The Norwegian historian of science Peder Anker, employed at New York University, has written a large number of articles on environmental theory since the 1990s, and among his books are works on ecological design and the history of ecology. Empirical Ecology – Environmental Order in the British Empire (2002). When he now grasps the history of the Norwegian environmental movement, he operates as a locally known guide for foreign visitors to the Norwegian (intellectual) landscape. The result is a presentation that mythologises and demythologises Norwegian environmental thinkers at the same time.
Anker begins with Norwegian explorers such as Helge Ingstad and Thor Heyerdahl, who mixed their sensational expeditions to exotic places with what the author sees as a typical Norwegian longing for the simple and authentic life. Similarly, he presents the Norwegian cottage and outdoor life in the post-war period as an attempt to win back to – possibly doubt – a presumably cleaner and more moral way of life, a typical Norwegian mixture of primitivism and natural pietism.
Only by positioning themselves outside the civilization they criticized and seeking out the periphery of Outlying Norway could Norwegian environmental thinkers create a clean and unpolluted point of view, Anker claims: "On a global level, […] beautiful, peaceful Norway was put in contrast to a polluted and troubled world. The power of the periphery was a social construction and a belief system that supported the environmentalist's confident good looks. "
A typical Norwegian mixture of primitivism and natural pietism.
In Anker's critical-ironic presentation, there is a lot of condescending talk about Norwegian "do-gooders", an expression that in English refers to both naive complacency and moral posing. It is timely to direct such criticism at the legacy of Gro Harlem Brundtland, who with the term "sustainable development" would combine marked economic growth with green values and a "typical Norwegian goodness".
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