Students speak up in Norway for the environment

Norway’s environmental policies are among the best in the world (if we do not count the fossil fuels the extract and export), but young campaigners are arguing there’s more to be done. Abby Young-Powell explains in a recent article in The Guardian.

 

Norway is green – but not green enough, say students

Norway is a country of contradiction. Internationally it’s seen as a green role model, what with its pledge to become climate-neutral by 2030, a reliance on hydropower and ambitious plans for electric cars. But at the same time, it’s one of the world’s largest exporters of oil and gas.

It’s a paradox that has made a new generation of young Norwegians more environmentally conscious than ever. They are challenging politicians on their decisions over oil exploration – by filing a lawsuit against the government, for instance – and campaigning for a more sustainable future.

Students are also scrutinising Norwegian companies on environmental issues. “There’s definitely a push for sustainability in Norway right now,” says Lauren Guido, 21, who studies international development and environmental studies at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. “The green movement is on people’s minds.”

And students are at the heart of it. “Young people understand the urgency. We are the ones that will have to inherit the problems,” says Arnstein Vestre, 25, a student who works part time at Greenpeace Norway.

Legal action against ‘hypocrisy’

Nature and Youth, a youth group with around 8,000 members aged 13-25, have filed a lawsuit against the Norwegian government, along with Greenpeace and other independent activists, over a decision to open up the Barents Sea for oil exploration. “Oil is the issue that’s most difficult to talk about in Norway,” says Ingrid Skjoldvær, 23, leader of Nature and Youth. “We’re seen as the good guy internationally, but we’re not doing what’s necessary at home. So we need to walk the walk.”

The case centres around a claim that the government has violated part of the Norwegian constitution that says future generations have a right to a healthy environment. “It’s unique because this clause hasn’t been cited before, so it’s exciting,” says Skjoldvær.

“Norway aspires to be a global leader on climate change and to inspire others to action,” adds Vestre. “But if we want to do that, we can’t have this kind of hypocrisy.”

Facing up to politicians

Younger school students also have strong views on Norway’s environmental issues. At “my city, my responsibility”, a project organised by InterBridge, a social enterprise that aims to empower citizens to participate in global issues, 19 school children were given a platform to make their demands of politicians. After four weekends of workshops and discussions, they presented their ideas in front of them, and the public, at Oslo City Hall. These included making greater use of renewable energies, reducing meat and dairy consumption, and making bicycles more easily available to the public.

Amanda Anvar, 14, told politicians she worries about Norway’s global effect. “I want my children to grow up in a city where energy comes from a credible source, and where people on the other side of the world don’t have to suffer for us to use it,” she says.

“Norway should focus on renewable energy, rather than our precious dirty gold, meaning our oil,” adds Michelle Ann Wurschmidt, 16. “Presenting to politicians was an emotional rollercoaster. But I want to show them that young people are capable of more than just using their parents’ money.”

Challenging companies

As school pupils take the politicians on, Norwegian university students are infiltrating corporations and challenging them to be more sustainable.

As part of a project enabled by social enterprise the Innovation Effect, students are conducting research on Orkla, one of the largest companies in Norway, which sells food and home products and employs 30,000 people across more than 40 countries. The team of students has been scrutinising the company to see how it could be more environmentally friendly.

Guido says that working inside an organisation, while remaining independent, puts you in a powerful position. “A lot of people think of big companies as the bad guys.” But working with business can make change happen, she adds. “We can be the bridge between them and the public.”

The team of students presented their findings, which included a need for greater transparency and for more affordable sustainable products, to Orkla at Oslo Innovation Week this month. They spoke to a room full of business leaders – including Orkla – in the hope of inspiring other Norwegian businesses to take note.

“Everyone says we have to save the world,” says Erlend Hjertø, 22, who studies at Kristiania University College. “And by challenging Norwegian companies, we’re giving an example of how we can do it.”

This new generation of environmentally conscious students is well placed to make a difference. “When you’re young you have so many ideas and you’re not as naive as the big firms believe,” says Caroline Strømme, 25, studying at BI Norwegian Business School. “You’re not controlled by any firm because you’re not employed by them.”

Guido agrees. “We have grit,” she says. “Because you can’t just go to university and get a job now. You have to be creative.”

But young people need to communicate their values to older generations effectively, they say. “A lot of older people say climate change is in the distance,” says Anette Gutterød, 22, studying at Kristiania University College. “We don’t think like that. But we need to say it in a way the older generation understands.”

Growing up in a country with some of the world’s best environmental policies, as well as an economy based on oil wealth, means young Norwegians have strong opinions on the environment. But even more of this generation need to raise their voices too, says Wurschmidt. “Many teenagers believe they don’t have a say in the decision-making going on in the world, but of course we have a say in the making of our future. We, the youth, need to claim the voice that is ours.”

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