A new survey shows that climate issues suddenly top a list of voter priorities in Norway, less than a week before local elections are held nationwide. The survey results come just after massive flooding and landslides set off by extreme weather blamed on climate change.
Torrential rain and the damage it caused seems to have shaken many Norwegians who’ve otherwise benefited from their country’s oil and gas industry. Among them is Victoria Elise Granås, who works at a gasoline station in Bagn in Valdre, a mountain valley hit hard by the extreme weather system dubbed “Hans.” She told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) how she and her family had to evacuate when a landslide roared through their neighbourhood.
“It was very frightening, both when it occurred and afterwards,” Granås told NRK. “We didn’t know when or whether we’d come home again.” She said the extreme weather has made her suddenly much more conscious of the climate change that researchers have studied and warned about for decades.
Now climate tops a list of the most important issues for voters, according to a poll conducted by NRK itself in connection with its election campaign coverage. A category covering climate, the so-called “green shift,” sustainability and the environment is now right up there with health care and social differences. Other categories included elder care, private economy, education, mental health, transport, child care and energy policy.
The energy policy and power generation issues ranked at the bottom of the list, however, even after two winters of record-high electricity rates and major conflicts over wind power. Energy and climate policy are closely linked, yet wound up at opposite ends of the survey conducted by research firm Norstat for NRK.
Johannes Bergh, who specializes in election patterns at Norway’s Institute for Social Research, nonetheless thinks that “it looks like climate and environment issues have attracted more interest among voters.” He told NRK on Wednesday that “extreme weather this summer in many places around the world, also here in Norway” has “led to many discussions about climate, and that makes voters more concerned about it.”
Climate concerns may thus be reflected in election results next week, not least since local officials are responsible for local preparedness. Several local mayors such as Ola Tore Dokken in Nordre Land have acknowledged that it’s even more important to try to prevent floods and landslides.
Others remain skeptical, claiming that Norwegians continue to be lulled into complacency over climate change because of all the money they’ve made on their oil and gas and other industries that generate carbon emissions. No major alternatives to oil have yet emerged. Norway has recently come under international criticism over the government’s failure to cut emissions and continue its oil and gas exploration.
“Norwegians, whether they come from the fjords, Jæren (home to many companies active in the offshore oil and gas industry) or west Oslo (one of the country’s most affluent areas), are both climate skeptics and exploiters of natural resources,” wrote Ulrik Eriksen in newspaper Morgenbladet last week, in connection with his review of a new Norwegian film glorifying the country’s magnificent scenery and those living within it. Eriksen cited not only ongoing expansion of Norway’s oil industry but also highway projects and large hytte (holiday home) developments in the mountains.
Norway’s two major parties, Labour and the Conservatives, both support ongoing development of Norway’s oil and offshore industry, as do the Center Party (currently Labour’s partner in state government), the Progress Party and the Christian Democrats. They’ve all been slow to restructure the economy and investment in “green” industry continues to lag. Local officials up for election next week don’t have as much power to make the major restructuring needed for a “green shift,” and have been accused of more often irritating voters with their climate projects than motivating them.