“Just as top government officials are gathering in Bali for the UN Climate Change Conference comes news that carbon dioxide emissions at a new gas power plant in northern Norway are exceeding all limits.” (Aftenposten 4 Dec. 07)
“She has been sleeping there, waiting, virgin and attractive, with promises of the most costly pleasures ever seen in this part of the kingdom. Seven suitors she has, and they are no dwarves. They are licencees, and are called Statoil, TotalFinalElf, Gaz de France, Norsk Hydro, Amerada Hess, RWE DEA and Svenska Petroleum. Yesterday it became evident that Snow White was ready receive her suitors, the seven giants (…) No doubt [they] will drain the sleeping virgin to the last drop.” (Oddvar Nygård, Editorial comment, The regional newspaper Nordlys, 26 Sept. 01)*
The new liquefied natural gas power plant (first in Europe) called Snow White (Snøhvit) just outside the town of Hammerfest on Melkøya island (about 300 km north from Kautokeino) opened earlier this fall with a lot of brouhaha especially from its owner, StatoilHydro. The Snow White represented the beginning of a new era in natural gas production with its new cutting-edge, supposedly world’s most climate-friendly technology. Yesterday, it was reported that the gas plant “spewed out 1.1 million tons of carbon emissions just in its first two months of operation” – an amount that was supposed be for ten, not two, months.
As Aftenposten reports, now the Snow White is “in danger of becoming ‘a climate-gas nightmare’ for both Norwegian politicians and StatoilHydro officials.”
Not that the plant has been in operation in the past weeks. It was shut down due to technical difficulties and nobody really seems to know when it can be reopened. But when it will, it means again higher levels of carbon emissions, as high as 600,000 tons. Now the StatoilHydro representatives are forced to “admit they were too optimistic in predicting the far lower emissions levels that they did.”
Sometime this fall the Sami University College received a box of propaganda material (oops, I mean company magazine) from Statoil. The opened box was on middle of the floor at the reception, so of course I had to pick one up. (The receptionist happened to be out so I couldn’t ask her what was she going to do with the stuff – a general delivery, a copy for everyone? I’m sure that’s what Statoil had had in mind when mailing the box to one of their ‘partners’.)
The Statoil Magazine is titled “Burning Down to Clean Up,” a Special issue on C02. The intro “Push for the Planet” declares that, “Humanity is now joining forces to take global warming seriously.” The magazine offers glossy pictures and smiley faces with several ‘good news’ stories from Norway but also from Mexico and Alberta, Canada (where Statoil is involved in extracting oil from the infamous tar sands.) Statoil is contributing to saving the world by its unique Carbon Capture and Storage (CSS) technology, now also supposed to be in use in Melkøya outside Hammerfest. CSS means pumping the CO2 back to the ground and stored beneath the seabed. In the case of Snow White, 750,00 tonnes of CO2 will be piped 150 km for storage every year. The Norwegian Parliament approved the gas plant development in 2002 with the condition of strictly limiting the carbon emissions.
As a result of Snow White, Hammerfest has become the most violent town in Norway. So much for the peaceful, harmonious fairy tale with a happy ending. First the temporary male construction work force and now, the Statoil mostly male employees (as Statoil representatives openly admit, adding that they don’t have a strategy for getting more female employees) that has made the town more violent and unsafe than before. In the summer I met a woman who is from Hammerfest and works there as a nurse. She said that she can see the effects of rising levels of violence in her work. Besides it’s local knowledge that women don’t go out on Fridays because it’s too dangerous and nasty – unless you want to get laid, she added.
When I’m writing this I get another piece of news in my inbox: New York Times is reporting from Alaska, “Oil Drilling May Threaten Whaling.” It’s no joke that the Arctic has become the new Klondike. Drilling oil in Alaska is not news but now Shell is spearheading a campaign to start exploiting vast reserves believed to lie off Alaska’s coast. Bush is of course backing the initiative and has granted leases for vast areas. Shell’s campaign, however, was slowed down by a law suit filed by an alliance of Inupiat whalers and environmental groups who argue that drilling will disrupt the migration routes of the bowhead whales.
Strangely enough there hasn’t been much discussion about the Snow White’s effects on reindeer herding or other local traditional economies. If anything, the gas operation has toughened views on reindeer herding in Hammerfest that has already for years “suffered” from the presence of reindeer which migrate to the coast for the summer and which have taken a liking to garden flowers. Now the mayor and many others want to get rid of the reindeer altogether – perhaps to make more space for new gas plants on other islands in the future – although the Hammerfest coast is the traditional summer grazing area for many reindeer herding families from this area.
Maybe there is a need for a broad-based coalition in this part of the Arctic as well to ensure there won’t be more “sleeping virgins to be drained to the last drop” (doesn’t such language serve as an implicit licence also for rape?). Now that Australia has finally woken up and joined the Kyoto Protocol signatories (good riddance, Howard!), maybe there’s renewed hope. Val Plumwood, Australian environmental philosopher reminds us that techno-optimist fantasies based on hegemonic forms of reason won’t save us from ecological crisis. There aren’t any quick technofix solutions – it is the very technology and behaviour, destructive and insensitive, that has got us into this mess in the first place.
We cannot remain complacent when Norway is breaking its promises to curb its emissions to a level of only one percent more than the 1990 levels. Last year, the emissions were 8 percent above those levels. Aftenposten notes: “Melkøya’s emissions alone mean Norway is in danger of failing to fulfill its promise, unless the country is able to make dramatic cuts and buy enough climate quotas from other countries.”
However, buying climate quotas is not necessarily a sustainable and just way out of the mess. In many countries, like for example in Costa Rica (which sells carbon credits to Norway, among others), the state is pushing subsistence farmers off the land to establish forest farms of foreign species – monocultures that also threaten biodiversity and ecosystems with the use of chemical fertilizers. Displacing and impoverishing families, they are forced to migrate to urban areas, where women and children are particularly vulnerable for abuse and violence and often have no other means to support them than prostitution.
The sleeping virgin called Snow White in the Arctic and forced prostitutes in the global South – is this the vicious circle of a male fantasy fuelled (once more) by techno-optimism?
Citations from the Aftenposten English online edition: http://www.aftenposten.no/english/local/article2135119.ece
NYTimes article can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/04/business/04alaskaoil.html
* Cited in Aasjord, Bente. “Norway.” Women and Natural Resource Management in the Rural North. Arctic Council Sustainable Development Working Group 2004-2006. Ed. Lindis Sloan. Nordfold: Forlaget Nora, Kvinneuniversitetet Nord, 2006. 97-128.