Norway’s Greens Party is suddenly riding a new wave of popularity and may even be able to influence whether Norway will wind up with a Labour- or Conservatives-led government. Rasmus Hansson, one of the leaders of Norway’s Greens, could have been grinning from ear to ear when he met foreign correspondents in Oslo on Wednesday, but he was instead serious bordering on somber, and careful about speculating on what might happen after the upcoming election.
“The polls show that an increasing number of Norwegians are increasingly sympathetic (to the Greens’ agenda),” Hansson said, speaking clearly in English but with no trace of a smile. His assessment is an understatement at best, after two polls in the past week alone have shown the Greens holding nearly 5 percent of the vote, nearly double their clout in June and well over the 4 percent threshold needed for representation in Parliament. They’re now bigger than the Liberal Party, Norway’s oldest and also environmentally oriented.
Hansson is currently the lone Member of Parliament for the Greens (Miljopartiet De Grønne, MDG). He stands to gain seven new party colleagues if the poll numbers convert to election results. Even though he describes his party as small and “dirt poor,” he’s confident they’d be up to the task, and have the people needed to become new parliamentarians.
Hansson chooses, though, to simply note that more voters seem “happy we’re around” and may view the Greens as a game-changer. He also said he thinks there now are many Norwegians who are “embarrassed” over Norway’s conflicting roles of projecting an environmentally and climate-conscious image while continuing to produce oil and gas, and drill for even more.
“The Norwegian mainstream (political) strategy is to not do what Norway should do (cut carbon emissions) and instead pay other countries to do what we should do,” Hansson said. “We think that’s immoral.”
He wasn’t referring only to Norway’s years of sending billions of kroner to Brazil, Indonesia and other countries to discourage them from chopping down rain forests, but also programs in which Norway funds the development of low-emission technology abroad. He called that “economically stupid,” because “paying Poland or other countries” to do that “can ultimately give them a technical advantage over us.” He thinks investment in such technology should be made in Norway, to build more expertise and create new business ventures.
One major ultimatum
The Greens also decry Norway’s ongoing expansion of and heavy investment in oil fields, especially those in the Arctic, that stand to generate more carbon emissions and risk producing oil and gas that may no longer be in demand. The oil may only fetch low prices.
The Greens thus formulated one major political ultimatum earlier this year, that the party won’t support any government that opens new oil fields for exploration. The Greens want to start phasing out the oil and gas industry now, by halting all further exploration and then letting existing fields gradually run dry. The revenues they generate can eventually be replaced, claim the Greens, by investing in new ventures into renewable energy like wind power, the seafood industy and a host of other businesses using Norway’s natural resources, competence and expertise.
The Greens’ admittedly radical ideas are catching on. Recent public opinion polls have revealed trends over the summer that confirm growing support for climate and environmental measures and a voter backlash against the oil industry. The Greens are believed to have won around 19,300 voters away from the Labour Party alone, as they surpassed the Liberal Party to claim 4.6 percent of the vote, up from 2.8 percent in June. A poll that media firm ANB commissioned from research firm Opinion earlier this month also showed a decline for Labour and growth for MDG, to 4.3 percent of the vote.
Attracted a Labour star
The numbers mean the Greens are a party to be reckoned with, and can no longer be dismissed as a small idealistic party with little support. NRK reported that among voters abandoning Labour to “go Green” is one of Labour’s most high-profile young members, Helle Gannestad, who won international fame with her tweet after Labour’s youth organization was attacked by a right-wing terrorist on July 22, 2011 who gunned down and killed 69 people: “If one man can show so much hate, think how much love we can create together.” Gannestad inspired tens of thousands of Norwegians to take to the streets, waving roses and lighting candles, holding hands and singing.
Now Gannestad wants to inspire enactment of concrete measures to halt climate change. Despite spending her entire youth in the Labour Party, and coming from Sunndal in Møre og Romsdal where more than half the population votes Labour, she gave up on Labour’s policies after its national meeting last spring.
“The Labour Party is letting itself be influenced by those who want to open Lofoten and other areas for oil drilling, rather than listen to youth and consider the future,” Gannestad told NRK this week. “That’s when I decided to come out of the closet as ‘green’.”
Analysts claim the Greens are also attracting voters away from the Liberal and Center parties, both of which have tried to maintain a climate- and environment-friendly image. The Liberals firmly oppose drilling off Lofoten but have gone along with the conservative government’s oil industry expansion drive, not least into the Arctic. While the Center Party helped block drilling off Lofoten when it sat in the former Labour-led government, its oil minister at the time, Ola Borten Moe, was bullish on oil, worked hard to open up new areas to oil and gas exploration and now works in the oil business himself.
That’s what’s alienating many climate-minded voters in Norway who don’t feel the other mainstream parties are listening to their concerns. The Greens are the only party in Parliament firmly opposed to oil drilling and calling for a phase-out of the industry over the next few decades. Gannestad claims she knows many others who are defecting to the Greens along with her.
Ending the ‘standstill’
This is all music to the ears of Hansson, who formerly headed WWF Norge and has long been a career environmentalist even though he admitted his wife still drives a gas-guzzling RAV4. Hansson showed up for his meeting with foreign correspondents wearing his bicycle helmet before he sat down to defend the Greens’ program, which has been dismissed as “unrealistic” by Norway’s other bigger parties. Labour has flat out claimed that it won’t cooperate with the Greens after the elections. Hansson thinks that may change.
He stressed how after eight years of a Labour-led government (from 2005 to 2013) and the past four years of a Conservatives-led government, emissions have not been cut (they actually rose) and there’s been no change in oil drilling policy. “Whether the government is red (Labour) or blue (Conservatives), it hasn’t made any differnce,” Hansson lamented. Green power is needed, he believes, to end the “standstill.”
He admits the Greens’ demand to stop all new oil exploration is “radical,” but so were proposals that women should be be allowed to vote, he noted. “The whole idea behind the Paris Agreement (to cut emissions worldwide to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees) is to get rid of oil and gas,” Hansson claimed. It’s thus not the Greens’ policy that’s “unrealistic,” he believes, but rather “the idea that Norway can maintain and create a lot of new oil and gas jobs in the future.”
There will be an initial “shock” to business when oil exploration is finally halted, Hansson conceded, but it will also be a signal to “start developing all the other stuff that’s been back-burnered.” Norway, he notes, has a highly skilled and flexible workforce and lots of natural resources that present new opportunities. Norway’s sovereign wealth fund known as the “Oil Fund” also gives Norway “a ton of money to invest in other ventures.” The ongoing pro-oil policies of what he calls “the conservative parties” and “the social democrats” are not sustainable, he claims. He thinks both sides in Norwegian politics “have lost their direction.’
“We think the Green Party’s strategy is actually much more responsible, than clinging to the oil and gas sector,” Hansson said. “This is why we’re so clear in our demand to stop drilling for oil. It means starting the green shift in Norway, instead of just talking about it.”
Will ‘invite for talks’
So what will happen if voters agree, and the Greens end up with enough votes to influence the formation of a new government? “We will, based on the situation, invite the Labour Party and the Conservative Party to talks,” Hansson said. “Then we’ll see what happens.” He claimed the Greens won’t waiver on their demand to stop drilling, and won’t support any government that will. Nor will the Greens support any government that includes the Progress Party, “and not just because of their support for oil and gas but because of their stand on (restrictive) immigration, which we find totally unacceptable.”
Hansson also admitted it would be “very tough” to cooperate with the Center Party, which is expected to try to form a government with Labour: “They want to shoot wolves, they think the best way to protect nature is to use it, so they want to chop down forests and plug rivers with dams. We won’t move an inch on wanting to protect the wolves.” He said the Greens are also concerned about Center Party attitudes that he likens to “deliberate populism, pitting the countryside against the cities. We can’t be pulled into that.”
He nonetheless sees the Greens as “green social democrats,” suggesting a cooperation would be most likely with a Labour-led coalition. “We will be pragmatic,” he said, but insisted Labour can’t expect any compromise on drilling.