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The Storting could establish a citizens' council

CHRONICLE / What is the reason why the Norwegian people constantly choose oil over climate? And when it comes to the climate crisis, why do Storting politicians withhold significant information from the public?


Who is responsible for that 10% of the Norwegian population are climate deniers? What is the reason for that the majority of the norwegian population is not very worried about climate change when climate scientists are unanimous that it constitutes an existential crisis? Is there something wrong with our democracy when the majority of the population chooses short-term oil extraction over our future livelihood in any Storting election?

The consequences of climate change

Democracy means democracy, and this means in principle that the population can choose a policy that is destructive to one's own interests. But democracy should be self-regulating in the sense that when a problem arises, the population will react and demand that politicians do something to improve the situation. However, this is where the challenge for democracy arises when it comes to the climate crisis: the really serious consequences of climate change have not occurred in Norway yet and therefore one can not expect the population to react and demand change from politicians based on their own experience of the problem.

What is required is clear communication from the authorities to explain the situation we are in and how it will affect us in the future. Norwegian politicians were good at standing together and explaining the seriousness of the pandemic, which also posed a future threat, without letting political disagreements stand in the way. But when it comes to the climate crisis, Storting politicians hold significant information from the public.

Quiet climate crisis

In 2019, I participated in a number of actions under the auspices of Extinction Rebellion to support the school strikes and get Parliament to declare climate crisis. We considered it a natural requirement, as it simply and easily reflects the research, at the same time as it would have been an important premise for the political action we wanted to follow. If the Storting declared a climate crisis, it would be easier to understand that drastic changes were required to resolve the crisis. Activism led to some of the opposition parties asked the Storting to declare a climate crisis, but we did not hear that the Storting actually did anything about it.

Extinction Rebellion demonstration.

It was not until December 2019 that I heard that the Storting had in fact declared a climate crisis, albeit quietly. I was in debate with Petter Frølich (Right) in Dagsnytt 18 and asked him why the Storting had not declared a climate crisis. "We has done that." he said, "It says in the remarks of the committee. It sounds dry, but that's what has been done. That's the way we operate. " When I heard that, I was absolutely stunned. "That's the way we operate," I thought.

The fact that the Storting has declared a climate crisis in a comment without writing a press release. This suggests that the Storting politicians understand that we are facing a serious emergency, but that they do not want to say it out loud enough for the Norwegian people to get it. Thus, they have "done the job", without disturbing the oil policy that defines the country's economy.

Why citizens' council

Brexit is probably the best example of a bad political decision made by a poorly informed population. Following the referendum, it emerged that one of the top searches on Google in the UK was "What is the EU?». This could indicate that many Britons did not understand the consequences of leaving the EU ahead of the referendum. Perhaps it is naive to expect the man in the street to have settled any political issue before an election or referendum. After all, people are busy with family and work much of the day – not everyone is equally interested in politics.

Why then should it work better to appoint one citizens' council (eller civic assembly ) to decide on political proposals? A citizens' council consists of a representative sample of the population and will presumably reflect the perception in society. The majority of the Norwegian population is in favor of further oil exploration. Would not the members of a citizens' council thus come to the same conclusion?

The difference is that those who are selected to participate in a citizens' council have time to familiarize themselves with a case – for example the climate crisis – with relevant information presented by experts, which they are given the opportunity to discuss before coming up with a proposal. the politicians. According to Andrea Culkova in MODERN TIMES it is this process that leads to participants express far more progressive attitudes after they have participated in a citizens' council, than before they entered the process. Citizens' Councils have been set up to provide advice on climate action in the UK in 2019 and the result was one series of progressive proposals on how the authorities could cut emissions.

Culkova refers to surveys that show that citizens' councils generally come up with more progressive proposals than society as a whole. She believes the reason is that participants in a citizens' council make informed decisions in contrast to many voters who go to the polls uninformed or misinformed. Based on this conclusion, one can see how it benefits oil-positive politicians not to run an information campaign about the climate crisis by, for example, declaring a climate crisis with a press release.

But one can also choose to look at the situation with less cynical eyes and imagine that Storting politicians are in a serious predicament. They know that they are up for election among a population that is overwhelming for further oil extraction, so to be elected they can not criticize this industry.

In a country that is as soaked in oil as Norway is.

At the same time, they have a responsibility to follow the conclusions of climate scientists who say that all fossil energy must be phased out if the world is not to experience an indescribable catastrophe. If that is the case, the Storting can establish a citizens' council that gives legitimacy to climate policy decisions, which are often more progressive than one might otherwise expect. This is the way to implement climate policy – without committing political suicide in a country that is as steeped in oil as Norway is.


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Dag Kolstø
Kolstø is a trained social anthropologist, farmer, full-time activist and spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion Norway.

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