• Anusha Jacob

Every Cloud Has a Lead Lining– even in Norway

Many of us have grown up glorifying Scandinavia’s social welfare systems and praising its thriving economies– unlike its Viking forefathers who toiled day and night for prosperity, modern day Scandinavia has yet to meet an end to its success. We hear tales about Scandanavians being the happiest people in the world and watch as their native countries conquer the Human Development Index Rankings every year. But, what’s the one Nordic nation that always emerges as the top dog– the cream of the crop– you ask?

It’s a close call, but today, that title belongs to none other than Norway.

Norway– the Environment’s Knight in Shining Armour

Sure, Norway is home to the magical phenomenon that is Aurora Borealis (otherwise known as the Northern Lights), but there’s so much more to the country than that. In a world where Climate Change is ubiquitous– dominating United Nations’ conferences and prompting movements worldwide– Norway continues to be revered as a hero.

Green is essentially the new Black in Norway’s eyes. The country has propagated, funded, and spearheaded a myriad of environmental initiatives till date, and persists as a role model for the rest of the world when it comes to taking action.

You’re probably wondering what Norway has done to garner such widespread appreciation, and that’s an extremely valid question. Here’s some insight into what they’ve accomplished in the past and what they aspire to achieve in the future– please note that this is just a mere microcosm of everything they’ve done:

  1. Norway boasts the largest use of electric cars in the world, with its plug-in hybrid car industry making up 30% of the country’s market share. The Norwegian government has expressed plans to take this a step further by 2025, by ensuring that all newly produced cars are designed to operate without fossil fuels.

  2. Over 90% of Norway’s energy is renewable; wind and solar energy amalgamate to form the core of the country’s electricity production. If this wasn’t promising enough for you, Norway’s government seeks to further reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30%, by the year 2030– a clear manifestation of Norway’s proactive and committed attitude, if you ask me

3. When it comes to waste management, Norway has ideated and cultivated one of the most efficient recycling systems in the world. The government has ensured that there is an assortment of recycling bins for compost, plastic, and general waste– each equipped with their own colored bag– installed at the end of every block. The way recycling has been so vastly assimilated into citizens’ lifestyles makes me wonder why Norway can’t change its name to ‘NoRRRway’ to accommodate its love of the “3Rs”!

4. The country’s pursuit of sustainability has also spilled over into a vehement desire to combat food waste. An app named ‘Too Good to Go’ has been on the rise, given how congruent the company’s mission is with the Norwegian government’s vision. Too Good to Go works with local restaurants, stores, and hotels to sell leftover portions– at extremely cheap prices– to residents, in order to mitigate the amount of food wastage facilitated within Norway’s borders.

Now, I wasn’t trying to be funny when I called Norway the Environment’s literal Knight in Shining Armour. If the Environment is the Damsel in Distress (which is a fitting title, given how much we’ve collectively done as a generation to harm it), Norway is its prince. When it comes down to it, Norway truly cares about its environment, is forever loyal to it in everything it does, and is exceptionally committed to paving the way for a bright future for it– it really doesn’t get any better than that.

Or, does it?

Do you see how easy it was for me to paint a flawless portrait of Norway– how easy it was for me to conceal and overlook all its blemishes and shortcomings?

The lead lining Norway’s clouds:

It’s common knowledge that modern day media has the power to manipulate what’s true and false. We’ve all learned about how media powerhouses underplay the harsh realities prevalent all around the world, and their ability to misdirect people and distract them from causes that shouldn’t be neglected. I’ve personally fallen victim to the misinformation set in motion by the news– it’s why it took me so long to realize that Norway isn’t as picture perfect as it seems, especially when it comes to its treatment of the environment.

Let me show you what I mean when I say ‘Every Cloud Has a Lead Lining– even in Norway’.

A modern day rags to riches story:

Despite what many of us believe, Norway wasn’t always the rich, affluent superpower we all hold in high esteem. It may adopt the stance of a moralizer when it comes to environmental matters, but its true colours lie back home.

Before the 60s, Norway’s economy didn’t flourish as much as other European countries’. Unemployment, inflation, debt, and several financial crises plagued the country left, right, and centre, and it seemed like Norway’s economy was spiralling out of control. But, like every fairy tale, all those hardships only existed “Once Upon a Time” ago, and Norway eventually struck gold– a whole lot of it.

In the summer of 1967, Norway’s Esso discovered an enormous oil field in the midst of the North Sea– a pivotal moment in the country’s history, given how valuable a resource oil is in international trade. Over the past few decades, we’ve borne witness to substantial progress, with Norway now dredging up more oil per capita than most countries. Norway remains in the top 7 exporters of crude oil, and its oil and gas sector constitutes around 20% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product and 60% of its exports. To put this in perspective, in case you need it, only Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates exceed Norway’s scale of oil production and trade.

Today, Norway is relentless in its pursuit of deep-sea drilling operations all across the North Sea and continues to mark new areas for mapping and oil exploration– many of these areas are ecologically sensitive, as certain fields lie at the southern edge of the polar ice cap (which famously serves as a habitat for one of the Northern Hemisphere’s largest colonies of birds and polar bears). If Norway expands its scale of drilling operations, this would entail the installation of new rigs and intrusive architecture– harming all those in its way.

The Norwegian Oil Fund:

If Norway’s reliance on oil as a primary export wasn’t the perfect example of hypocrisy for you, let me walk you through how the country has selfishly capitalized on its oil trade to expand its economy beyond measure.

Apart from producing and trading its own oil, Norway also prides itself on being one of the most prominent investors in fossil fuels elsewhere in the world– unfortunately, Norway’s hypocrisy does transcend borders. As part of this, Norway’s government has set up the “Norwegian oil fund”– also formally referred to as the “Government Pension Fund Global”– to reinvest the profits earned from Norway’s state-owned oil enterprises and its foreign stocks. Built by investing income in real estate, stocks and bonds, the fund is now worth an outstanding 10 trillion Norwegian Crowns (or roughly 1 trillion U.S. Dollars)– which is essentially twice the value of Norway’s remaining oil reserves. It is truly no surprise that the fund is currently venerated as ‘the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world’.

Now, let’s get back to appreciating Norway’s duplicity. Not only has Norway relied on its oil fund as a source for economic growth, but the country has also made sure to reinvest 6 percent of its fund into the international oil and gas industry. Keeping this in mind, I can’t help but question how a nation leaching off– and defined by– its oil trade, can fathom projecting itself as green.

To what extent is Norway’s oil the fuel for its economy?

As I mentioned earlier on, Norway’s oil and gas sector makes up 20% of the nation’s overall GDP. Provided how intertwined a country’s GDP and its unemployment rates are, I am now going to touch upon how reliant Norway’s economy is on oil while taking these factors into consideration.

As of 2019, around 6 percent of the Norwegian labor force was directly or indirectly employed by petroleum-affiliated industries. Although this figure may seem miniscule, don’t let this fool you– the way in which crude oil and natural gas constitute half of the total value of Norway’s exports signify that at the end of the day, every single Norwegian is linked to or influenced by the fossil fuel industry in some way or the other. The graph below bears testament to this, illustrating Norway’s substantial dependence on oil.

The graph portrays a crystal clear, inverse relationship between oil prices and Norway’s unemployment. The drastic drop in oil prices from 2014 to 2016, prompted by the surplus of oil in the international market, entailed an immediate and steep rise in Norway’s total unemployment. The considerable bearing oil prices have on Norway’s employment, coupled with their ability to wreak havoc on the nation’s economic stability, reflects how oil essentially serves as one of the primary pillars of Norway’s economy– making the country’s hypocrisy all the more glaring. I truly can’t put it better than Michael Booth did in his recent book: “Norway is the wily drug pusher who refuses to touch its own product”.

What’s in store for the future– will Norway go down in history as a Hero or a Hypocrite?

As efforts to combat climate change rampantly increase across the globe, the future for the oil industry grows more and more unclear. Government projections suggest that Norway will oversee a rise in oil production in the coming years, before its output begins to decline– so, a future where Norway actually practices what it preaches may just be in the works.

Being home to one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world, and boasting one of the highest GDP per capitas, Norway should be taking more action to curb its greenhouse gas emissions. But, the truth is, Norway will only feel the need to stop producing oil once it finds enough jobs to replace those it will lose; this is something that will require increased specialization in other sectors and massive investments in clean industries.

From Norway’s vast green fields, to its scarce traffic, to the way it almost entirely runs on hydropower, the irony that surrounds the fact that it is Europe’s top oil producer is something that will always confuse me– it’s all part of a paradox I still can’t seem to wrap my head around. Because, if a country like Norway prides itself on its deep connection to nature despite failing to protect it, what example does that set for the rest of us?