Heated climate change debate in Norway’s Vesterålen 

GaiaVesterålen’s many projects have ignited a local debate about climate change in the Arctic regions of Northern Norway. A heated dialogue is welcome and necessary, as a recent survey suggested that as little as half of Vesterålen’s population believes human activity is the main driver behind climate change.

A regional survey initiated by the local collaboration partners in the RESIST Project in August 2023 found that only 54% of respondents agreed with the following statement: “Climate change is mainly caused by human activity.” The survey suggests that Vesterålen differs markedly from the rest of the country, where similar polls show that only 25% of the Norwegian population does not believe in human-made climate change.

A total of 739 inhabitants across the five municipalities of the region participated in the survey. The results surprised both the local RESIST partners and the then-mayor of Sortland municipality, Karl-Erling Norlund. He told local media: “It is surprising that Vesterålen differs significantly from the national average in perceptions of climate. At the same time, I am happy that so many people have responded to the survey, because this gives us new and useful information about opinions in Vesterål society.”

Presentation of opinion poll, Norway. Photo: GaiaVesterålen

The long-planned survey was sparked by a local debate about the art and climate communication project ‘The Sunken House’ during May 2023 in Sortland. The project, in which GaiaVesterålen is a leading partner, uses an old house in the city center to mark the sea level rise expected by the year 2080, according to NASA’s worst case-scenario calculations. On social media, the comment sections were flooded with climate change sceptics and critics. The heated debate made both local and national news. It caused such a stir that Ane Høyem, project leader of GaiaVesterålen, appeared on NRK Dagsrevyen, the national evening news, on Norway’s National Day.

Read more about the Sunken House Project: https://www.gaiavesteralen.eco/thesunkenhouse

Ane Høyem, Norway. Photo: GaiaVesterålen

Do we impose climate-anxiety on youth?

This was the title of a public meeting initiated by GaiaVesterålen, inspired by one of the gravest claims made by climate sceptics during The Sunken House-debate. The public meeting consisted of a panel dialogue involving two youngsters from the Regional Youth Council, a psychologist, a law student and two of the most prominent local climate sceptics, who had both been active in the commentary fields. About 80 people turned up to the public meeting physically and about 1,300 online. The purpose of the public meeting was not only to debate sea levels and -humanity’s role in climate change but also to open a dialogue with the community in which different perspectives were welcomed and talked about in a respectful manner.

Building knowledge and creating hope

These activities reveal the need to keep building knowledge and raising awareness about the climate challenges we are all now facing. That is why one of the main activities in the RESIST Project is communication about the GAIA Arctic Summit 2024. An international conference in Vesterålen that addresses climate change, with a main focus on the ocean, sharing knowledge and the imperative task of building climate-resilient local communities in the Arctic.

More information about the conference and program for the event coming soon, stay tuned here: https://www.gaiavesteralen.eco/gaia-arctic-summit-2024

Hope to see you all here this summer June 6-7, 2024, greetings from Vesterålen!