WWF Annual Conference
Dear friends of nature,
Here in Lofoten one of Nature’s great miracles takes place, the world’s largest cod stock spans in these particularly favourable conditions. For centuries this particular cod stock has given Norway its most important livelihood.
Our dependence on cod is well described by one of our national poets, Peter Dass:
Og skulle du, herre, forkorte din hand
Og stænge skreitorsken og fisken fra land
Da lagdes vi hastelig øde
(Oh Lord, we hastily vanish if the blessing from the sea disappeared.)
Lofoten is the home of Northern Europe’s largest seabird colony. Right outside the window we find the world largest cold water coral reef, and great herds of killer whales who I’ve understood some of you got a closer look at over the weekend – as did I last night!
As you might have guessed already, I am incredibly happy to be back in Lofoten. My husband and I spent a rather stormy week here last fall and, this wild beautiful landscape creates a lasting impact for those of us who have been fortunate enough to experience it.
My longstanding engagement in environmental issues started already as a child when I grew up on the south coast of Norway. I grew up spending my summers in my uncle’s small boat, roaming small islands for things we could play with. We found plastic cans, old fish nets, ropes and all sorts of exciting treasures. As a grown up I still collect plastic on beaches but with a sad heart and not the same joy. The world has changed. So have I - and the type of plastic I found this weekend on a beautiful beach in Lyngen is very different. Now we still find ropes, old fish nets and big cans, but the amount of plastic from consumer goods was astounding.
It is a great pleasure to attend the opening of World Wildlife Fund’s annual conference here in northern Norway. I would especially like to thank my friend and fellow YGL Nina Jensen for your committed leadership of Norway’s WWF branch.
When WWF was established in Norway in 1970 it was with my father-in-law as president. This February His Majesty visited a research station in Antarctica where he stated ”Our children are going to be wiser than we have been ”. I truly hope he is right, but more I hope we will rise to the occasion NOW.
Mother Nature is an incredibly finely tuned eco system that we all are a small part of. Climate change with human land use has emerged as the greatest challenge of our time. We have never before had such a vast amount of scientific reports on the changing climate as we have today, the effects of the climate crisis are becoming clearer for everyone to see. We have both facts and visible extremes that previous generations lacked. Yet, in spite of all this, public concern for climate change has paradoxically decreased over the last 25 years. We clearly have a communications problem.
So over the years as my understanding of the complexity of environmental issues has increased, so has my yearning to learn more, and this year I’m studying “Green Growth” at the Norwegian business school. My Professor, Per Espen Stoknes, argues that the climate communication we have seen the last decades to a large extent – in spite of the best intentions – has ended up making people feel helpless and wanting to avoid the disturbing facts. It has now become as important to understand the human response to the climate crisis - as to understand the climate system itself.
One of the reasons we do not act seem to be that the whole issue has been presented as a distant but threatening doomsday to us. But threats and fear typically triggers a “fight or flight”-mode in the human brain. However, there have been few practical solutions where one can act meaningfully upon the information. The consequence is that many, including myself end up with avoiding the topic, with dissonance and denial instead.
Therefore, I believe we need a whole new narrative on green issues:
We need to emphasize green choices people can make in their everyday life, and make it simpler, meaningful – and fun. Rather than more doom, we now also need stories and visions of the society and the world we deeply want to sustain. We need to remember the experiences of nature each and every one of us treasure in the places where we live. And most importantly, create a grounded hope that we can, and will, chose to be a part of the long-term solution and no longer a part of the problem.
Let us start to view the necessary green transition more through the lenses of opportunity and health. There are for instance major business opportunities in making the world a better place. In WWF you have already put your opportunity lenses on and started the One Planet Business group, as well as The 3% Solution project, where you in cooperation with the private sector address environmental challenges related to the companies’ core business. As you have already begun, let us continue to elaborate the new visions for what the future can look like. What scenarios for a greener economy in the north can you see? How can Northern Norway leverage from ecotourism, sustainable cod, sea grass and renewable energy?
Northern Norway holds enormous potential for both better societies and a smarter economy that do not ruin this amazing nature. I hope you will come to treasure this spectacular place as much as I do and enjoy all its miracles. I wish you all the best for the conference and for your very important job in caring for the ecosystems here – and elsewhere.
I will end by quoting the American artist John Cage who said:
“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I´m frightened of the old ones.”