Why Is Greta Thunberg Protesting a Wind Farm?
Greta Thunberg, center, is carried away by police outside the Ministry of Finance on March 1, 2023.Photo: Alf Simensen//NTB Scanpix (AP)
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was arrested Wednesday with dozens of other activists during a protest in front of several Norwegian government ministry buildings, demanding that the government shut down a wind farm.
If that line gave you whiplash, you’re not alone. At first glance, it’s strange that Thunberg, who took a solar-powered boat to visit North America in 2019 to avoid the emissions of a flight, would protest a renewable energy project. But the wind farm has been a center of conflict between Indigenous people and the Norwegian government for more than a decade, and it perfectly illustrates the perils of letting the renewable energy revolution steamroll forward without considering environmental justice.
“Indigenous rights, human rights, must go hand-in-hand with climate protection and climate action,” Thunberg told Reuters. “That can’t happen at the expense of some people. Then it is not climate justice.”
The government granted a permit for the huge wind project in the central region of the country to move forward in 2010, despite two of the six wind farm locations being located on land where the Indigenous Sámi people herd reindeer in the winter. The Sámi contested the project, alleging that the farm would impede their herding practices and violate their rights under international law. But the government went ahead and let the farm be built anyway, and it started operating in 2019.
“Reindeer are very shy, and a bit wild, too,” Sámi herder Leif Arne Jåma, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, told Earth Island Journal in 2021. “The animals steer clear of the turbines because they are disturbed by their view and noise. On top of that, in the coldest months large chunks of icy snow can be thrown into the distance as the blades turn. It is dangerous for humans and animals alike.”
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In 2021, Norway’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the wind farm, which is partially operated by a state-owned utility and partially operated by a subsidiary of Credit Suisse, violated the rights of the Sámi people. But the park has continued operating since the decision.
The protest where Thunberg was arrested was organized by Indigenous activists and environmental groups, who are demanding that the government shut down the wind farm; a simultaneous protest was also organized outside of the country’s energy ministry. The group was also protesting outside the ministries on Monday and Tuesday.
In past decades, combatting climate change has often been seen as a zero-sum game: either you were for a transition off fossil fuels or you were on the side of the oil companies. But younger activists like Thunberg see that the clean energy transition is far more complex than that, and green transitions that don’t center marginalized people risk creating a new world that is just as damaging as the one we have now.
The Norwegian government “should have seen it coming for violating human rights,” Thunberg told Reuters when asked about the need for the protest.