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The most common tree native to Iceland is the northern birch Betula pubescens , which formerly formed forests over much of Iceland, along with aspens Populus tremula , rowans Sorbus aucuparia , common junipers Juniperus communis , and other smaller trees, mainly willows. The forests were heavily exploited over the centuries for firewood and timber. Today, many farms have been abandoned. The planting of new forests has increased the number of trees, but the result does not compare to the original forests.

Some of the planted forests include introduced species. The only native land mammal when humans arrived was the Arctic fox , [81] which came to the island at the end of the ice age, walking over the frozen sea.

Why Iceland?: How One of the World's Smallest Countries Became the Meltdown's Biggest Casualty

On rare occasions, bats have been carried to the island with the winds, but they are not able to breed there. Polar bears occasionally come over from Greenland , but they are just visitors, and no Icelandic populations exist. The animals of Iceland include the Icelandic sheep , cattle , chickens , goats , the sturdy Icelandic horse , and the Icelandic Sheepdog , all descendants of animals imported by Europeans. Wild mammals include the Arctic fox, mink , mice, rats, rabbits, and reindeer.

Polar bears occasionally visit the island, travelling on icebergs from Greenland.

In June , two polar bears arrived in the same month. Many species of fish live in the ocean waters surrounding Iceland, and the fishing industry is a major part of Iceland's economy, accounting for roughly half of the country's total exports. Birds, especially seabirds, are an important part of Iceland's animal life. Puffins , skuas , and kittiwakes nest on its sea cliffs. Commercial whaling is practised intermittently [87] [88] along with scientific whale hunts.

Around 1, species of insects are known in Iceland. This is low compared with other countries over one million species have been described worldwide. Iceland is essentially free of mosquitoes.


Iceland has a left—right multi-party system. Iceland was the first country in the world to have a political party formed and led entirely by women. In Iceland was ranked 2nd in the strength of its democratic institutions [96] and 13th in government transparency. Iceland is a representative democracy and a parliamentary republic. It was widely seen as a re-establishment of the assembly founded in in the Commonwealth period and yet temporarily suspended from to Consequently, "it is arguably the world's oldest parliamentary democracy.

The head of government is the prime minister who, together with the cabinet , is responsible for executive government.


The president, in contrast, is elected by popular vote for a term of four years with no term limit. The elections for president, the Althing, and local municipal councils are all held separately every four years. The cabinet is appointed by the president after a general election to the Althing; however, the appointment is usually negotiated by the leaders of the political parties, who decide among themselves after discussions which parties can form the cabinet and how to distribute its seats, under the condition that it has a majority support in the Althing.

Only when the party leaders are unable to reach a conclusion by themselves within a reasonable time span does the president exercise this power and appoint the cabinet personally. The regent had, for all practical purposes, the position of a president, and Sveinn would later become the country's first president in The governments of Iceland have always been coalition governments, with two or more parties involved, as no single political party has ever received a majority of seats in the Althing throughout the republican period. The extent of the political power possessed by the office of the president is disputed by legal scholars [ which?

She retired from office in Iceland is divided into regions, constituencies and municipalities. The eight regions are primarily used for statistical purposes. District court jurisdictions also use an older version of this division. The imbalance between districts has been reduced by the new system, but still exists. Constituencies of Iceland. Municipalities of Iceland. Historically, due to cultural, economic and linguistic similarities, Iceland is a Nordic country , and it participates in intergovernmental cooperation through the Nordic Council.

It was not a member of the EU, but in July the Icelandic parliament, the Althing, voted in favour of application for EU membership [] and officially applied on 17 July Iceland has no standing army , but the Icelandic Coast Guard which also maintains the Iceland Air Defence System , and an Iceland Crisis Response Unit to support peacekeeping missions and perform paramilitary functions.

Air Force maintained four to six interceptor aircraft at the Naval Air Station Keflavik , until they were withdrawn on 30 September Despite the ongoing financial crisis the first new patrol ship in decades was launched on 29 April Iceland's principal historical international disputes involved disagreements over fishing rights.

According to the Global Peace Index , Iceland is the most peaceful country in the world, due to its lack of armed forces, low crime rate, and high level of socio-political stability. About 85 percent of total primary energy supply in Iceland is derived from domestically produced renewable energy sources. Whaling in Iceland has been historically significant. Until the 20th century, Iceland was a fairly poor country. Currently, it remains one of the most developed countries in the world. Nevertheless, according to the Economist Intelligence Index of , Iceland has the 2nd highest quality of life in the world.

Many political parties remain opposed to EU membership, primarily due to Icelanders' concern about losing control over their natural resources particularly fisheries. Iceland is the only country in the world to have a population under two million yet still have a floating exchange rate and an independent monetary policy.

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On average, Iceland receives around 1. Iceland is ranked 27th in the Index of Economic Freedom , lower than in prior years but still among the freest in the world. Employment regulations are relatively flexible and the labour market is one of the freest in the world. Property rights are strong and Iceland is one of the few countries where they are applied to fishery management.

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Despite low tax rates, agricultural assistance is the highest among OECD countries and a potential impediment to structural change. Also, health care and education spending have relatively poor returns by OECD measures, though improvements have been made in both areas.

Iceland had been hit especially hard by the Great Recession that began in December , because of the failure of its banking system and a subsequent economic crisis. The Financial Supervisory Authority of Iceland used permission granted by the emergency legislation to take over the domestic operations of the three largest banks. Instead, new banks were established to take on the domestic operations of the banks, and the old banks will be run into bankruptcy.

On 26 January , the coalition government collapsed due to the public dissent over the handling of the financial crisis. Thousands of Icelanders have moved from the country after the collapse, and many of those moved to Norway. In , people moved from Iceland to Norway; in , the figure was 1, Iceland has a high level of car ownership per capita; with a car for every 1. A great number of roads remain unpaved, mostly little-used rural roads. It serves several international and domestic airline companies.

RKV serves general aviation traffic and has daily- or regular domestic flights to 12 local townships within Iceland. There are a total of registered airports and airfields in Iceland; most of them are unpaved and located in rural areas. Six main ferry services provide regular access to various outpost communities or shorten travel distances. It is also one of a few countries currently capable of producing hydrogen in adequate quantities at a reasonable cost, because of Iceland's plentiful renewable sources of energy.

Despite this, Icelanders emitted On 22 January , Iceland announced its first round of offshore licences for companies wanting to conduct hydrocarbon exploration and production in a region northeast of Iceland, known as the Dreki area. As of [update] , the government of Iceland was in talks with the government of the United Kingdom about the possibility of constructing Icelink , a high-voltage direct-current connector for transmission of electricity between the two countries.

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The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture is responsible for the policies and methods that schools must use, and they issue the National Curriculum Guidelines. However, playschools, primary schools, and lower secondary schools are funded and administered by the municipalities.

The government does allow citizens to home educate their children, however under a very strict set of demands. The current legislation concerning playschools was passed in They are also responsible for ensuring that the curriculum is suitable so as to make the transition into compulsory education as easy as possible. The school year lasts nine months, beginning between 21 August and 1 September, ending between 31 May and 10 June.

The minimum number of school days was once , but after a new teachers' wage contract, it increased to Lessons take place five days a week. All public schools have mandatory education in Christianity, although an exemption may be considered by the Minister of Education. These schools are also known as gymnasia in English.

Though not compulsory, everyone who has had a compulsory education has the right to upper secondary education. This stage of education is governed by the Upper Secondary School Act of All schools in Iceland are mixed sex schools. According to a Eurostat report by the European Commission , Iceland spends around 3. The original population of Iceland was of Nordic and Gaelic origin.

This is evident from literary evidence dating from the settlement period as well as from later scientific studies such as blood type and genetic analyses. One such genetic study indicated that the majority of the male settlers were of Nordic origin while the majority of the women were of Gaelic origin, meaning many settlers of Iceland were Norsemen who brought Gaelic slaves with them. Iceland has extensive genealogical records dating back to the late 17th century and fragmentary records extending back to the Age of Settlement. The biopharmaceutical company deCODE genetics has funded the creation of a genealogy database that is intended to cover all of Iceland's known inhabitants.

The population of the island is believed to have varied from 40, to 60, in the period ranging from initial settlement until the midth century. During that time, cold winters, ash fall from volcanic eruptions, and bubonic plagues adversely affected the population several times. After the destructive volcanic eruptions of the Laki volcano during —, the population reached a low of about 40, With a fertility rate of 2.

Why Iceland?: How One of the World's Smallest Countries Became the Meltdown's Biggest Casualty

In December , 33, people Polish people make up the largest minority group by a considerable margin, and still form the bulk of the foreign workforce. Many Polish immigrants were also considering leaving in as a result of the Icelandic financial crisis. The southwest corner of Iceland is the most densely populated region. Some Icelanders under the leadership of Erik the Red settled Greenland in the late 10th century. Emigration of Icelanders to the United States and Canada began in the s.

As of [update] , Canada had over 88, people of Icelandic descent, [] while there are more than 40, Americans of Icelandic descent, according to the US census. Iceland's official written and spoken language is Icelandic , a North Germanic language descended from Old Norse. In grammar and vocabulary, it has changed less from Old Norse than the other Nordic languages; Icelandic has preserved more verb and noun inflection , and has to a considerable extent developed new vocabulary based on native roots rather than borrowings from other languages.

The puristic tendency in the development of Icelandic vocabulary is to a large degree a result of conscious language planning, in addition to centuries of isolation. The closest living relative of the Icelandic language is Faroese. Icelandic Sign Language was officially recognised as a minority language in In education, its use for Iceland's deaf community is regulated by the National Curriculum Guide. English and Danish are compulsory subjects in the school curriculum.