Iceland Taught Kids How to Get High Naturally — and Teenage Substance Abuse Plummeted


While drug use among teens in the U.S. has dropped between 2002 and 2013, nearly 25 million youth aged 12 and older still use illicit drugs. Marijuana is the most common drug of choice, where in 2013 alone, 7.5 percent of young Americans over the age of twelve (almost 20 million) have used marijuana, a jump of about 6 percent from 2007. Abuse of other drugs — including cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens and prescription painkillers — remained unchanged from 2012 to 2013.

Iceland Taught Kids How to Get High Naturally

When we look at where America stands overall as far as substance abuse, for both teens and adults, the picture is bleak. “U.S. Lead the World in Illegal Drug Use” shouts CBS News, “North America Has A Massive Meth Problem” declares Business Insider. And BBC News ominously reports on “The horrific toll of America’s heroin ‘epidemic.’”

According to a World Health Organization survey of 17 countries, the U.S. topped the list for illicit drug use, where Americans were four times more likely to report using cocaine in their lifetime than the next closest country, New Zealand (16% vs. 4%). Use of marijuana in the U.S. was also the highest in the world at 42.4%, compared to 41.9% in New Zealand.

Years ago, I was researching the need for nutritionists in California drug rehab centers. Shocked by the sheer number of such facilities, I quickly realized there’s a dark underbelly of drug addiction in America, one most of us aren’t aware of — until we have personal experience with a friend or family member with a drug problem, or we’re a victim of a drug-fueled crime.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction to tobacco, alcohol, prescription opioids and illicit drugs cost U.S. taxpayers over 740 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work productivity and health care. Although a good chunk of money is thrown at the problem — from prevention programs to rehabilitation — substance abuse in the U.S. is still spiraling out of control.

Some blame our crumbling social structures like families, others point a finger at affluence (or the opposite, poverty) — and all would be right. But the question is: what to do about it?

Many nations around the world are turning to Iceland for answers, where a unique program focused on prevention is yielding outstanding results.

The “Cleanest-Living Teens” in Europe

In the 1990s, Iceland was seeing a sharp increase in drug and alcohol abuse among the country’s teenagers. Needless to say, officials and parents were worried.

You couldn’t walk the streets in downtown Reykjavik on a Friday night because it felt unsafe,” said Harvey Milkman, a Reykjavik University psychology professor. “There were hordes of teenagers getting in-your-face drunk.”

And yet today, Iceland tops the European table for the cleanest-living teens.

“The percentage of 15- and 16-year-olds who had been drunk in the previous month plummeted from 42 percent in 1998 to 5 percent in 2016. The percentage who have ever used marijuana is down from 17 percent to 7 percent. Those smoking cigarettes every day fell from 23 percent to just 3 percent.” [source]

How did Iceland manage such a complete reversal of drug use?

“The way the country has achieved this turnaround has been both radical and evidence-based, but it has relied a lot on what might be termed enforced common sense,” writes Emma Young for Mosaic Science.

Laws were changed. The purchase of tobacco under the age of 18, and alcohol under the age of twenty, was now illegal.

A curfew was put in place, prohibiting youth between the ages of 13 and 16 from being outside after 10 PM in winter, midnight during summer.

But the biggest reason for the sharp downward turn of substance abuse was due to increased family time and more emphasis on extracurricular activities.

“Parents were encouraged to attend talks on the importance of spending a quantity of time with their children rather than occasional ‘quality time’, on talking to their kids about their lives, on knowing who their kids were friends with, and on keeping their children home in the evenings.” [source]

State funding also increased to support sport and art programs, as well as other clubs. In Reykjavik, families are given a Leisure Card, worth 35,000 krona ($3,902 US), for each child to be used for recreational activities.

Interestingly, Young reports that after the changes were implemented, “the percentage of kids aged 15 and 16 who reported often or almost always spending time with their parents on weekdays doubled – from 23 percent to 46 percent – and the percentage who participated in organized sports at least four times a week increased from 24 percent to 42 percent. Meanwhile, cigarette smoking, drinking and cannabis use in this age group plummeted.

Milkman, whose research was foundational for the development of the Icelandic program, believes people are on the threshold for abuse “before they even took the drug, because it was their style of coping [with stress] that they were abusing.”

Kids who are “active confronters” of stress are after a rush — whether it be stealing or through stimulant drugs, while sedative drugs like heroin and alcohol are appealing to those who want to numb anxiety.

His idea sparked another: “Why not orchestrate a social movement around natural highs: around people getting high on their own brain chemistry – because it seems obvious to me that people want to change their consciousness – without the deleterious effects of drugs?

So, with a $1.2 million government grant, Milkman and his team developed a program called Project Self-Discovery in Colorado, U.S. that offered a range of different classes for at-risk kids — music, dance, hip hop, art, martial arts — which would trigger alterations in brain chemistry to give them a natural high, whether it was a reduction in anxiety or a rush. The kids also received life-skill training to help improve thoughts about themselves and others.

After the success of Project Discovery was established, Milkman was invited to Iceland in 1991 to talk about his work, and later became a consultant for a residential drug treatment centre for adolescents in Tindar, Iceland. “It was designed around the idea of giving kids better things to do,” he said. By 1999, the nationwide program was established and teens were on there way to finding a natural and healthy high without the use of drugs.

Would this approach work in the U.S.? Milkman says it all depends on the resources of individual communities, because it would be difficult to implement on a federal level. But when we consider the annual price tag of substance abuse in this country, how can we afford not to?

Likewise, Emma Young asks: “In Iceland … the process, brought families closer and helped kids to become healthier in all kinds of ways. Will no other country decide these benefits are worth the costs?”

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Why Iceland celebrates the coolest Christmas tradition in the world


The Christmas gift-giving season can be a stressful time—and I’m not just talking about battling store crowds or worrying that the world has come to an end as you find yourself stuck in an airport experiencing a massive power outage at the height of the holiday travel season.

Photo%20by%20freestocks.org%20on%20Unsplash

Choosing gifts that you think your friends and loved ones will enjoy, appreciate, and, importantly, actually use is a delicate task that can test your patience and sanity. So much time, money, and emotional energy is poured into buying stuff that often goes unused, is passed on to someone else, or just gets discarded.

The folks in Iceland, by contrast, observe a very different gift-giving tradition. Rather than obsess over exchanging electronic gadgets, DNA testing kits, and Keurig Coffee Makers, they give each other more entertaining, and also more intellectually and emotionally enriching items: Books.

Icelanders’ love of books has earned them a global reputation as being a country of bookaholics. A study conducted by Bifröst University in 2013 found that half the country’s population read at least eight books a year. In 2009, Icelanders borrowed 1.2 million books from the Reykjavík City Library—in a city of only 200,000 people. There’s even a popular TV show devoted entirely to books.

Iceland has developed a vibrant publishing industry to help feed its citizens’ hunger for books. With just over 330,000 inhabitants, the total number of books published each year in Iceland is far smaller than most other nations. But on a per capita basis, Iceland publishes more books than any other country in the world, with five titles published for every 1,000 Icelanders, according to NPR.

Icelanders’ devotion to reading is most evident in a remarkable tradition they observe: Between September and November, publishers launch a book publishing tsunami known as the Jolabokaflod, which in English translates roughly into the “Christmas Book Flood.” The annual Flood kicks-off with the printing of the Bokatidindi, a catalog of new publications distributed free to every Icelandic home, courtesy of the Iceland Publishers Association (of course).

On Christmas eve, Icelanders exchange books as gifts and then spend the night reading them, often while drinking hot chocolate or alcohol-free Christmas ale called jólabland. “The culture of giving books as presents is very deeply rooted in how families perceive Christmas as a holiday,” Kristjan B. Jonasson, president of the Iceland Publishers Association, told NPR.

The Book Flood tradition, according to The Reykjavik Grapevine’s Hildur Knutsdottir, dates to World War II, when strict currency restrictions limited imports of most gift-making materials and products—with the exception of paper. “The restrictions on imported paper were more lenient than on other products, so the book emerged as the Christmas present of choice. And Icelanders have honored the tradition ever since,” Knutsdottir writes.

Contrast this beautiful tradition with the annual mania generated by the physical and virtual shopping events known as “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” in the US, and “Singles’ Day” in China. These nationwide festivals of consumerism are, in my opinion, sadly casting more people into deeper levels of debt, and expanding the stock of waste clogging the world’s closets and landfills.

Shouldn’t we learn from our brothers and sisters in Iceland and inaugurate our own Christmas Book Flood? Christopher Norris, a media and publishing executive and social entrepreneur, is trying to do just that. In November 2015, he launched the Jolabokaflod Book Campaign, a social movement that is trying to spark a similar passion for exchanging books during the holiday season.

The mission statement on the campaign’s website explains the purpose and philosophy of the movement: “We believe that reading books is a life-enhancing activity, made even more special by the memories associated with receiving gifts of books from loved ones. We further believe that well-read communities are closer-knit groups, so the buying and reading of books helps to improve social cohesion and celebrate cultural diversity through the sharing of stories and information…Essentially, we want to inspire people to discover — and rediscover — a love of reading for pleasure.”

In this age of one-click shopping and next-day delivery of stuff that often has little enduring value or purpose, that adds to consumers’ financial burdens, and which pollutes the environment, the idea of a worldwide Jolabokaflod movement is immensely appealing.

What do you think? Is a worldwide Jolabokaflod movement possible? How would you get one started in your community? Share your thoughts in the comments.

A Rare Natural Phenomenon Has Left Eerie Zig-Zag Patterns on a Frozen Lake in Iceland


Bizarre pictures have been coming out of Iceland’s Thingvellir National Park, where other-worldly zig-zag patterns have appeared on the frozen surface of Lake Thingvallavatn.

According to local reports, the pattern stretches for 2 km (1.2 miles) along the ice, and park officials say they’ve never seen anything like this before.

 “On March 9, someone noted a strange-looking pattern on the ice sheet that locals had not seen before,” Park official Einar AE Saemundsen told the media.

“The linear and perpendicular pattern stretched more than 2 km out into the lake. The lines did not form in same area as other known cracks in the ice.”

“Speculations started, and there was no shortage of alternative explanations from alien activity and unknown monsters in the lake to strange conspiracy theories,” he added.

Of course everyone’s first instinct is to blame aliens, but we actually have a perfectly logical explanation for this bizarre natural phenomenon – finger rafting, which has been previously recorded in parts of the Arctic and Antarctica.

ice-2Einar AE Saemundsen/Thingvellir National Park

ice-1Einar AE Saemundsen/Thingvellir National Park

When you imagine floating ice sheets moving towards each other to eventually meet, conventional wisdom states that they’ll either ride over or under each other, like Earth’s tectonic plates, or crash into each other and form a line of rubble, like massive ice floes do in Antarctica.

But neither explanation could account for these strange, zig-zag patterns in moving ice sheets that have bewildered scientists for more than half a century.

These natural patterns look like metre-wide, rectangular zigzags, and have only ever been recorded in ice sheets less than about 10 centimetres thick.

“Both sheets … must have the same thickness – which can happen when a single ice sheet breaks up and fragments of it later collide,” Jonathan Sherwood explains on the American Physical Society website.

“Since the pattern wasn’t noticed anywhere else in nature, most physicists simply chalked it up to some peculiarity in the properties of ice.”

That was until John Wettlaufer, professor of geology and geophysics at Yale University, came along.

In a 2007 study led by Wettlaufer, researchers identified a third option for ice sheet collision – sometimes, these ice sheets form a series of interlocking blocks that alternately ride over and under one another.

Called finger rafting, the phenomenon recalls how your own fingers interlock if you push your two hands into one another:

finger0raftAntarctica

“A surprising pattern, much like the meshed teeth of a zipper, is frequently seen when floating ice sheets collide,” Wettlaufer explained at the time.

The Yale team figured this out by setting up experiments that recreate the movements of large ice sheets floating on water to see how this phenomenon would play out.

“Using thin sheets of sealing wax floating on water, we observed finger rafting simply by pushing two sheets in contact along their long edge,” the team explains in paper published in Physical Review Letters.

“The [experimental] fingers have the strong rectilinear features reported of finger rafting ice, and also exhibit a characteristic finger width.”

The researchers suspect that because ice – or something else like floating sealing wax – often has naturally ragged edges, when two such sheets make contact, the uneven edges can either move under or over the other.

“Because the floating sheets are slightly flexible, each responds by developing a series of ripples or corrugations spreading out from the initial point of disturbance,” Sherwood reports for the American Physical Society.

“It’s something like what happens as you haul yourself onto a wide air mattress in a swimming pool: the sections next to you rise up as you pull down, and sections beyond them slump down again.”

Experts are in agreement that the same phenomenon is what’s occurring in Iceland, but that doesn’t make it any less remarkable for the locals.

“Scientific explanations came from experts that recognised this as a very rare phenomenon called finger rafting,” Saemundsen said in a recent public statement.

“But it is not known to have ever been seen before at Lake Thingvallavatn.”

Iceland is drilling the hottest hole in the world to get electricity from magma.


It’s time to go deep.

A new project in Iceland is drilling down into the molten magma that flows through volcanoes, in the hopes of establishing a powerful new sustainable energy source.

The initiative involves drilling a 5-km (3.1-mile) deep hole in the south-west corner of Iceland, which by the end of this year is predicted to become world’s hottest hole, hitting temperatures anywhere between 400 and 1,000 degrees Celsius, Fred Pearce reports for New Scientist.

That’s enough to generate supercritical steam that experts estimate could generate up to 50 megawatts of electricity – making it 10 times more efficient than traditional geothermal wells.

Geothermal energy has been around for decades, and involves drilling into the natural heat stored inside Earth to power turbines and generate electricity.

Particularly in Iceland, which is famous for its geologically active hot springs, more than a quarter of the country is powered by geothermal energy wells, which tap into hot rocks below Earth’s surface. (The rest of the country’s electricity needs are powered by hydroelectric plants.)

But there are limitations to how efficient geothermal can be, so the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP) is taking things up a notch, by attempting to bypass rocks altogether and drill into the source of Earth’s heat – the magma oozing into volcanoes.

The idea for the new project actually came from a mistake back in 2009, when the IDDP accidentally drilled into a magma reservoir about 2 kilometres (1.25 miles) below the surface, while trying to construct a traditional geothermal well.

As an experiment, they poured water down the hole to see how much energy it could generate, and they ended up creating the most powerful geothermal well ever, producing some 30 megawatts of power.

The project was short-lived, seeing as it was only ever set up as an experiment, but the team is hoping this new attempt will be more sustainable.

The drilling of the new hole began on August 12 in the geologically active Reykjanes region of Iceland. The researchers are hoping to reach the Mid-Atlantic Ridge – a major boundary between Earth’s tectonic plates – where magma heats seawater to temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius.

“People have drilled into hard rock at this depth, but never before into a fluid system like this,” one of the team, Albert Albertsson, assistant director of an Icelandic geothermal-energy company called HS Orka, told New Scientist.

Not only would the water down there be super hot, it’s also under a lot of pressure (200 times atmospheric levels), which the team expects will generate ‘supercritical steam’ – a state of matter that’s neither liquid nor gas, and holds way more heat energy than either.

That type of steam could have an energy capacity of up to 50 megawatts – around 10 times more than the 5 megawatts capacity of a typical geothermal well.

To put that into perspective, that means 50,000 homes could be powered, versus 5,000 from just one geothermal well.

“If they can get supercritical steam in deep boreholes, that will make an order of magnitude difference to the amount of geothermal energy the wells can produce,” Arnar Guðmundsson from Invest in Iceland, a government agency that promotes energy development, told New Scientist.

But before you get too excited, for now, this is all purely theoretical – we need to actually get the new well up and running first. The hole should be drilled by the end of the year, and in the months that follow, we’ll get an idea of how much electricity such a set-up can generate.

If it works, it will be exciting for other regions around the world that have their own bevy of young volcanoes, such as Japan and California.

And, with Earth continually getting hotter, we’re in desperate need of more powerful alternatives to fossil fuels, so we’ll be watching the results closely.

Climate change breakthrough as Iceland turns carbon dioxide into stone


A radical breakthrough in tackling climate change has been made after scientists found a rapid way to turn heat-trapping carbon-dioxide into rock.

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The exclusive two year project, called CarbFix, pumped a carbon dioxide and water mix 540m underground into basalt rock at the Hellisheidi geothermal power plant in Iceland.

The acidic mixture dissolved the rocks’ calcium magnesium and formed limestone, permanently and naturally trapping the gas, according to Juerg Matter of the University of Southampton and the lead author of  a study detailing the experiment.

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Pilot injection site at the Hellisheidi geothermal power plant in Iceland (AP)

The results, published on Thursday in the journal Science, are hoped to offer new hope for an effective weapon to help fight man-made global warming.

“It’s no longer a gas,” Dr Matter said. “Basically carbon dioxide is converted into stone.”

 Even more surprisingly, after only two years scientists found 95 per cent of the gas was captured and converted, far quicker than initial predictions, which suggested the carbon capture and storage (CCS) process could take thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years.

“It’s what we hoped for … and in some ways better,” said David Goldberg, a Columbia University geophysicist who praised the experiment. “What’s going on here is a natural process being accelerated.”

The process can be expensive, with the CarbFix experiment costing $10 million, while storing the gas once it has been snatched from the air is another issue. It can be stored underground and is sometimes injected in depleted oil wells, but concerns have been raised about monitoring it and preventing it from escaping.

Injecting it into basalt, which is a plentiful resource around the world, and letting nature take its course can solve the problem, said Dr Matter.

Even more promising is the ocean floor, which is full of basalt and a good place to store the carbon dioxide, said Dr Goldberg.

“Carbon capture is not the silver bullet, but it can contribute significantly to reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” said Dr Matter.

Dr Matter told the Guardian, the only issue holding back CCS was a lack of action from politicians: “The engineering and technology of CCS is ready to be deployed. So why do we not see hundreds of these projects? There is no incentive to do it.”

The Iceland project has been increased in scale and is set to store 10,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.

Testing has also taken place in the Columbia River Basalts – an extensive area of the rock in Washington and Oregon.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said CCS is massively important in tackling climate change, while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the cost of halting global warming would double in the absence of CCS.

Researchers find carbon reactions with basalt can form carbonate minerals faster than thought.


A pair of researchers, one with the Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland, the other with University College in London, has found that mixing carbon dioxide with water and pumping it into underground basalt formations in Iceland has resulted in 80 percent of the carbon being sequestered into carbonate materials within one year’s time. In their paper published in the journal Science, Sigurdur Gislason and Eric Oelkers suggest their method of carbon sequestering may prove a feasible approach to carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Researchers find carbon reactions with basalt can form carbonate minerals faster than thought
As the planet continues to warm due to greenhouse gases (mainly CO2) captured in the atmosphere, scientists focus on two main approaches to solving the problem: stopping (or at least slowing) the addition of new gasses into the atmosphere, or devising techniques to remove the gasses already there. In this new effort, the researchers are focused on the latter approach.
Most of the press dedicated to global warming to date has been focused on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Sadly, that approach hasn’t had the desired impact. Because of that governments and organizations are increasingly turning to CCS technology. Just this past week the U.N. issued a climate report which highlighted the necessity of putting more effort into removing gasses to slow the massive costs of the expected average rise in global temperatures in the near future.
The problem with pulling carbon out of the air is where to put it—pushing it into the ground is both expensive and risky—geologic activity, such as earthquakes could cause fissures allowing the gas to seep back out into the atmosphere. This is where the researchers in Iceland come in—they’ve been dissolving carbon dioxide into water (from a geothermal plant) and pumping the mixture into basalt formations (that came about due to volcanic activity) underground. Over time, the carbon reacts with calcium, magnesium and iron in the basalt and forms carbonate minerals such as limestone. Scientists have known about this process for some time, but until now, didn’t realize it could happen so quickly. The researchers report that approximately 80 percent of the carbon became embedded in the minerals over the span of just one year. The down side is that it takes a lot of water—up to twenty times as much as the carbon dioxide. Another problem could be pulling the carbon dioxide out of the air, and perhaps having to transport it to a sequestration site. There is also the difficulty of finding the right kind of basalt—it has to be porous.


Researchers find carbon reactions with basalt can form carbonate minerals faster than thought
CO2 source at the Hellisheidi power plant. Credit: Sigurdur R. Gislason
Regardless of the problems, it appears likely that the cost of storing carbon dioxide in such fashion (or others like it) will likely become relatively smaller as the costs of dealing with rising temperatures and sea levels increases, which hopefully, will cause more such efforts to come about.

 

Abstract 
All the carbon in the atmosphere, living creatures, and dissolved in the oceans is derived from rocks and will eventually end up in rocks, the largest carbon reservoir on Earth. The carbon moves from one reservoir to another in what is called the carbon cycle. Humans have accelerated this cycle by mining and burning fossil fuel since the beginning of the industrial revolution, causing rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations that are the main cause of global warming. One option for mitigating high levels of global warming is to capture CO2 and safely store it for thousands of years or longer in subsurface rocks. By accelerating carbonate mineral formation in these rocks, it is possible to rebalance the global carbon cycle, providing a long-term carbon storage solution. However, this approach is both technically challenging and economically expensive.

Plastic fibre a ‘major pollutant’


Tiny pieces of plastic and man-made fibres are causing contamination of the world’s oceans and beaches, the journal Science has reported.

Even remote and apparently pristine layers of sand and mud are now composed partly of this microscopic rubbish, broken down from discarded waste.

Plastic bottles on a beach, Science

This is the first assessment of plastic fragments accumulating in sediments and in the water column itself.

It is not yet known what the long term effects of this pollution may be.

A team led by scientists at the universities of Plymouth and Southampton took samples from 17 beaches and estuaries around the UK, and analysed particles which did not appear to be natural.

The researchers found that most samples included evidence of a range of plastics or polymers including nylon, polyester and acrylic.

 

It suggests to us that the problem is really quite ubiquitous

They also found that when creatures such as lugworms and barnacles fed on the sediments, the plastics turned up inside their bodies within a few days.

To test whether this contamination was getting worse, the scientists analysed plankton samples taken from survey ships between Scotland and Iceland since the 1960s – and found that the plastic content had increased significantly over time.

Toxic chemicals

Because the team only sampled particles which looked different from natural sediments, it is believed that the true level of plastic contamination could be much higher.

The lead author of the study, Dr Richard Thompson, said: “Given the durability of plastics and the disposable nature of many plastic items, this type of contamination is likely to increase.

 

Rocket casing on a beach, Thompson/Science

This rocket casing is one of the more unusual pieces of litter on the world’s beaches

“Our team is now working to identify the possible environmental consequences of this new form of contamination.”

One concern is that toxic chemicals could attach themselves to the particles which would then help to spread them up the food chain.

That research is for the future, but this study suggests that practically everything really is made of plastic these days – even the oceans.

“We’ve found this microscopic plastic material at all of the sites we’ve examined,” Dr Thompson said.

“Interestingly, the abundance is reasonably consistent. So, it suggests to us that the problem is really quite ubiquitous.”