We’re launching a new term: “green squandering”

This crash-landing on the moon is a Norwegian specialty

floating wind turbines

Photo: Ty Stange / Ritzau Scanpix / NTB
Floating wind farms may merely result in more “green squandering.”

Realistisk initiativ Thinktank

During Greta Thunberg’s rise in 2019, a new concept or term was exported from Sweden: “flight shaming,” calling on people to think twice about their flying habits in the context of climate change. We would like to suggest a new environmental term to export from Norway: “grønnsløsing,” or “green squandering.”

It means to squander public resources in contributing to the green shift. The word describes a Norwegian specialty: crash-landing on the moon.

One striking example of green squandering is the relocation of large amounts of CO2 from Norway’s tab to that of other countries. This “moon landing” was launched by former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in his New Year’s speech of 2007: A system for the capture and storage of CO2. It has, so far, not led to a single new ton of stored CO2. It has simply shown that retrofitting existing power plants is too expensive.

If the sequestration of CO2 is to happen, the thought is that other countries will ship it to facilities at Ågotnes in Øygarden in liquid form and that it will be pumped down into retired oil reservoirs for a hefty fee, payable to Norway.

This naïve revenue-generating idea still flourishes; maybe because it makes it okay to extend the Norwegian fossil fuel fairy tale until all the oil fields are discovered, put into production, and emptied.

Many Norwegian businesses, including Equinor, are now planning how to manage their platforms’ emissions. As an effort to meet international requirements, this is understandable. But for the global climate, it is meaningless, if the product is fossil fuel, which is exported, only to emit CO2 later.

If the costs of electrification take the form of state funding, or if Equinor picks up the tab it still means a loss for Norwegian society, whether in state budget fees or lost tax revenue.

The most cognitively dissonant green squandering experiment is the investment in floating sea-wind farms. In this case, some members of the Norwegian research community and the Norwegian environmental movement have managed to convince politicians that this new moon landing is both a great business opportunity for Norway and a solution to the global climate crisis.

Former climate minister Vidar Helgesen, now Norway’s special representative on a high-level international panel for sustainable ocean economy, said in 2019 that “researchers claim that sea wind can cover the world’s total energy demands.”

Let us hope Helgesen doesn’t really believe this. A sea-wind turbine is a floating colossus on a steel base and is significantly more expensive than a wind turbine on solid ground. And that will always be the case: the material requirements are about 1 kilogram per effective watt produced, based on data from Hywind Scotland.

A rough overview of how much funding Norway and Norwegian businesses have used and plan to use by 2030 is NOK 20-30 billion on CO2 storage, NOK 50 billion on electric platform operation, and NOK 10-20 billion on sea-wind energy—around NOK 100 billion in all.

As a comparison, the state loses several billion kroner yearly on fee-reductions for electric cars. But fee-reduction has resulted in people buying electric cars, and that Norway has thereby actually contributed to the coming necessity to electrify the world’s private car infrastructure.

Expensive CO2-cleansing and storage, electrification of oil platforms, and floating sea-wind farms will merely result in symbolic politics—and therefore in green squandering. Regardless of the operative extent it reaches in the future, it will lead to more costly energy production.

What alternatives could such large sums of money be used for?

An obvious alternative would be to increase the pace of building double-tracked railroads, which would both increase capacity and reduce travel times between Oslo and the major cities of Bergen, Trondheim, and Gothenburg.

Another sensible alternative would be to invest more in adapting the national infrastructure to a warmer and wetter climate. But clearly, most important is to develop energy sources that can realistically compete with coal, which still dominates global energy.

If Norway, like Sweden and Denmark, had participated in Euratom, the large European nuclear energy collective, we would have been part of the effort to advance a new energy source that could produce enough electricity for a major city like Paris, using just a few grams of water per hour. In Caddarache, France, most of the world’s technologically advanced nations are involved in building the world’s first reactor that can demonstrate that such technology is possible. The first test will take place in 2026, with the final technical demonstrations 10 years later.

If it is successful, the world will have a real alternative. The participating countries are building up the competence to create reactors that can secure the energy needs of the entire world’s population far into the future.

On the sidelines in this scenario stands a rich little nation in a nisse hat, trying to sell 18th-century energy in huge, costly structures in the ocean.

Originally published Jan. 25, 2020, in Bergens Tidende and reprinted with permission.
Translated by Andy Meyer

This article originally appeared in the May 21, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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