An oil-based economy fighting climate change
Written by Doris Friedrich
Despite all the enlightening presentations and lessons during the conference and the PhD workshop afterwards, the talk and discussion that stayed in my mind the entire time is the opening debate at the Arctic Frontiers, featuring among others Erna Solberg, the Prime Minister of Norway, as well as ministers from Finland, Sweden, Iceland; Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and Petteri Taalas of the World Meteorological Organization.
In her speech, Erna Solberg insisted that Norway’s Arctic oil exploitation does not contradict acting against climate change. And that “it is possible and necessary to do both.” Well aware of the climate-related changes that can already be seen today and the need to protect natural resources, she argued that the extraction of one barrel of oil from the Norwegian continental shelf results in less climate-damaging emissions compared to oil produced in other countries.
After all the warnings and arguments about the urgency of action against climate change, but also the potential environmental damage from offshore oil exploitation in the Arctic, this take on the debate struck me. How is Norway’s Arctic oil production not in direct contradiction with working on climate change? Can we have our cake and eat it too?
In stark contrast to this perspective was the message of Ingrid Skoldvær from the Youth and Nature Organization Norway, who spoke after Solberg’s statement. In her opinion, the respect for nature that should come with living in the Arctic environment, is often not present when politicians of today make decisions for tomorrow, looking for instance at the poor job of balancing environmental protection and development. She pointed to the rig that was anchored right outside Tromsø and made its way to the Barents Sea a few weeks later to search for more oil – “a big paradox”.
Julienne Stroeve’s talk about climatic changes and the urgent need to act also had a deep effect on me. She explained that climate-related changes are not only visible in summer anymore, but has started to extend to other seasons. The ten lowest sea ice extents since measurements began were recorded in the last ten years and the pace of the ice’s disappearance is accelerating. To visualize our footprint on the environment, she referred to her travels by plane. Every time she flies from New York to London, she melts three square kilometers of sea ice, the thought of which is terrifying – at least to me. I was fortunate to be able to interview her for a news article for High North News and was amazed by her commitment and her courage to take the bull by the horns.
So, while we learned about a lot of different interesting and important topics and had the chance to listen to great lectures, presentations and discussions, climate change and environmental issues stuck on my mind. Climate change also found its way into my poster presentation on the regulation of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) (see article here) due to the potential increases of POPs related to warmer temperatures and the resulting harm to the environment.
To conclude, I want to give decision-makers in the Arctic food for thought. As Ingrid Skoldvær put it during the conference: “The decisions made today will have consequences far beyond the four-year parliamentary turn. No pressure.”
And to add to that: consequences far beyond the Arctic. Shouldn’t we, based on this, apply the principle of precaution to make sure we don’t mess up before it’s too late? Instead of clinging tight on to fossil fuels, it seems more sensible to shift our economies towards renewables and a green future “already” now. #makefactsgreatagain