhouses, but still the largest banana plantation in Europe, illustrating that through this energy resource, you can basically create any climate you want, any climate you want. But what has happened in the last five or six years is a very interesting transformation. It's that the people who some to Iceland and visit the power plants and feel that they are in a country with fresh air and clean energy, they also go to the greenhouses and they want to see the greenhouses. They want to witness how the tomatoes and the cucumbers are grown.
So I'll tell you the short story of a family greenhouse farm in southern part of Iceland, a family of four or five people. Husband and the wife, and their teenage kids. But they have been growing tomatoes for about 15, 20 years. They're extraordinarily good. But then the tourist companies started to bring people to look at the greenhouses and see how this was done. And after three or four years of this, the family said, why don't we charge people? And they did. But they kept on coming, paying, again, about $20 to enter a greenhouse and see how we grow tomatoes.
And then people started asking, oh, cool, can we taste them? Do you make tomato soup? So they established a restaurant. So the end of the story is-- and the story is still progressing-- this is the son explaining to the tourists what it's like to be [INAUDIBLE]. Last year, 40,000 tourists paid to enter the greenhouse of this one family to experience how, through clean energy, you produce healthy food. And they keep on coming, and keep on paying. And it's extraordinary how we can charge them in many, many different levels--
--to witness this. We can also give them some fish which is grown in fish farms where we use the geothermal water to heat up the ocean. And there will be a new one opening. It's not this one, but another one that will open and start producing and slaughtering the fish I think in the beginning of next year. The fish-- they are producing 2,000 tons a year in this one fish farm. It's Senegal sole. Senegal sole, as the name indicates, is a warm water fish. You don't need to be expert to realize that. Otherwise, it wouldn't be called Senegal sole. And this fish farm is close to one of the geothermal power plants.
So they made a deal with the power plant to take the water which before was the fallout water, and simply went into the ground, and take it to the fish farm and heat up the cold Atlantic Ocean, and fool the fish. So the power company, which before got zero income from this water that went down into the ground, can now charge the fish farm for heating the Atlantic Ocean. 2,000 tons a year from this company alone.
Then, of course, we come to the drying of fish products. Like almost every fishing nation in the world, some decades ago, we threw away the heads and the backbones. We just sold the fillets here in the United States and elsewhere. And then, 30, 40 years ago, two fisherman on a boat said to each other, why don't they use the geothermal heat to actually dry this stuff? And then we can export it to Africa. Drying food is mankind's oldest method of preserving food. It takes a long time out in the air. But through the geothermal technology in a very simple way, you can dry it in five days-- five days. And after that process, you put it into this Indian, very primitive, primitive packaging, and you export it to Nigeria, where you can store it in any condition, even in the local streets, for up to two years-- two years with zero infrastructure costs.
And you can do this for meat, vegetable, fruits. I maintain it will be the single most important contribution to food security in the world if we did this on a global scale. Because about 20% of the food produced in the world gets destroyed within a week or 10 days, not because we waste it, but because there is not an enough method to store it. Because the highly advanced Western way of freezing food and selling it in supermarkets in a frozen way is a luxury of the affluent part of mankind. The other billions on planet Earth can't do that. And if they did, it would cause major environmental problem for the rest of us.
So the only way forward is to dry the food. At least, if we want to utilize 20% of what we actually produced, instead of destroying it. In this way, how Iceland has shown bringing what we threw away before in this dried form to Africa. And everybody makes a great deal of money on the way-- the Iceland fishermen, the fishing company, the plant in Iceland, the ship that transports it, the local vendors in Nigeria, the women in the street-- everybody gets a cut of this chain. To me, it's an extraordinary combination of a clean energy economy and a fantastic way to utilize and preserve the food that we produce.
And let's just remember that in this whole debate about destroying the ocean resources, which is one of the critical issues for mankind in this century, the big question is not just to preserve the fish stocks, but to make sure we utilize 99% of the volume of the fish we actually bring ashore. And I can assure you that their soup that they do in Nigeria two years after we dried the cod heads in Iceland tastes fantastic. So there are other ways also.
This is a company established a few years ago on the basis of cutting-edge medical research by deciding to grow protein from pollen in greenhouses and sell it to medical institutions, medical research institutions, which had used animal stuff before. But that was difficult for many different reasons. Which is the first time in history that genetically engineered pollen is produced this way, protein from pollen in this way. And along the way, they found out that as a byproduct, there was this EGF, which if you put it on your skin, it renews your skin. And now, this product is being sold on board Air France, Singapore Airlines, various other companies. And if you had told the people who put the pipes in the mud streets in Iceland that 50 years from that event, they could compete with [INAUDIBLE] on board Air France, nobody would have believed that almost space age kind of contribution. But it is a formidable example of how this clean energy economy also reaches into the cutting-edge medical research of the modern day.
And then, of course, it's the blue lagoon, which I presume most of you know here in this hall, become one of the most famous locations in the world. Basically, it's a spill-off water from a geothermal power plant. And we charge tourists 40 euros.
--which is about $50, to bathe themselves in a spill-off water from a power plant.
And the nature of the water and the chemicals is such that you feel great afterwards. And this year-- what is it? 600,000 or so?
700,000 tourists. Imagine-- 700-- more than twice the population of Iceland-- pay $50 per head to do this. But more remarkably, when National Geographic decided two or three years ago to present 25 most remarkable places on planet Earth, Blue Lagoon was actually one of them. But the other 24 were all created by God Almighty. They were phenomenons of nature. This was a spill-off water created by engineers and some clean energy technicians.
And also, let's not forget the role this has played in our universities, in our science, in our engineering department, in the research, in the engineering companies that make great business, both in Iceland and elsewhere on the basis of the know-how, and the technology, and the experience that they have gathered. This has become one of the great pillars of our research and university community, as well as being one of the biggest part in Iceland's role in the world. We established, together with the United Nations University, a few decades ago, the United Nations Geothermal Training Program in Iceland, where we take young people who are finished their first degrees from Asia, Africa, and other parts of the developing world, and give them a training in geothermal technology in Iceland. And as you can see from this map, my small country has now played the role in all these countries you see on the map, in capacity building and training for their clean energy sector. In China alone and in East Africa, the Icelandic training has been a major part in the transformation that is now taking place in this country. And if Iceland can do that, a small country which, a few decades ago was among the poorest in the world, imagine what the great universities and institutions of the United States could do if you follow the similar path.
This is a group of some of the graduates that came together at the Global World geothermal Congress in Bali. And it was in 2010. And it was a testimony to the global reputation that Iceland has achieved in this field. But just a few weeks ago, we beat every other country, including Germany, in the final voting to host the World Geothermal Congress in Iceland in 2020. A formal recognition by the entire geothermal sector of the leadership that Iceland played in this field. And I remind you again of the people who stood close to the pipes of this mud street in the '40s and how it all begun.
Then let me say a few words about China and Africa. Sinopec, as you might know, is the second largest company in the world, the biggest energy company in China. And following a slow process that started more than 10 years ago, we have now in recent years engaged through Orka Energy, which is an Icelandic company with international participation, and Sinopec in the gradual transformation of Chinese cities, closing down the coal power heating stations and replacing them with locally-based geothermal urban heating systems. And the fascinating thing is that Sinopec has now decided to make this, as you can see on their website, one of their prestige projects, showing the way forward.
And if the leading company in China in this field, the second largest company in the world, has decided to enter into that kind of historic-making transformation in cooperation with us in Iceland, it is also a signal that this transformation makes great economic sense, that the globally market-driven, profit-oriented way forward is indeed the path that China is taking in cooperation with us and is also being executed under the leadership of President Xi, who understood this very early while Vice President and has supported this effort very strongly, both during his period as Vice President of China and especially now during his new presidency.
This is what it looks like inside, as clean as a hospital operation room, replacing the coal-driven power station that was there before. We are doing the similar drilling in the Philippines where the Iceland drilling company has also been operating as well as in other parts of the world. But then Africa, Africa, the poor continent, the great future, where the Rift Valley, the countries in East Africa, have this extraordinary potential of energy transformation. We have trained, through the united geothermal program, many people from this part of the world. But what is most remarkable that one of the new geothermal global companies in Iceland, Reykjavik Geothermal, with support from American investment, has now recently finalized an agreement with the government of Ethiopia to build in Ethiopia the largest geothermal power plant in Africa-- 1,000 megawatts.
And because of the involvement of American capital in this project, my colleague in the White House and his staff have decided to put this project in Ethiopia as exhibit number one of the success of the Obama Power Africa policy, which is fine with us.
We are perfectly happy to share the credit with a great President of this country. But it somehow made me wonder why don't we build 1,000 megawatt plant in the United States as well? Why do we have to go to Ethiopia to join hands in such a great project? This will enable Ethiopia to become a net export of energy to their neighboring countries. Another country in that part of the world in Africa, Djibouti, has a reasonable chance with the right policies and the project to become 100% clean energy. It will be a very important signal to the rest of the world to have, together with Norway and Iceland, a small African country as sharing the number one global spot for a clean energy transformation. But then, of course, I often hear after a talk like this, yes, you can do it in Iceland because you are blessed with this volcanoes, and earthquakes, and you're sitting on these connections between the continental plates.
But in my country, says the questioner, on the [INAUDIBLE], unfortunately, we are not as blessed as you are in Iceland. Well, we all know this picture of the planet Earth, cut like a cheese, which reminds us that the fireball inside planet Earth is, in fact, under every country in the world, every continent in the world, every ocean in the world. And we are only living on a very narrow top of almost like a very small space on top. So it's only a question of drilling, and engineering, and expertise how to get to this heat. Of course, in some countries it's easier than the others. But it has been demonstrated now all over the world that this can be done, giving the twisting, drilling technology, partly thanks to the oil industry, in order to enable us to do it.
And may I draw your attention to the final statement? 0.1% of the stored heat inside our plant would satisfy the global energy consumption for 10,000 years. So even if we just got a small percentage of all of this, it would be a monumental transformation. Inside the United States, as Professor [? Tester ?] whom we are blessed to have here at Cornell has so often pointed out, in his and other experts mapping of the geothermal potential of the United States, you can do this in many parts of the union, both in order to produce electricity, as well as to have space heating and air conditioning. And don't let us forget that that is also a big part of the energy needs of this great country.
So therefore, with the right policies and the [INAUDIBLE], the road is open to the United States to utilize, like we have done, the heat, which is also under the great United States of America. And therefore, to use the example to Iceland as a reference point, almost like a laboratory where you can see many different ways in which these become economically profitable and is also a foundation for a more secure, prosperous, and fundamentally more secure economy.
And that is why, in addition to the sun and the wind, these three basic forces of nature-- the wind, the sun, and the heat under the planet-- are there for us to utilize in many fantastic ways. And we are, my dear friends, just in the early stages of this technological transformation. Because if you believe that all the inventions and the engineering discoveries have already been done, that's not true. This is a fascinating role for young scientists and experts to move forward and thereby discover through this harnessing of the forces of nature, a new prosperous economic future, not only for the country where you live in, but also for the planet.
That is why this meeting two days ago on the Declaration is so important. That's why President Xi and President Obama have come together to show us that indeed you don't have to wait for the international negotiations. There is no longer an excuse if you look simply at the negotiating process. We can, each and every one of us, do it. That is also one of the fundamental lessons of [INAUDIBLE]. You can do it in your house, in your district, in your town. And when we complain about this no action in order to prevent climate change, we should look at ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves, why don't I start in my neighborhood, and in my community? Because the technology and the economic motive is already there.
So as I have illustrated, and could do in greater detail, the story of the relationship between Iceland and China in this field in the last 10 years is an extraordinary example of how one of the smallest nations on the Earth and the largest nation on the Earth far away geographically, culturally, historically, and economically can come together in an effective transformation of a clean energy future. And recently, the Chinese leadership came to us and asked if we could help them to map out building huge greenhouse farms in the northern part of China. So they no longer have to transport the vegetables from the southern part of China, and could do away with the CO2 emissions, and utilize localized, geothermal resources in northern part of China for their own food production.
So it has often made we wonder in the last 10 years, coming often to this country, even appearing in front of the Senate Energy Committee and speaking to many leaders and many different administrators, why we can't have a similar cooperation with the United States. And that's where I think Cornell and all of you can, together with us in Iceland, help to bring the United States also forward on this extraordinary journey. So together, we can realize that we can, through the clean energy economy, both help to save the planet and enter a prosperous, fascinating, and strong economic future. Thank you.
Thank you. Thanks. Thanks.
FRED LOGEVALL: So ladies and gentlemen, we have time for some questions. And we're going to have, as you can see, mics on either side. And so I would ask you to come down. My main request is that you keep your question brief. It'll allow for more discussion, more questions directed to President Grimsson. And the floor, as they say, is open. Yes. Right here, please. Thank you.
SPEAKER 1: Good afternoon. Thank you for your speech. It was wonderful. Here in New York State, we're trying to fight fracking if you-- fracking for gas. And I was wondering. You did not talk about that in your country. And I was wondering if you can speak to that because here, they're promoting it so much. And especially Canada with the tar sands. And I was wondering what you could say about it. Because they're moving very fast with this. And at New York State, we're trying to stop it. And if you had some advice to us as to how to prevent that from happening. And also, if you can just explain again about that cream you were talking about.
PRESIDENT GRIMSSON: The what?
FRED LOGEVALL: The cream.
SPEAKER 1: The cream-- is that genetically engineered? Can you elaborate on that? Thank you.
PRESIDENT GRIMSSON: Well, first on the cream, which is-- let me make a short sales pitch. It's a genetically engineered pollen inside the greenhouses. And of course, there have been some discussion in my country about that. But the scientists and the others who founded the company-- because it came out of our university-- this was not in the beginning of a profit-driven exercise. It was research-driven. They maintain that this greenhouse, which actually stands on a lava wilderness, almost out in the nowhere, with uses the heat from the same resource as the blue lagoon, is completely safe from that point of view. And the elements that goes into the cream simply helps the skin to produce new cells and makes it younger. And I don't know whether it works well in this crowd. But when my wife gave two examples to Martha Stewart, she decided to make a whole program about Iceland.
But on the fracking issue, I have to admit that I've not spent enough time to familiarize myself with the debate of the issue. I know it's highly controversial. I know it's uncertain. I know there are many questions. And my general view is to opt for a safe road ahead. But I don't want to take a stand on this issue in this country, or in Britain, or elsewhere where it's being debated. But I hope there will be an enlightened, scientifically based decision-making process on this effort. Because one thing we have learned in the Artic regions, of which Alaska and the others are part, like Iceland, is that any enlightened policy has to be science-based. And if we lose the science and the policymaking, we enter a very, very dangerous territory.
FRED LOGEVALL: Yes, sir.
SPEAKER 2: In your opinion, at this point is it more important to focus on the technology or the economy side of bringing in more renewable technologies? Basically, putting the question another way, do we currently have sufficient technology to develop a clean energy economy worldwide? Or do you think that we need to develop new technologies?
PRESIDENT GRIMSSON: It's a very good question. Because the technology is already here. So even if there was a complete technological stop, we all enter the technological blockade. There's going to be no more innovation. We could still do it. I sometimes say to the experts in my country, the great engineers and scientists, when I advocate that they should work on urban geothermal heating systems in other countries like China, that scientifically is a very boring field. Because almost everything has been done, in terms of how to create an urban heating system. So the answer is yes, the technology's already here. And it is sometimes a political excuse when people want to get away from facing implementing and formulating policies on the clean energy transformation of their economies to say, we need more innovation. We need more technology. And I think, for example, the last Secretary of Energy in this great country put a lot of money on high-end, technological, scientific innovations in the field of energy. This is fine, of course, so long as it's not an excuse for not doing anything. And the risk of great financial resources for cutting-edge, very sophisticated, technological, almost futuristic scientific [INAUDIBLE] in the field of energy is it becomes an excuse for zero action. We will wait until the great discovery comes along. But that's no longer necessary. We have every technological innovation that is necessary. Of course, don't let us forget there is a scope for a lot more innovation. And as my great friend, [INAUDIBLE], who is here from Iceland, has pointed out, that we are only beginning to discover the material and the stuff which is deep there in the ground, and how we can utilize that in terms of chemistry and the combination.
Yes, of course, it is a fascinating field for science. But that will be an additional bonus for what we already have now.
FRED LOGEVALL: I should've said, by the way, that it's very nice to know the identity, I think, of the questioner. So if you would say who you are. Please come up to the mic here, please. And if you're a student, [INAUDIBLE] your course of study.
SPEAKER 3: I'm not a student. My name's [? Jester. ?] I guess my question is you talked about doing geothermal with China, who does not have, you know, a more developed or entrenched energy infrastructure. And in Africa, it would be the same example. What would you say to the criticism of Iceland's economy being so much smaller than the United States, and the energy infrastructure being so much smaller than the United States, that it's so much harder to change things here than it would be in Iceland, or China, or Africa?
PRESIDENT GRIMSSON: Well, my answer would be primarily to point out that, although population size, Iceland is small, in geographical terms, we are about the size of England. If you take Scotland and Wales away, as some people want to do--
--and you are left simply with England, that's the size of Iceland. So let me take you back to the foundation of the republic 70 years ago. It was a population of 140,000 people in a country the size of England. And they were going to build the power plants, the electricity lines, the roads, the airports, the hospitals, the schools, the bridges, and the harbors. In a country the size of England. And on the face of it, it would be an impossibility. So although it's a smaller population size than the United States, the challenge for such a small population in the foundation of the Republic to build a comprehensive energy structure in a country the size of England to serve every community, every town, every farm, every valley, every fishing community, is monumental, comparatively speaking.
So I don't think you can seek any excuses there by saying, yes, OK. Good for you. In Iceland, you are so small. We are so big. We can't do it. It is, in fact, easier in most parts of the United States, given the concentration of Europe and population, given the concentration of Europe population in towns and communities, and also because you have a political structure where the towns and the states and cities move forward on this basis, irrespective of what Washington does. So this energy transformation is a field where the gridlock in Washington is no longer an excuse, where every state in the union, and every community, and every town, and every city can in fact move forward on the basis of what I have here described. This was not the case perhaps 30 or 40 years ago. But today, the model is already up and running, and it has a track record of profitability with zero subsidies. So I don't buy the argument that this company explained away simply because I come from a small country. Because as I hope I described to you, the odds against Iceland achieving in this way were monumental when we started.
So what would you say then to a governor or a mayor who would be, I think, very sympathetic to you in many cases-- if this audience had been filled with governors and mayors of American cities who would say, this is very inspiring, but it's a very difficult thing for us to pull off? What would be the skeptic's response from here in the United States?
Well, of course, if a political leader wants to be skeptical, there's an endless number of reasons he or she can use--
--in order to justify that skepticism. So if the inclination is to be skeptical, I don't think anything I would say would actually be able to convince people. But I would try to point out to them that competitiveness of Iceland. Let me again remind you, six years ago, we were exhibit number one of a failed State in the financial crisis. Even President Obama used Iceland as an example of a failed situation economically. Now, however, we are example number one of a success in dealing with the financial crisis. So I would start by drawing the attention to answer the question, how is it that Iceland has managed what Spain, and Portugal, and France, and Ireland, and others have not been able to do in six years, to come out of the financial crisis in this way?
And one big part of the explanation lies in the clean energy transformation, which made Rio Tinto decide to bring the first global investment to Iceland. I mean, that's a testimony of the market. That's a testimony of one of the leading companies of this country. Then I would bring in Sinopec and tell them, if you think Sinopec is doing this because they have suddenly decided to become environmental visionaries, that's not the reason. And if Sinopec is doing this on a big scale, maybe the government should also think about it. So here you have Rio Tinto. You have Sinopec, global leaders, one the biggest companies in the world. And if they are doing it, there must be something in it. Then I would point out to them the changing perception of the customers, the citizens, demonstrated as I tried to do in my talk about how a big part of the tourists who have come to Iceland want to witness the clean energy economy.
So going to a power plant, going to a greenhouse, take a bath in the blue lagoon, paying a lot of money in order to do this. And similarly, the reason why the data storage companies are coming to Iceland is a big part of the clients and the customers of those people who want their data stored in Iceland ask about the carbon footprint of storing the data.
So the forces of the market, through the individual decision-making of the customers and the citizens, like, for example, Whole Foods here in the United States. Why is Whole Foods doing good business? Because there is an environmentally aware section of the middle and the upper middle classes who want to have a healthy food, who want to know where the fish and the meat and the fruits and the olive oil, and so on, come from. So there are ample examples that the market is shifting over to products and companies. So if they want their state to be an attractive location for future investment, like Iceland has been, then this is a good way to go forward, whether this would convince them or not, as you mentioned, would [INAUDIBLE]. But if you want to invite me to your next government meeting [INAUDIBLE].
FRED LOGEVALL: I think we will do this. Yes, please identify yourself.
SPEAKER 4: Thank you for coming. My name is [INAUDIBLE], and I'm a junior in economics. My question is, in this rising clean energy market, on one hand because of technology improvement and information externality, latecomers will have a cost advantage. So there will be no incentive for firms to enter the market first. But on the other hand, those incumbent firms would have incentive to produce more than efficient outcome, efficient quantity because of output prices will decrease and technology will improve. So what do you think that government can do to control supply and demand, and also encourage entry? Thank you.
PRESIDENT GRIMSSON: Well, this was a highly sophisticated question.
I'm not sure whether I can give you a sufficient answer.
FRED LOGEVALL: [INAUDIBLE]
Except to illustrate that this evolution-- from being in the beginning just about electricity and space heating into a multitude of companies in different economic sectors, ranging from agriculture, to tourism, to high-end medical products, and so on-- has not been done through our governmental policy. It is done through classical market, capitalistic initiative taken by entrepreneurs and scientists and experts and so on and seeking investors and all this to do so. And from that point of view, the point of entry has been very low.
You can build a small greenhouse and start growing tomatoes almost in your backyard, as many people have done in Iceland. Almost all our entire greenhouse sector is family-based. There's not big companies that run-- almost entirely family-based. And some of those families were the ones who started it 40, 50 years ago in a small way. And in this example are those who sell entry to their tomato greenhouses as a very good example. So I think, interestingly enough, the lesson of the Icelandic model is that the cost of entry for people to make advantage of this clean energy economy on the basis of your innovation or entrepreneurial thinking is relatively low.
But the problem that most of the thinking and the policymaking discussion about energy in all our countries is so preoccupied with big programs, grand solutions, the comprehensive schemes without bringing it down to this entry level that you are actually talking about. So in a way, you could almost say that the role of government is no longer of critical importance. I know that sounds paradoxical. Of course, they can help by passing policies and so on. But Cornell, for example, doesn't have to wait for Washington to utilize the potential you have here in Cornell to transform the energy system in Cornell. And then you can also go to other parts of the United States. So as a response to your analysis, I would say to you, don't make it too complicated. It's actually very simple. People make money by actually doing this.
FRED LOGEVALL: Yes.
SPEAKER 5: Thank you for visiting our school. My name is John, and I study mechanical engineering. My question is actually about agriculture. In the United States, we eat a lot of beef. We eat a lot of animals that have to be grazed and ruminant livestock. I was wondering how Iceland's clean energy economy can help mitigate the impacts of grazing these livestock.
PRESIDENT GRIMSSON: Well, this is a very interesting issue. I listened to [INAUDIBLE], who is the chairman of the developmental [INAUDIBLE] of climate change, give a lecture a few years ago. And he was asked if you had to give just one advice to the world in order to prevent irreversible climate change, what would that advice be. And his answer was stop eating beef. Admittedly, he's an Indian vegetarian.
But there's a lot of truth in that. I mean, there's a lot of truth in that. And I don't know if I'm correct, but I've been told that only 11% of China is land that you can actually graze cattle or for that cattle agriculture. So we have to be very careful of how we use the agricultural resources of our country. In Iceland, however, we are a small population in a big country. We have milk-producing sector. The sheeps-- and they usually feed on the grass of the land without us necessarily going into big-scale farming as you do here. So that problem has not arisen in Iceland. But in this discussion about drying food, in order to create a cooperation on an international project of this time, we have looked into how many countries dry meat as an important part of the diet.
And one of the reasons why, for example, in hot countries you eat the entire animal when you kill it. Simply, there's no way to store the meat. So if you want to enjoy the animal, you have to eat it quickly. Otherwise, the meat gets destroyed. So I think it's very important to bring this whole food security issue into this debate about clean energy, how we use energy, low-scale energy as well as big-scale energy. That is why I have increasingly jointly put together the food security issue and the clean energy economy issue. Because I fundamentally believe that they are an integral part. They are the two sides of the same coin. But unfortunately, up to now, they are dealt with as separate issues.
SPEAKER 5: Thank you.
SPEAKER 6: Hi. I'm a fourth-year architecture student here. And something that we talk a lot about is the embodied energy in materials, and also the use of materials in building construction and their transport. And Iceland is a small nation. And I'm just wondering how you deal with the use of importing materials specific for construction, and how that impacts the carbon footprint of your country. And if there is anything that you guys do, like more homegrown products or if it's more based on international material trade and usage.
PRESIDENT GRIMSSON: Well, like most Western countries, we have, as you saw in the pictures, built modern Iceland mainly by using concrete and other materials, not so much timber, but using iron and concrete. That's why we have built our society this way. And we did it without really being aware of the environmental impact of these materials. But there's an interesting Icelandic scientist who actually works in the innovation center but [INAUDIBLE] also the head of the innovation center with me. Maybe we should let these two great, Icelandic experts stand up so people know who they are. So this man who's a professor of concrete technology has spent a number of years developing what is environmentally friendly concrete, that reduces the CO2 emission extraordinary. You might know that concrete, I'm told, is the market that is produced most in the world. There's no other production material in the world that is produced in such a big way as concrete.
So if you can reduce the carbon footprint of making concrete, it is actually a big contribution. And I have had the privilege of being with him on this journey. I created the cooperation between our company in Abu Dhabi and him, and we did an experiment in Abu Dhabi on this environmentally friendly concrete. And then at the meeting I had two years ago with the then Prime Minister of China, Wen Jiabo. I handed to him over the table a report on this generation. And the end of the story-- well, actually, the story is now led to a formal cooperation between the Icelandic Innovation Center and Professor [INAUDIBLE] and a very big concrete producing company in China, which I'm told produces more concrete every year than France and Germany combined, and creating a special research center, Icelandic-China Concrete Research Center. And to me, this is a fascinating example how scientists, even from a small country, can have a big global impact through their innovation. Because I'll say it again. If somebody had told me some years ago that somebody who specializes in concrete in Iceland would have a big impact on how China produces concrete in the coming years and decades, I would have simply said that that's an impossibility.
But this is the beauty of science. This is the beauty of innovative minds. You can't be anywhere in the world. And we don't have the same financial strength as Cornell has in terms of science and engineering. We are a small country compared to that. But still, we can make a contribution in an area where you have pointed out how do we build cities and towns and houses in the future. And as this professor has proved, there's a lot of scope for improving our building material in an extraordinary way. And you might be like me. But I thought concrete was one of the most mundane things that you could actually talk about, but through that, we could have a big impact on the carbon footprint. I needed some lessons in that. So your point is well taken. We can do a lot more in changing the way we build our cities.
FRED LOGEVALL: We're almost out of time. And here's what I'm going to propose, and I realize that we're not going to get to everybody who has a question. But I'm going to suggest that we have two final questions. One from starting over here, and one here. Keep them brief. We'll give Present Grimsson a chance to respond. And then those of you who won't get a chance, perhaps the President will be able to linger afterwards for a minute or two and answer a question. Yes, please.
SPEAKER 7: Hi. Thank you. My name is [? Katherine ?] [? Merkel, ?] and I'm a master student here studying international development. And I was wondering, what do you see as the major hindrances to building this sort of clean energy system in America? And how can we here, not only as citizens, but also as students and researchers, work to overcome these obstacles in our community and in our country?
SPEAKER 8: Sort of along those lines-- my name's [? Hannah ?] [? George. ?] I'm a third year studying environmental science. And I'm wondering if we need to eliminate subsidies to the oil industry in order to make our economy more fair to renewable energies.
PRESIDENT GRIMSSON: Of course. It's one of those taboo subjects in the world that we don't really exercise market mechanisms to highlight the value of subsidies and privileges, as well as the cost about the carbon industry actually engages in. And in that sense, the market system has been a failure. So will it be possible to change that? I don't really know. You are greater expert than I in the detailed politics of that. I know my good friend or Al Gore has spent a lot of time trying to counteract that here in the United States, without much success looking at the present situation. So we should keep simply going about it. There should be some research about it. It should be highlighted. I should be proposed.
And as I often point out, for the last 20 years or so, there has not been any single evidence of subsidies in our country for this energy transformation. There were some a few decades ago, but not in this century, not in the last decade or the previous decade. So that is an important example that renewables don't need subsidies in order to exercise in this transformation. That is a very important statement because the notion is prevailing in many quarters that the oil business is profit and market-driven, and renewable is a subsidized area.
What can you do in the United States? As I hope I have illustrated here today, there's a multitude of things that you can do. And you cannot just look at Iceland. You can take Denmark. Let's talk one minute about Denmark. Denmark is, as you know, a very small country in Europe, almost a kind of appendix close to Germany, with hardly any natural resources whatsoever, except the brainpower of the people. But like many countries, they have a lot of wind. So 20 years ago or so, they started to put their engineering and their entrepreneurial skills into developing companies that specialized in building wind turbines and wind energy. And this has made Denmark paradoxically a powerful player in the energy sector. Denmark. [INAUDIBLE], yes, because we look at them and we know [INAUDIBLE]. But Denmark had nothing.
Seriously, nothing. So to some extent, Denmark is perhaps a more fascinating case than Iceland. Because you can try to explain away-- because we have the waterfalls. We have the glaciers that melt. We have the rivers. We have the volcanoes. We have the hot springs and so on, and so on. Denmark had zero except wind. But they are a major player in the global energy market. But when you talk about the Nordic profile of energy, yes, you have Norway. You have Sweden with biofuel for cars and the various other things. You have Iceland, of course, in geothermal [INAUDIBLE]. But then you have Denmark and wind. And it's one of the most fascinating examples of how science, engineering, entrepreneurial drive has enabled the country to become a major player in the global market from nothing. And I've been privileged to work with Abu Dhabi in the World Future Energy Summit and the Zayed Future Energy Prize, which is given to achievements in the clean energy field, paradoxically come from Abu Dhabi, but that is why they are going forward. Because they realize in 60 years' time, their oil will actually run out.
But that is another reason why your governors should be convinced if Abu Dhabi is aggressively doing this, there must be something in it as well. And we decided to give the top prize to the Danish wind company a few years ago. So they have won international recognition in this way. And I think that is, like some of the examples I gave here from Iceland, a very interesting case of how engineers, scientists, universities, research institutions can become the growing field of what later becomes, within a reasonably short time, powerful players in the global market, as well as having a transformative impact on the energy problem of the world.
And what I find particularly hopeful-- that's why I put this picture twice of Obama and President [INAUDIBLE]-- let me make clear. I don't go around the world usually showing pictures of presidents from other countries--
--that it is almost a water shift in history as I see it. Because they have put their prestige on the line. This came very unexpectedly to most of the world. And it signals that there is now a new way of doing things in this field. About that is why the question you asked, what can we do, in my opinion, has been opened and raised in a completely new way within this country. Because I have been engaging in this debate in the United States for almost 20 years now. If the picture had been presented just a few years ago that the president of China could become the partner of the president of the United States in this effort, everybody would have said this was an impossibility. So part of my message here today, as you have heard again and again, when I give you examples of people who have said a few years ago this was an impossibility, is that the fascinating part of this journey is the things that were thought impossible have not only become possible, but also profitable, in a very short time.
So that is why I find this challenge not so overwhelming. That's why I still speak about it and travel to places like Cornell. Because I fundamentally believe we can transform this situation. I don't think it's a hopeless fight. Admittedly, we don't have many years, 20 or 30 years. But in the light of what has been achieved in the last 10 or 20 years, I fundamentally believe that together, each and every one of us can have a fundamental impact of making sure that the planet I showed you in the beginning will still be the planet we inherited centuries from now.
FRED LOGEVALL: I think that's a very, very powerful point at which to end this discussion, even if, as a Swede, it pains me to acknowledge that Denmark is a world leader in anything.
But I think in all seriousness, the takeaway for me is what President Grimsson has just said. What I take away from this lecture is the phrase, "if somebody had said at such and such a point that this could happen, it would have been perceived as impossible." And we've heard it at least, I think, five or six times, and with growing power each time. And that's for me the takeaway.
We have a very small token of appreciation to President Grimsson for being with us, for speaking with us with such power here today. And it's an honor for me to present this gift.
PRESIDENT GRIMSSON: Well, thank you very much.
FRED LOGEVALL: --to you from us.
PRESIDENT GRIMSSON: I presume it's a book.
FRED LOGEVALL: Well, you're not supposed to say that.
But you're a smart fellow. You have a PhD. You know what you're holding.
PRESIDENT GRIMSSON: Well, thank you very much for that. Thank you for inviting me to come here and talk about this subject. And I hope that Cornell and Iceland can continue this cooperation and partnership in the years to come. And we can look back on our dialogue as the beginning of a new kind of partnership between this great university and my country. Thank you very much.
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The President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, spoke at Cornell Nov. 21 as part of the Einaudi Center's Foreign Policy Distinguished Speaker Series, which features prominent leaders in international affairs who can address topical issues from a variety of perspectives.
President Grímsson became Iceland's fifth president in 1996. In 2013 he announced the formation of the Arctic Circle, an organization designed for the facilitation of dialogue among political and business leaders, environmental experts, scientists, indigenous representatives, and other international stakeholders to address issues facing the Arctic as a result of climate change and melting sea ice.
The event was organized in collaboration with the Cornell Energy Institute and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.