A design for a large artificial island by the name of Lynetteholm is marketed to solve two issues facing Denmark today; flooding and urban growth. The city of Copenhagen boasts that Lynetteholm will “ensure a green sustainable Copenhagen with space for everyone”. We will break down this claim though the framework of Environmental Geopolitics and determine if there is a different agenda being pushed.
[Sound of Waves]
Ahhh the calming sound of waves crashing ashore. Now imagine that you in fact live in a city and the waves that should’ve stayed within the ocean are now lapping at your front door.
This is the fear that the City of Copenhagen is currently dealing with. Due to a global increase in temperatures leading to rising sea levels, the capital city of Denmark is putting plans in place to prevent this harbor city from climate-related floods. A plan has been passed by their parliament to build an artificial island, named Lynetteholm, to act as a sea wall and as an expansion for urban development.
Hi! I’m Elyse Porter. Welcome to my podcast; Staying Afloat: Artificial Islands as Climate Change Solution?
Today I will be analyzing the claim by the city of Copenhagen that, quote: “it is necessary to climate-proof the city against rising water levels. Lynetteholm must ensure a green, sustainable Copenhagen with space for everyone – and provided with infrastructure that can reduce traffic in the rest of the city” end quote.
I will be evaluating this claim by applying the environmental geopolitics framework. In doing this, I am asking myself three main questions:
First: How are the role and meaning of the environment described and specified?
Second: What is the role of human agency within this claim or view of the world?
Finally: What is the spatial focus of this particular claim?
By evaluating with these three questions, I can determine how the claim is being used to support an argument or narrative and the role of the environment within that.
Now taking a step back; to understand this issue, we first need to understand Copenhagen in its current form. It’s the capital and largest city of the Scandinavian country of Denmark. The city sits on the shores of the island of Zealand and looks out across the Øresund Strait to its neighbor Malmö, Sweden. The Øresund Strait is an important waterway that connects the North Sea to the Baltic Sea and played a key role in Denmark’s wealth and power, but we’ll get into that later.
One way of effectively preventing flooding is seawalls, which are placed along the coast to protect the area, whether it be infrastructure, nature, or from coastal erosion. Sea Walls are huge, man-made structures meant to divert the oceans waves from coming ashore. Sea walls are nothing new in coastal infrastructure, and they’ve been used for many years. However, there are a few reasons why Copenhagen is less inclined to build one.
To build a sea wall here, would severely diminish the beauty and functionality of the area. For one, the harbor area and its waters are essential to the city and country, with citizens using the harbor for everything from swimming to transportation (like water taxis). Even the royal family enjoys the harbor, as their royal palace looks out over it. It’s also a hub for the city’s cultural spots; including the Opera House, Little Mermaid statue, and the famous Nyhavn canal. This is where Lynetteholm comes in.
Lynetteholm, in short, is advertised as an artificial island that will address two issues plaguing the city: flooding of water and flooding of people. Lynetteholm is designed as a crescent-shaped artificial island that spans out across part of the harbor, protecting the city. The base of the island would connect to a preexisting outer peninsula of the city, and it fans across a few hundred meters until it almost touches a different part of the city, thus separating the city from the ocean. The ocean-side of the peninsula will have nature parks while the inner/harbor side will provide housing and areas for commerce. This is a long-term project, with it not slated to be finished until 2070.
Now that we better understand the claim let’s look at the role of the environment in it:
The most obvious way the environment was included in the claim is the ocean as a threat of flooding to the city. In this context, the city of Copenhagen needs to be protected from that risk of flooding. The island is a way of conforming the environment to a “productive” area economically in the form of real-estate and to prevent the threat of flooding.
Therefore, the city can label the building of Lynetteholm as a conflict prevention project. Taking a quote straight from Environmental Geopolitics by O’Lear, “Established sustainable development projects are redefined as responses to climate change impacts”. Essentially, the argument can be made that Lynetteholm is a form of large-scale greenwashing. The building of Lynetteholm does nothing to prioritize the climate, it is just another form of urban development reframed as a climate change solution.
A way the environment is not included in the claim is the role of the nature parks that are said to be on the exterior of the island. What type of nature is one to build on an artificial island, and how come the destruction of a prior environment, the ocean, is tolerated? Additionally, the location of the nature parks on the exterior of the island, where they are most likely to be impacted by flooding, shows Copenhagen’s priorities.
Next is the role of human agency within this claim:
Human activities that are included in this claim consist of By og Havn (or city and harbor in English) as the primary company in charge of the building of the artificial island. Additionally, the metro company will also be thoroughly involved in the extension of the preexisting metro in order for it to reach Lynetteholm.
So what are some human aspects that are not included in the claim? Well, let’s look at who owns those companies. By og Havn is 95% owned by the city of Copenhagen, the other 5% ownership being the country. The Metro Company? Also owned by the city. I think the trend here is very evident.
The city oversees pretty much all aspects of this project, and then they were the very ones to vote on its passing in parliament. I bet you can guess how that vote went (it passed). The city also happens to be the people who will benefit monetarily if this project is successful because of the housing on the island.
Additional human aspects that aren’t included in this claim are which citizens will benefit of the building of Lynetteholm, and who will get the opportunity to live here? The claim states that it will, quote, “have space for everyone” end quote. Is this true?
A brief overview of the current Copenhagen hosing situation: there is an affordable housing shortage in Copenhagen. Some good news! 25% of new developments are required to be affordable housing.
But, some bad news. This is still a very expensive project. How exactly is the city planning on paying for the cost of the island? Oh right, offsetting via expensive housing options. Which will be the first housing options sold. The affordable options won’t be available until after all the expensive, profit-making housing options have been sold. And remember, this project goes on until 2070, so it could be a while for those affordable housing options.
Other human aspects that aren’t included in this claim include what citizens of Copenhagen think of this plan. Two individual citizens stated in petitions to the European Parliament that the Environmental Impact Assessment, or the EIA, done on parts of Lynetteholm by the EU, does not consider the full environmental impact of the artificial island, due to artificial islands not being defined as projects that require a full EIA. Because of this, the EIA report done on Lynetteholm was broken into pieces and the petitioners believe that by doing smaller EIAs on Lynetteholm, the full impact was not accurately depicted.
In the end, the EU denied these petitions and determined that because the project initially passed all EIA regulations, it was not within EU jurisdiction anymore, and any qualms would need to be taken up on the national level. As discussed earlier in this section, the city benefits from the project, so taking it up with the city or the country would be a waste of time for the petitioners.
And, finally, the spatial focus of the claim:
In the beginning of the podcast, I talked a lot about this claim spatially in the sense that I mentioned where Lynetteholm will be built and where Denmark is in connection with the world. I’ll expand on that more here, and go into the history of Denmark’s wealth, in combination with their location in the world.
Spatially, the impacts of Lynetteholm seem fairly contained. The effects of the construction look like it will mostly impact the city and have little to no effect elsewhere.
Outside of the claim, Denmark has a very long history of changing their land. Whether it was for defense or aesthetic reasons, there are many examples of molding the land to fit their needs. In the 20th century, three separate, smaller artificial islands were all made as military bases within the harbor. Additionally, the layout of the city has been changed many times, from simple things like moats around castles to more drastic works of flooding certain areas or raising the land on others. Lynetteholm is another version of this. Copenhagen is changing the ocean, to make it land, to provide a service they need (space for urban growth).
Additionally, Denmark historically has also gained a lot of wealth through their control of the Øresund Strait. In Charles Hill’s book, The Danish Sound Dues and the Command of the Baltic, he goes into the history of the Strait and the ways in which Denmark has controlled it. As previously mentioned, the Strait is the easiest way to travel from the North to the Baltic Sea, a route that held a lot of historical significance for many Baltic countries. This put Denmark in a unique situation, of being able to profit off all the ships that travelled through the Strait. An important facet of the strait is it’s narrow size between Helsingør on the Danish side and Helsingborg 4 kilometers across the water on the Swedish side. Denmark seized the opportunity and instituted a tax, called the sound dues, that every ship passing through had to pay. The wealth that was generated through these sound dues cannot be understated in the overall wealth of the country currently. All of this begs to ask, is Lynetteholm another way of controlling the Strait and profiting off it?
So now, for some closing thoughts.
The point of this podcast was to take a claim that involves the environment, either directly or indirectly, and break it down using the environmental geopolitics framework to see what is being hidden from view and what agendas are being prioritized within the claim.
So, did we do that? I think so.
Overall, I don’t think Lynetteholm can be considered a perfect climate-change solution for Copenhagen. Lynetteholm seems to be an overbuilt excuse to profit off of the Strait, but with all the distractions that make it appear to be a sustainable solution of risk, the city flooding.
Mikael Coville-Andersen calls this “technological sublime” or the idea that a megaproject of this size is so captivating by its scale that people aren’t really thinking clearly about it.
At the end of the day, the budling of the artificial island of Lynetteholm off the coast of Copenhagen doesn’t necessarily have a sinister background, but it becomes increasingly clear that Lynetteholm appears to be a primarily urban development project shrouded behind a curtain of climate-change related risk with the overall goal of putting money into the hands of the city.
Thank you for joining me today on my podcast: Staying Afloat.
The following sound effects for the podcast were from bensound.com
Hill, Charles E. 1926. The Danish Sound Dues and the Command of the Baltic : A Study of International Relations. Durham, N.C. Duke University Press.
Colville-Andersen, Mikael. 2021. “Lynetteholm- Copenhagen’s MEGAPROJECT Folly” The Life-Sized City. YouTube. January 6, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4icpF0S5BM.
Nielsen, Eskil, and Ole Damsgaard. 2021. Notice to Members. Petition No 0190/2021 and No 0511/2021. European Parliament. Committee on Petitions. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/PETI-CM-697810_EN.pdf.
Mørk, Amalie Emanuel. 2021. “City of the Anthropocene. A case study of Lynetteho Copenhagen” Malmo, Sweden: Malmo University. https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1567354/FULLTEXT02.pdf.
Lynetteholm. 2021. “Climate Proofing and Coastal Landscape.” November 14, 2022. https://byoghavn.dk/lynetteholm/wp- content/uploads/sites/7/2019/04/Klimasikring_v3_en-GB_en-GB.pdf.
Marlin, Lisa. 2022. “Sea Wall Advantages and Disadvantages: What Should You Know?” Green Coast. November 14, 2022. https://greencoast.org/sea-wall-advantages-and- disadvantages/
Olesen, Mie. 2022. “The Great Housing Divide: How wealth inequality in Denmark starts with property.” Courthouse News Service, July 8, 2022. https://www.courthousenews.com/the-great-housing-divide-how-wealth-inequality-in- denmark-starts-with-property/.
O’Lear, Shannon. 2018. Environmental Geopolitics. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.