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Billionaire Gives Away His Fortune to Help Save the Ocean

Norwegian businessman Kjell Inge Røkke is not someone usually admired for environmental stewardship. Described by Forbes as a "ruthless corporate raider," Røkke made his billions as the majority stakeholder in shipping and offshore drilling conglomerate, Aker.

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Photo credit: Terje Rakke/Nordic Life, Visitnorway.com

And, the Happiest Country in the World Is ...

By Andrea Germanos

Norway now holds the title of the world's happiest country, according to a new report that also outlines how Republican proposals to gut safety nets, enact tax windfalls for the rich and attack public education—as well as bipartisan failures in terms of the global war on terror and campaign finance—are making happiness further out of grasp for those in the U.S.

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90% of Minke Whales Killed in Norway Are Female and 'Almost All' Pregnant

Ninety percent of the minke whales hunted and killed each year in Norwegian waters are female and " almost all" of them are pregnant, according to a documentary aired earlier this month on NRK, a government-owned public broadcasting company.

The documentary, Slaget om kvalen ("Battle of Agony"), shows grisly footage of Norway's whaling industry, including one bloody scene where a fisherman cuts open a whale and removes its fetus.

The release of the documentary has sparked intense outcry from conservation groups in light of Norway's long-standing objection to the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) 1986 ban on commercial whaling.

"Whale hunting is now even more unacceptable," the head of Greenpeace Norway, Truls Gulowsen, told AFP.

"On the one hand because it's in violation of an international ban but also because ... it's indefensible from the point of view of the animal's well-being to hunt them during an advanced stage of gestation."

The estimated present population of minke whales is more than one million.

Norway is the world's top whaling nation, and has a quota to kill 999 minke whales during the 2017 hunting season, up from its quota of 880 whales in 2016.

A 2016 joint report from the Animal Welfare Institute, OceanCare and Pro Wildlife found that in 2014 and 2015, Norway killed more whales than Japan and Iceland combined.

"We have a professional approach and therefore we don't think about it," said Dag Myklebust, the captain and harpoonist on the Norwegian fishing vessel Kato.

He added that the fact that they are pregnant "is a sign of good health," Myklebust added.

An expert told NRK that the killing of pregnant animals is common.

"Lots of slaughtered animals are sent to the slaughterhouse when they are pregnant," said Egil Ole Oen, a veterinarian who specializes in whale hunting.

Norway and Iceland are the only countries that continue to hunt whales despite the IWC's moratorium. Japan also conducts whaling for "research" reasons.

Last year, Japan faced similar scrutiny after its whaling fleet came back with 333 dead minke whales, including 230 that were female and 90 percent of the mature females pregnant.

Animal rights groups remarked that the killing of pregnant whales is especially egregious because it affects the next generation.

"It is horrific to learn that such a high rate of the whales killed in Norway are female and pregnant," OceanCare said in a statement to AFP.

"The whalers are not only killing the current but also part of the next generation of whales," it added.

Astrid Fuchs, the program lead at Whale and Dolphin Conservation said that "the revelations of the film are absolutely shocking."

"Given the fact that a vast majority of the whales is pregnant, the minister's proposed doubling of the quota would mean close to 4,000 whales could be slaughtered each year in European waters," Fuchs noted about Norway's fisheries minister, Per Sandberg, who proposed to double the number of minke whales killed to nearly 2,000 and sell the meat to the European Union.

So how can you help stop this gruesome practice?

In an email to EcoWatch, Gulowsen of Greenpeace Norway suggested contacting the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC) about your opposition to the slaughtering of pregnant minke whales. The state-owned NSC is the world's largest generic marketing company for seafood and works to "safeguard" the Norwegian fisheries "positive image"—meaning they probably do not want the negative PR about its whaling industry.

"Although whale products are not exported, the seafood business is part of one large state/private operations, where they are all mutually responsible for each others practices," Gulowsen pointed out.

The Animal Welfare Institute is also urging its supporters to write to Kåre R. Aas, Norway's ambassador to the U.S., "to let him know that you are opposed to his country's continued killing of minke whales" and to "encourage him to support responsible whale watching instead."

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This City Is Giving Residents $1,200 Toward Buying an Electric Bike

The city of Oslo, Norway is offering grants to help its citizens partially pay for electric cargo bikes through its Climate and Energy Fund. Each grant covers up to $1,200 or 25 percent of an electric cargo bike purchase, which can cost from $2,400 to $6,000.

The funds could potentially put "500 to 1,000 electric cargo bikes onto Oslo's streets" for individuals, businesses and organizations, City Lab reported.

"Unfortunately, subsidy for private individuals" is no longer available, but "it is still possible to apply for funding for pilot projects under the auspices of condominiums, cooperatives, organizations or companies," the Oslo Council bike grant application page states.

Oslo offers this grant partly because of the city's growing issues with air pollution, which also prompted a January ban on diesel vehicles. Similarly, in late 2016, Paris imposed driving restrictions and provided free public transportation.

"Despite considerable improvements in past decades, air pollution is still responsible for more than 400,000 premature deaths in Europe each year," according to The European Environment Agency, which described air pollution as a persistent problem throughout Europe.

In 2016, Oslo carried out a similar initiative to partially pay for up to 20 percent of the cost of an electric bike. These funds were used in full. This program received criticism when it was discovered that some of the electric bike recipients were among Oslo's wealthiest citizens or were living outside of Oslo.

Oslo's numerous hills and harsh weather conditions have also been called deterrents to electric bike programs, yet the city appears to continue to pursue green solutions at every front. In 2015, Oslo became the first capital city to ban investments in fossil fuels. Additionally, electric cars outsell conventional vehicles in Oslo and the city has dedicated $1 billion to a bike infrastructure fund, reported City Lab.

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Norway's Biggest Oil Company to Build Huge Offshore Wind Farm Off Coast of New York

If everything goes to plan, New York City and Long Island will be harnessing the Atlantic Ocean's strong and dependable winds as a source of renewable energy.

Norway's biggest oil company will be developing an offshore wind farm outside of New York. Statoil submitted the winning bid of $42.5 million to the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management last Friday to lease nearly 80,000 acres of federal waters roughly 14 miles off the coast of Long Island, the Huffington Post reported.

The company estimates that the leased area could host a 1,000-megawatt offshore wind farm, with the first phase of development expected to begin with 400 to 600 megawatts. The first plan of action is to survey seabed conditions which can be as deep as 131 feet, grid connection options and wind resources at the site.

"We now look forward to working with New York's state agencies and contribute to New York meeting its future energy needs by applying our offshore experience and engineering expertise," Irene Rummelhoff, Statoil's executive vice president for Statoil's renewable energy branch, New Energy Solutions, said in a statement.

New York state aims to generate 50 percent of its electricity needs from renewable resources by 2030 and is betting big on offshore wind to help meet that goal. The Long Island Power Authority, with the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is slated to approve a contract for a 90-megawatt offshore wind project 30 miles northeast of Montauk.

Offshore wind is resource begging to be tapped in the U.S., which has a projected 4,223 gigawatts of electric generating potential, LEEDCo estimated.

"The U.S. is a key emerging market for offshore wind—both bottom-fixed and floating—with significant potential along both the east and west coasts," Statoil's Rummelhoff said.

Still, the U.S. lags behind other countries in utilizing this form of emissions-free electricity. U.S. offshore wind development has faced a number of stumbling blocks, such as the embattled Cape Wind Project in Massachusetts that has stalled for more than a decade.

Europe, in comparison, has embraced this form of energy and developed several offshore wind farms projects, as the Huffington Post detailed:

"The United Kingdom alone gets about 5.1 gigawatts of electricity from 1,465 turbines operating at 27 separate wind offshore farms, according to data from the trade group Renewable UK. In 2012, Statoil completed its first commercial offshore wind farm, an 88-turbine project called Sheringham Shoal, off the eastern coast of England. That farm now powers up to 220,000 British homes. The company is building a second farm in deeper waters, roughly 20 miles off the North Norfolk coast in England, that is expected to produce enough power for up to 401,000 homes. Statoil's third British farm, set to begin production off the coast of Scotland next year, could become the world's first floating wind farm."

In fact, Europe's offshore wind is now cheaper than fossil fuels. According to The Guardian, the price for a megawatt hour is between €73-€140 ($76-$146) for offshore wind compared to €65-€70 ($68-$73) for gas and coal.

On a more positive note, America's first offshore wind farm—the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island developed Deepwater Wind—switched online just last week. And at least 10 other U.S. offshore wind projects are in development.

The country's renewable energy sector as a whole has been buoyed by federal tax credits that help reduce the price of developing such costly technologies such as offshore wind. For instance, the $30 million Block Island wind farm is eligible for a tax credit worth 30 percent of the project's cost.

However, under a Donald Trump presidency and a potential cabinet consisting of fossil fuel execs and climate change deniers, federal support of the country's renewable energy sector could weaken.

Wind farms, in particular, are a sore subject for the president-elect. Trump has waged legal battles against an offshore wind farm near his golf courses in Scotland because it was a "blight" on the view and once said "the wind kills all your birds."

That federal renewable energy subsidy is set to be lowered in 2019. An extension will require support from both Congress and the Trump administration.

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Huge Victory for Norway's Wolves

Vidar Helgesen, the Norwegian minister for climate and environment, announced Tuesday that the government denied permission to shoot the four wolf packs in the areas of Letjenna, Osdalen, Kynna and Slettås. The government concluded that there is no legal basis for the hunt, neither in the national nature protection laws nor in the Bern Convention, acknowledging the appeal from Friends of the Earth Norway to stop the hunt.

"This is a very important victory for the most endangered mammal in the Norwegian fauna," Silje Ask Lundberg, the leader of Friends of the Earth Norway, said.

"This is the Christmas gift of the year to those who care for nature and endangered wildlife. Big thanks to minister Helgesen who stopped the mass slaughter of Norwegian wolves. We are very happy that the government follows the nature legislation, even when the predator boards don't," Ask Lundberg said.

Three of the four wolf packs live in Norway's designated wolf area and none of them pose any threat to grazing livestock. Even so, the regional predator management authorities decided earlier this fall to allow hunting of the wolves. Now, the killing is off. According to current legislation, the cull of protected predators can only take place on the grounds of preventing loss to farmers, and only after all other measures have been tried.

"The decision is hugely important, as it states that wolves who don't catch domesticated animals cannot be hunted down freely. This shows that the predator management authorities' efforts to shoot as many wolves as possible is inconsistent with current law. They have not responded according to the law," Ask Lundberg said.

The predator management authorities' decision to cull the four wolf packs, as well as 15 wolves outside the wolf area, has been met with strong reactions, inside and outside Norway. More than 70,000 people has signed a petition against the cull. Almost 7,000 Norwegian and a large amount of international activists have contacted minister Helgesen via Friends of the Earth Norway's website.

"We want to thank everyone who has helped us to save the wolf families. Together, we put the pressure on the government that made this possible. This is the people's victory for wolf in the Norwegian nature," Ask Lundberg said.

Another Major Norwegian Investor Divests From Dakota Access Pipeline

Odin Fund Management, one of Norway's leading fund managers, announced Thursday that it sold $23.8 million (243 million NOK) worth of shares invested in the companies behind the Dakota Access Pipeline.

©Lori Panico

SpareBank 1, one of the financial institutions that offers Odin Funds, said that they have strong ethical standards for their investments and "as a result of information in press recently Odin Management undergone analyzes of companies heavier involved in the pipeline in question. We see then that this project in isolation is challenging with regard to social responsibility. For this reason we have chosen to divest the fund's shares in Marathon Petroleum."

According to Greenpeace Norway sustainable finance campaigner, Martin Norman, "If you take corporate social responsibility seriously, and one of your assets invests in a project that is in clear breach of your company guidelines, you get out ... All of the other Norwegian banks and funds that claim to have a CSR policy, including KLP, NORDEA, Storebrand and the Norwegian Oil Fund, must divest from the companies behind the Dakota Access Pipeline project immediately."

This news follows the Nov. 17 announcement by Norway's largest bank, DNB, that it sold its assets in the DAPL and is reconsidering the loan it provided.

The Sami, indigenous people living in the very north of Europe, and Standing Rock camp attorneys are working together to get Norway institutions to completely divest from the DAPL.

"Now it's time for DNB to be accountable," Beaska Niillas, Norwegian Sami Association, said. "DNB made the promise themselves: 'we won't be part of projects that violate Indigenous and human rights.' We provided them with information, and after they've seen the pictures and videos, there should no longer be doubt in their minds ... The only right thing to do in this urgent situation—terminate the loans."

The $3.8 billion pipeline project is now in its final stretch. More than 80 percent of the pipeline has already been constructed. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Nov. 14 that it would delay a decision on granting an easement to Energy Transfer Partners. However, on Nov. 17, a reporter spotted construction continuing despite the Army Corps decision.

"The financial institutions behind the pipeline are realizing that it is bad business to invest in companies willing to disregard Indigenous sovereignty to destroy sacred Native lands and water supply," Greenpeace USA spokesperson Mary Sweeters said.

"It's great to see Norwegian banks and funds leading the way, but it is time for U.S. banks to step up and follow suit. Citibank, the financial institution with the largest share in the pipeline, must divest and halt its loan disbursements immediately."

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Largest Bank in Norway Sells Its Assets in Dakota Access Pipeline

The largest bank in Norway, DNB, announced Thursday that it has sold its assets in the Dakota Access Pipeline, accounting for 10 percent of the total funding for the project.

The $3.8 billion pipeline project is now entering its final stretch. More than 80 percent of the pipeline has already been constructed.

Earlier this month, Reuters reported that DNB was "reconsidering its participation" in the financing of the pipeline if "concerns raised by Native American tribes against its construction are not addressed."

"We have initiated an independent review of how indigenous rights are safeguarded in this process," Even Westerveld of DNB said. "In addition, we have intensified the dialogue with our customers to use our position as a bank to influence a solution to the conflict."

"It is great that DNB has sold its assets in the disputed pipeline, and it is a clear signal that it is important that people speak out when injustice is committed," Martin Norman, Greenpeace Norway sustainable finance campaigner, said. "We now expect DNB to also terminate its loans for the project immediately."

"There should be a clause in the lending agreement that deals with human rights violations, and DNB should use it to get its money back and end all involvement in the Dakota Access pipeline. If they don't have such a clause they must accept they have a bad contract and take the loss."

This news follows the delivery of 120,000 signatures gathered by SumOfUs.org to DNB by Greenpeace Norway and others urging the bank and other financial institutions to pull finances for the project.

"The writing's on the wall for the Dakota Access pipeline. People power is winning," Norman continued.

"The news that DNB has sold its assets and is considering terminating its loans is a victory for the water protectors who are fighting to stop this disaster of a project. All financial institutions with a stake in the pipeline must quickly realize that financing this project is toxic. It would be smart for them to get out ahead of the growing movement of customers looking to divest from banks that finance the destruction of our planet and ignore Indigenous rights and sovereignty. Citigroup, TD Securities, Wells Fargo, SunTrust, and the other banks backing this project should see this as a sign to get on the right side of history."

The $3.8 billion pipeline project is now entering its final stretch. More than 80 percent of the pipeline has already been constructed. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Monday that it would delay a decision on granting an easement to Energy Transfer Partners for the contentious pipeline. However, on Tuesday, a Unicorn Riot reporter spotted construction continuing despite the Army Corps decision.

The People vs. Arctic Oil

An unprecedented legal case was filed today against the Norwegian government for allowing oil companies to drill for new oil in the Arctic Barents Sea. The plaintiffs, Nature and Youth and Greenpeace Nordic, argue that Norway thereby violates the Paris agreement and the people's constitutional right to a healthy and safe environment for future generations.

"We will argue in court that the Norwegian government has an obligation to keep its climate promises and will invoke the people's right to a healthy environment for ours and future generations. This is the People vs. Arctic oil," Ingrid Skjoldvær of Nature and Youth said.

An unprecedented legal case is filed against the Norwegian government for allowing oil companies to drill for new oil in the Arctic Barents Sea. Christian Åslund / Greenpeace

The lawsuit demands that Norway uphold its constitutional guarantee for future generations as it is written in article 112 of Norway´s Constitution:

"Every person has the right to an environment that is conducive to health and to a natural environment whose productivity and diversity are maintained. Natural resources shall be managed on the basis of comprehensive long-term considerations which will safeguard this right for future generations as well. The authorities of the state shall take measures for the implementation of these principles."

Norway was among the first countries in the world to ratify the Paris agreement which is about to enter into force. By ratifying, Norway has promised to ambitiously reduce its emissions and help limiting the temperature increase to 1.5 C. At the same time Norway has opened up new oil license rounds, allowing the state-owned Statoil and other oil companies to start a major new exploration campaign in the Barents Sea, where they want to drill up to 7 new exploratory wells in 2017.

Audrey Siegl, a Musqueam woman from British Columbia, Canada, who is also a renowned public speaker, drummer and singer, stands in a Greenpeace rhib launched from the MY Esperanza holding her arms out in front her, defiantly signalling Shell's subcontracted drilling rig, the Polar Pioneer, to stop.Greenpeace / Keri Coles

"Signing an international climate agreement while throwing open the door to Arctic oil drilling is a dangerous act of hypocrisy," Truls Gulowsen of Greenpeace Norway said. "By allowing oil companies to drill in the Arctic, Norway risks undermining global efforts to address climate change. When the government fails to redress this we have to do what we can to stop it."

The lawsuit can be seen in the context of a wave of climate justice cases around the world, from the Philippines to the U.S., and has the backing of a broad civil society coalition, fronted by young environmentalists, and supported by scientists, indigenous leaders, activists and public figures.

The 13 oil companies that have new license blocks in the Barents Sea are: Statoil (Norway), Capricorn and Centrica (UK), Chevron and ConocoPhillips (USA), DEA (Germany), Aker BP (Norway), Idemitsu (Japan), LUKOIL (Russia), Lundin Petroleum (Sweden), OMV (Austria), PGNiG (Norway/ Poland), Tullow (UK / Africa).

Watch the press conference from the Oslo Nobel Peace Center here:

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