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Photo: Simo Räsänen

Politics and economics influence if and how a nation approaches climate change. It is possible to increase the economy while improving social well-being and providing a sustainable environment. We just need to look around and see what is working and what isn’t. Norway is one example where we might learn a few things.

Norway’s population is a shade over five million. It’s about as far north as Alaska. A significant part of Norway’s GDP comes form off shore oil and gas, yet it’s a global leader in sustainable development and energy efficiency. Both Norway and the U.S. pump oil. Both sell it to others. The big difference is that Norway is using the profits to aggressively wean itself off the stuff.

Wind turbine in Bjugn, Norway. (Photo Credit: Marius Meyer)

Wind turbine in Bjugn, Norway. (Photo Credit: Marius Meyer)

Vadar Helgesen, Norway’s climate minister recognizes this seeming paradox. “We have been living well from oil and gas. But, there is no country in the world that has done more to undermine the oil and gas industry than Norway.”

The people are aware that the nation’s prosperity is linked to oil and gas. The benefits have spread throughout this constitutional monarchy in nearly every social, environmental and economic category. Norway has the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. Approximately 40 percent of Norway exports are fossil fuel-based. At the same time, the government sees that this isn’t sustainable. Norway is altering their economy toward sustainable energy.

Most of Norway’s electrical energy comes from hydroelectricity. Oil workers drive Teslas and hybrids instead of SUVs. The government offers huge subsidies for efficient automobiles. The reduction in import duty and sales taxes is 25 percent less than for conventional vehicles. There is no highway tax. Nearly one-third of new cars sold are electric or hybrid. The national goal is to be 100 percent hybrid or electric by 2025.

Alta dam is one of the 937 hydropower stations that provide 98 percent of Norway's power. (Photo Credit: Rehro via WikiMedia Commons)

Alta dam is one of the 937 hydropower stations that provide 98 percent of Norway’s power. (Photo Credit: Rehro via WikiMedia Commons)

This June, lawmakers passed a commitment for Norway to be carbon neutral by 2030. That is 20 years ahead of their Paris commitment.

All of this is coming from a nation with only a $388.31 billion USD, Gross Domestic Product.

Their people must be suffering…right? 

No. Luxembourg, Qatar and Norway have the highest domestic product per capita in the world. Norway has a diverse economy, a large state sector and an extensive social safety net. Key industries are extensively regulated and many of the largest are state-majority-owned to prevent dangerous corporate speculation. Education and healthcare are free. The average gross income is $64,450.00 (PPP) per annum, roughly 36 percent higher than the U.S.

The U.S. economy is based upon ever-increasing consumption and corporate profits. It is not based on increasing the well-being of society, the environment or funding for vital federal programs. Underfunded federal programs include Social Security, infrastructure and education. The wealth is going to the top one percent through corporate profits sheltered by tax loopholes and offshore accounts.

View from a ridge between Segla and Hesten, Senja, Norway. (Photo Credit: Simo Räsänen)

View from a ridge between Segla and Hesten, Senja, Norway. (Photo Credit: Simo Räsänen)

Here is how the perception of wealth is illusory. Imagine two rooms with 10 people in each room. In room one, the average income is $40K/year for each person in the room. The total GDP for the room would be $400,000.00/yr right?

In the other room, nine of the 10 people also make $40K/yr, but the tenth person makes $1,000,000,000.00 a year. The GDP for that room is $1,000,360,000.00 a year. That looks very good on paper, but nine out of 10 are doing exactly the same as those in room one. One guy lives in the big house on the hill and the rest live in the ghetto. This is what has happened in the U.S.

We have the largest annual GDP in the world but only a tiny fraction is benefitting from everyone else’s sweat. The 1% views the salaried masses as overhead and constantly seeks to freeze or even lower wages to improve corporate profits. A sustainable environment is a distracting “externality” to 21st century U.S. economic theory — ignoring the fact that the environment provides all resources that fuel the economy.

Perhaps it would be a good idea for us to look at what other countries are doing instead of constantly approaching our social, environmental and economic worries with the same antiquated tool of unregulated, free-market capitalism.

Sandnes, Norway (Image: Flickr)

Sandnes, Norway (Image: Flickr)

We don’t have to dump capitalism principles, but we can tweak them a little so the benefits and goals better match the needs of the many. Remember that definition of insanity? It’s nuts when you keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.

After Finland, Norway is the second happiest nation on earth. Perhaps we should give other nations a closer look. We might just learn something.

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