Police in Oslo arrested 29 young activists from the radical environmental group Extinction Rebellion Norway on Monday, after they blocked traffic at a busy uptown intersection. The demonstrators, demanding an end to more oil exploration, also streamed into the government’s Oil Ministry after earlier mounting demonstrations at state-owned oil company Equinor and in Oslo’s Frogner Park.
The organization, which also wants the Norwegian Parliament to decide by 2025 on a halt to all oil and gas production, had already warned a wave of demonstrations this week. They’re calling it an “historic” display of civil disobedience aimed at tackling the climate crisis and shaming Norway’s contribution to carbon emissions, production of fossil fuel and climate change.
“We want to use our privilege to stand up for those without a vote and those who are marginalized: the nature, animals and not least future generations,” Jonas Kittlesen, one of the demonstrators in the Frogner Park, told state broadcaster NRK. He and others dressed in red costumes to “celebrate life and promote climate fairness.”
Asked for a response to criticism over how Extinction Rebellion resorts to civil disobedience, Kittelsen acknowledged the group was controversial. “The reason we sit peacefully in buildings and block roads is because that’s a tool that has proven effective historically, in democracies and for equality,” he told NRK. “We have seen how powerful it can be.”
Warned in advance
The demonstrations had been warned in advance and police were on hand, also at another “occupation” of state oil company Equinor’s offices in Oslo. Police ended up arresting a total of 29 demonstrators who blocked traffic at the busy Majorstukrysset intersection in Oslo Monday afternoon. The intersection is a hub for metro, bus and vehicular traffic.
Around 16 demonstrators also flocked into the reception area of the Oil Ministry in downtown Oslo or stood outside it. “They’re conducting themselves in a peaceful manner,” police operations leader Tom Berger told NRK. “They’re not hindering operations and the ministry has said they can remain.”
Oil Minister Tina Bru of the Conservative Party, which continues to allow and promote oil exploration and production even though the United Nations and International Energy Agency (IEA) have called for a halt to exploration, met them face-to-face. She said she thought it was “sad” that the demonstrators “resort to civil disobedience, call democracy a problem and want to shift power from elected officials to what they think is correct themselves.”
Peter Frølich, the Conservatives’ spokesperson on legal policy, called the demonstrators “environmental extremists without respect for democracy.” He claimed their demonstrations (including one last week outside a major oil terminal near Bergen) also carry “a large cost,” because “police are forced to use time and resources on these idiots.”
Kittelsen objected to Frølich’s characterization: “There’s a lot of planning and thought behind these actions. Civil disobedience isn’t about just getting arrested. It’s about creating a lose-lose situation for an institution that’s doing something damaging.”
The demonstrators also drew support on Monday. Truls Gulowsen, a former Greenpeace activist who now leads the Norwegian chapter of Friends of the Earth (Naturvernforbundet), told newspaper Klassekampen that Extinction Rebellion reflects frustration over how climate battles have gone on for years without achieving the necessary political action.
“I’m frustrated myself,” Gulowsen told the paper. “Even the UN and IEA say we have to stop looking for more oil and save energy, but there’s still a majority of Norwegian politicians who don’t think that applies to Norway.” He was unsure whether blocking roads was a good way to tackle the problem, and worried it may just irritate the very people Extinction Rebellion is trying to reach.
Rasmus Hansson, a former Member of Parliament who’s campaigning to represent the Greens Party in the upcoming election, supported the protests, calling them “a demonstration against completely irresponsible oil policy.” More are planned throughout the week.