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Green Alchemy

Is Björk, the elfin Icelandic pop star, positioning herself as the Bono of environmentalism? Arguing that her native country needs to devote itself to eco-friendly industry, she recently spoke at a (serious) climate conference in Brussels. Her less famous fellow panelists included the former Prime Minister of Norway and the erstwhile president of Ireland. All were advocating something called “climate justice.” (Bring the rain down to Africa? Reunite Gondwanaland?)

One of Björk’s biggest concerns is that aluminum production is replacing fishing as one of Iceland’s main employers. She especially opposes building new geo-thermal-powered aluminum smelting plants, because doing so

would damage pristine wilderness, hot springs and lava fields . . . To take this much energy from geothermal fields is not even sustainable as it might cool down the fields in only two decades.

If you’re not permitted to make productive use of a lava field, where else are you supposed to build? Would Björk oppose a glass factory being built in the Sahara, since it would despoil the virgin desert?

Incidentally, seeing this innovative musician oppose metal production is an amusing, er, irony for popular music fans. But for the steel factories of Birmingham, England, the history of heavy metal—music typified by a massive, ponderous sound—might have been drastically different. One of the most formative and influential bands of the genre, Black Sabbath, started in that leaden town, and their distinctive sound originated out of an industrial accident at one of its many steel mills. While working at his day job at a sheet metal factory, lead guitarist Tommy Iommi had the tips of two fingers cut off from his left hand. In order to keep playing the guitar comfortably, he reduced the tension of the strings, de-tuning the instrument downward from E to C#—thereby giving birth to the fat, ominous sound that became their trademark. (Such de-tuning is now common practice in heavy metal.) Having emerged stronger despite the permanent wound, Iommi would later compose that anthem to ferric hardness, “Iron Man.”



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