Silje Totland

Silje Totland

A green transition away from fossil-based fuels is a frequently debated topic these days. Could it be that we are thinking about it all wrong, and that the solution has been right under our noses the whole time?

In November 2016, one of the most influential nordic climate gatherings, the ZERO conference, was hosted for the second time in Oslo. Norwegian politicians, industries from all over the world, entrepreneurs, scientists and members of the royal family were among the speakers, sharing experiences, results and goals for the future. The conference theme, “from fossil to a green unique position”, dealt with the Norwegian transition from the golden age of oil and gas, to a desired golden age of clean technology. The conference was introduced by proclaiming that Norway needs new heroes. We are all those heroes.

A problem that divides
This transition is not just up to the politicians and the industry. «We need to call out for a Norwegian dugnad, proclaimed the leader of the Labour Party, Jonas Gahr Støre. A dugnad is when a group of people work collectively for the greater good, and not individual advantage. Just prior, Erna Solberg, the Prime Minister of Norway, had asserted that Norway needs a broad set of solutions. Not one, but many, and they should all be green. It seems that the politicians agree, but they need help from us all, as a collective transitional dugnad. We must demand from the politicians that they go forth and set the framework for this transition to be manageable. A key message repeated in various ways throughout the conference was the warning against a dichotomy. This transition is not about ‘fossil fuel vs green energy’. By designing the transition as a dichotomy between fossil and green, we are creating a simplification that leaves out an infinite number of alternative solutions. By simplifying science, we get what is referred to as the dominant model of science. Simplification leads to distortion. How can ordinary people make decisions if they do not know the science, the technology, or the possibilities? At the same time, if we are to call for a dugnad, we need everyone to join. How can we achieve this?

A place for absolution?
We should not abandon fossil fuels to go green.
Realistically, we expect fossil fuels will be with us for another twenty years or more. We actually need oil to go green. At least for a little while. But how on earth can fossils be green? I would like to illustrate with a story. Coffee, like oil, is widely consumed all over the world. But did you know that a freshly brewed cup of coffee contains only 0.2% of farmers´ produce? We have to rethink coffee. To do this, we have to do a lot more with what we have. The remaining produce is suitable for growing mushrooms. Such mushrooms can have many applications. They can be animal fodder, or work as absorbents in textiles. They can even be used to make UVresistant paint, or soap! This opens a new market for coffee farmers. Using the excess produce,
some farmers can now earn six times as much. This represents a new way of thinking, but it’s not ‘newly invented’ innovative thinking. This is everyday thinking of designers. This way of looking at the problem as a solution requires creativity, and is not necessarily based on science

In a peaceful transition we trust
The ZERO conference was loaded with examples of incremental innovations, very much suitable for a dugnad. They already grow mushrooms in Tanzania, and we can also do this in Norway. After all, we drink a lot of coffee and produce a lot of coffee grounds. Our ability to do this, however, depends on an innovative state of mind that sets the framework for this to happen. The Norwegian Agency for Public Management and eGovernment, DIFI, talked about their new regulations for green and innovative public procurements. Previously, it was compulsory for public procurement to be 30% green. All procurements from January 1st and onwards, are designed to increase this number. This is done to make it easier for ‘heroes’ to make green decisions and think creatively about the way they do business.

This article was first published in the January 2017 edition of Teknovatøren.