The Paris agreement was ratified by 55 countries, on the 4th of November 2016. The agreement affirms that all 55 countries, including Norway, must reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. We have just a short summer till the Parliamentary elections on the 11th of September 2017. The plans for vast quantities of hazardous waste, 1 million tons per year, in the empty mines in Brevik, very close to thousands of people, is put on hold for a very short while. But can we relax this summer?
Justice is one of the main points in the Paris agreement.
“In the work of emission reductions and climate adaptation, countries shall take into account human rights, indigenous peoples rights, the right of people to health and development, food security, community rights, refugee rights, children, equality and strengthening of women’s position, fairness between generations, fair work conversion, decent work, ecosystems and nature diversity.” There is a plethora of values to consider while making efforts of reducing the greenhouse gases.
Brevik is a small town in Porsgrunn municipality in Telemark county, Norway. There are about 3,000 inhabitants in the town and about 120,700 inhabitants in the surrounding area, called Grenland.
Brevik is considered to be one of Norway’s best-kept towns of “sailing ships”. The city is located at the extreme end of the Eidanger Peninsula, and was previously a major port for exporting ice and wood.
In 1919 the cement factory Dalen Portland AS startet their industry in Brevik, and chalk from the mines was used in their production. Today the mines are about 250 kilometers long, situated beneath the Eidangerfiord and now, in 2017, these mines are gradually closing.
There is nothing special about that. The main problem is that the government prefers to put special waste into these mines and give a private company, NOAH (Norsk Avfallshåndtering), the responsibility for it, without listening to the local politicians. Smells like the big man coming to town.
Environment Directorate vs Local authorities
On the 2nd of May 2016 the Director of the Environment Directorate, Ellen Hamro said: “Our conclusion is that the valley in Brevik is particularly important because the mines have a significantly greater volume and therefore longer service life and they lie closer to where the waste occurs. In addition, the current operating company in Brevik has documented the necessary expertise, far-reaching its work and shown that they will make the necessary investments. It gives greater certainty that a landfill will be established on time.” (HUS & BOLIG, et medlemsblad for Huseiernes landsforbund, 02.05.16)
There have been several public meetings in the area of Grenland the last few years. Speaking about justice, the City Council of Porsgrunn voted against the investigation of the possibility of making the mines capable for restoring special waste,
“Mayor of Porsgrunn, Robin Kåss from the Labor Party, received the message in a meeting with the Ministry of Climate and Environment on Monday. – I think the government should respect what we have decided locally. I am surprised that they choose a particular place and want an impact assessment there. Clearly, there has been strong lobbying activity from NOAH and their partners.” (NRK 12.12.216)
NOAH was established in 1991 by the Norwegian state and a number of Norway’s largest industrial companies such as Norway’s national facilities for the reception and treatment of inorganic hazardous waste. In 2003 the Ministry of Trade and Industry came to an agreement on the sale of the state’s shares in NOAH to Gjelsten Holding as the limited liability company. That means that the company that wants to fill the mines in Brevik with special waste is a private company, not a state-run one. The plans for the special waste landfill started before a National plan for it has been decided. It overrides the political conclusion of the City council. According to their prospects NOAH will make Brevik the main European dumping site by dumping 800,000-1,000,000 tons of hazardous waste every year, especially fly ashes and 220-270,000 tons of sulphuric acid. The distance to dwelling neighbours in dense settlements is just 100-400 meters. 2,500 live within 1,000 meters. New schools and recreation areas have just been established closer than 350 meters. Environmental planner, Professor Emeritus O. Dalland has put these facts into an environmental map, revealing this unnecessary landuse conflict. Alternatives exist; minimizing waste, recirculating the sulphuric acid and several of the toxic metals in fly ash. In 2015 (after the Tianjin waste accident, with more than 100 dead and 700 injured), the Norwegian government`s experts (Cicero / Vista Analyse) advised China to plan waste handling at least 1,000 meters from dense dwelling areas At home, however, they still hesitate to close the Brevik ideas of Mr. Gjelsten.
Some of the most experienced technical geologists and industrial chemistry engineers in Norway, like H. Kluver and E. Ronæss, are warning the Norwegian government, advising them to reject the Brevik alternative, because of leaking, fractured mines, substantial gas and explosion risks and other hazard risks, including heavy pollution to the narrow, stagnant water in the threshold fiord – and further to the North Sea.
One of the most difficult norms in teaching about conflicts, according to Gandhi, is searching the center of the conflict. The Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss, once said that if you decide to participate actively in a conflict, you can`t hide somewhere peripheral at the same time. (Arne Næss – gjør det vondt å tenke, David Rothenberg, 141: 247) The discourse in this Brevik case is, as I see it, among the ones who have the most valid risk analysis in the long run, and those who only have it for a shorter period.
So, why should the inhabitants of Brevik and Grenland agree to storing other countries’ pollution in their backyard? Is it payback time, beacuse Norwegian companies have been the worst students in the class, when it comes to, for instance, scrapping old ships in Asian countries. Unfortunately, this is not a case taken into a morality court; this is probably business for the private company NOAH.
People who dare to Challenge
The interesting part of this case is the number of activists, including engineers, professors, academics, highly-educated and well-informed people, workers, and families, who are fighting this case against the government and NOAH, and for the people who don`t want this special waste industry.
They dare to challenge, come up with alternative ideas, dare to think about the future. The little man sometimes gets blindfolded by the stress of getting a job and struggling in his daily life. Sometimes these two ways of thinking crash. Many inhabitants of Brevik and the area around remember the good old days of the cement factory Dalen Portland and Norcem as a stable workplace and the cornerstone of the town. The golden age of Norcem has probably passed away. But they must not settle for special waste instead! We all must support the activists working against special waste in the mines. Let’s try to work together with the engineers, professors and politicians to come up with an alternative industry in the mines. An alternative industry that can be sustainable for the environment and also the economic needs of humans for decades to come. Algae production has been mentioned. I suggest building a new World Seed Bank, a backup for the one in Svalbard. So, engaged readee, are you searching for the center of the conflict or are you hiding?
“Arne Næss- gjør det vondt å tenke”, David Rothenberg, Cappelen Damm 2009
«Suksessens skyggeside» av Rasmus Rein Vang and Haakon Vennemo, Vista Analysis, Dagens Næringsliv (14.09.15) https://dyhyjqmcimsyl.cloudfront.net/assets/files/5675/kronikk_om_tianjin-ulykken_-_dn_14_9_2015.pdf
Planning for Environmental Risk Reduction in China: Policy Recommendations, REPORT 2016/14, https://www.vista-analyse.no/site/assets/files/5589/va-rapport_2016-14_environmental_risk_policy_recommendations.pdf