Norway’s election is over, and everyone lost

Hands around a green plant in the ground.

Photo: Robbieross123 / Wikimedia Commons
Norway’s recent election was a missed opportunity to focus on green ideals like a weaning off of oil.

Veronika Brokke Olsen
Oslo, Norway

The opposition did not get majority votes, leaving Norway’s current government in charge. The government also received fewer votes than previously, leaving it weaker for the upcoming term. Another blow to the government is the Christian Democrats (KrF) leaving the governing coalition. Surprises might yet come during negotiations, but it seems the government must settle for minority rule. Everyone lost Norway’s election. The continuing government headed by the Conservatives and Progress Party will not commence the transition away from oil dependency, which Norway has an extraordinary responsibility to ignite.

I endorse The Green Party (MDG), a sister party of The Green Party in the U.S. In both countries the Greens are critical of the current system in terms of how endless economic growth is eradicating what we call “eksistensgrunnlag,” (a Norwegian term roughly translated as the foundation for human existence), how external environmental costs are unaccounted for, and how people’s economic status comes before their general wellbeing. We want a stronger push towards renewable energy, more public transport, better city planning, lower taxes on repairs and maintenance, fewer working hours, and more time for friends and family. We also want to move away from oil dependency.

Oil production is always a hot topic in Norway. Oil is our main export, and oil revenues heavily affect other businesses and professions like subcontractors, infrastructure, and service sectors. Workers in the oil industry earn higher wages than most, which means that a job in the oil sector has a larger effect on the economy than a job in the health sector.

Cutting jobs in the oil sector affects the welfare system more than other occupations because of their high incomes. If you lose your job in Norway, you can be eligible for up to 80 percent of your previous salary until you find a new job. An engineer in the oil sector can earn 1 million NOK each year, leaving her with 800K in benefits if she becomes unemployed. When other engineering jobs offer salaries of 600K per year, there is no incentive to start working again.

Progress is about seizing opportunities and making the best of them. Halting the oil sector will lead to job losses, but highly educated workers being out of work provides an opportunity for the state and private sector to invest in new businesses, to generate green jobs, to push for more renewable energy projects, and to actively utilize the engineers in our population towards the green shift. Re-educating those with transferable skills from oil towards more sustainable sectors will be less expensive if the process is structured and state-organized. The green leap does not need to be a leap of faith. It is a logical step going from extracting oil to, for example, extracting geothermal heat.

The alternative to acting now will be oil companies going out of business en masse when the extraction of oil inevitably ends, leaving people without work and no plan for re-entering the workforce. Statistics Norway recognizes some of these opportunities and challenges and delivered a report on how we can “Decommission our Petroleum Activities” back in 2010. It is a matter of daring to put in the work for a better future for all, not just going about business as usual while hoping for the best.

Transitioning from an oil economy will be challenging, but it must be done sooner or later because at some point the oil will run out. Norway has many advantages for handling the challenges of ceasing oil production: low unemployment, a strong welfare state, and an adaptable education system, not to mention the riches in its oil fund. If Norway acts now, we can make a smoother transition away from oil dependency. Furthermore, it would set a much-needed example for other countries. If Norway can’t or won’t quit oil, how can we expect other countries to do so?

The Greens do not want to halt all oil-related business overnight but rather to stop the search for new fields. Existing platforms will still be running for the duration of production, which means that even with the most radical Green politics in Norway, drilling would continue for another 40 years!

The Norwegian state subsidizes the oil industry, and multiple parties and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) wish to liquidate the scheme. Bellona, one of Norway’s most influential NGOs concerned with environment and climate issues, has filed a lawsuit against the Norwegian state to EFTA Surveillance Authority, according to Aftenposten. They argue that oil subsidies are an extreme cost for the state. As oil becomes harder to find and more difficult to extract, the state finds itself funding more expensive oil searches and getting marginally lower income on the findings. The Greens simply want this to end: stop the search for new oil, stop subsidizing companies that will not be able to earn back investments, stop educating oil engineers for unemployment. This is not a radical idea.

The 2017 elections were a missed opportunity for Norway to redefine our approach to oil production. We could have stepped forward as an example for other oil-reliant nations and shown what a green transition can look like. Instead it looks like we will be standing still for at least four more years.

Veronika Brokke Olsen holds degrees in Social Economics and Renewable Energy and is currently taking a Master’s in International Development Studies at NMBU, Norway. They are a genderqueer Green Party voter, LGBTQI+ activist, and science fiction fan.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 6, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.