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August 1, 2014

Norway’s Lessons Are Alaska’s To Learn

Alaskans are a bunch of people who want to be around a bunch of people who don’t want to be around a bunch of people.

By Shannyn Moore

I once saw a bush pilot restart his plane with the gum wrapper off a piece of Big Red. I asked him if it would work. He smiled and said, “It’ll get me to where I can get what I need.”

That seems to be a prevailing philosophy here. Tyvek is not siding, but it’ll keep the wind out.

In May a delegation of Alaska lawmakers will head to Norway. The intellectually incurious are already pulling their heads out of the ground to complain.

Not only do I want them to go, I hope they take notes.

Norway is the world’s eighth-largest oil producer and third-largest oil exporter. Ninety-nine percent of Norway’s electricity is hydroelectric. Because of investment in renewable energy, the Norwegians have more oil to sell. They are the envy of Europe.

In 1972 Norway formed a state-owned oil company to compete with Big Oil. The company, Statoil, now operates worldwide, including in Alaska. Kinda makes me wish we had bought ARCO when it was on the block.

This week, Sen. Mark Begich announced a proposal to streamline the Arctic drilling approval process. There was no mention of the spill prevention technologies Norway has demanded of its producers since 1993.

The Norwegian Oil Spill Control Association says on its website, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and the group means it. The Norwegians develop new oil spill technologies before they find themselves in the middle of one. Active preparedness, rather than reaction to crisis, is their philosophy.

With all the oil taxation drama during the legislative session, it’s interesting to note that the effective tax rate in Norway is 78 percent — significantly higher than the rate of Alaska and the federal government combined.

Alaskans feel good about our $40 billion Permanent Fund, and we should. Norway feels pretty good about its Oil Fund, which is $570 billion. We had a 14-year head start, but Norway saved 14 times as much. Their projections show that by 2030 the worst-case scenario for the fund is $455 billion, while the best-case $19.5 trillion, savings greater than our national debt.

I guess that’s the difference between an owner-state and an owner-country. Our legislative stalemate is about Gov. Sean Parnell threatening lawmakers who opposed his $2 billion annual oil bailout. Among the items threatened are renewable energy projects.

In 2004 the Norwegians created an ethics panel for their fund. They employ stringent guidelines and standards for investment. They don’t invest in companies involved in tobacco, weapons, environmental damage, human rights violations or unethical labor practices. Last year they included, “Violation of the Geneva Convention in occupied Palestinian territory by being involved in developing settlements.”

As a result, they dumped 45 companies deemed unethical. Alaska currently holds stock in 37 of the companies that couldn’t make the grade for Norwegian investment.

We spend resources on tobacco prevention, but invest our Permanent Fund in Phillip Morris. We own $34 million in UnitedHealth Group, which is considerably less than the $102 million paid to the company’s CEO last year. We own Exxon stock but never had a governor show up at a shareholder meeting to demand the money owed to damaged Alaskans. War machines GE, Halliburton and KBR are fueled by our investment. We bought Walmart stock; the Norwegians dumped it for “breach of human and labor rights.”

I know, I know, “just move there if you love it so much.” Why is that the answer? Norway’s wildly successful fund isn’t the result of lowering the bar, but raising it. The Norwegian investment in companies developing renewable energy, developing resources responsibly and respecting the dignity of working men and women have helped those companies grow.

Maybe we need to be like the pilot who gum-wrappered his plane to get closer to what he really needed. Like Norway, our resource can be used to get us where we want to go.

This week, a KGOP radio host was appalled. “What could we possibly learn from Norway?”

He could have asked: “Why would I put siding on my house when I’ve got Tyvek?”

Because it’s better, that’s why.

***Originally published in the Anchorage Daily News.

 

 

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Comments
35 Responses to “Norway’s Lessons Are Alaska’s To Learn”
  1. Moose Pucky says:

    Keep on keeping on Shannyn. Yes, I also hope they took notes.

  2. A fan in CA says:

    Great article. Another interesting read about Norway is from Inc. Magazine.

    http://www.inc.com/magazine/20110201/in-norway-start-ups-say-ja-to-socialism.html

    My take away from the article was from the small businessman who has a shop in Norway and one in Beverly Hills on Rodeo Drive. When he adds up all the taxes and payments to run each shop it turns out he makes a higher profit in Norway than Arnie’s California. Hmmm?

  3. Pinwheel says:

    A transition from one to another could be so reactionary. A huge part of the process requires voter turnout and a voter document system without questions. (Alaska 2004-2010 elections.) Throw in ‘Citizens’ United’ and the challenge becomes almost insurmountable.

    I am not a defeatist but this is a Mt. Marathon race for each election in Alaska in the foreseeable future. nem

  4. Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

    tried to close the italics tag but it didn’t work.

  5. Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

    Ms Moore – Now this is a superbly presented post, I like the way you went about it, easily checkable claims that are all confirmed in their essentials.

    Let me digress for a moment. Several people have made good and salient comments which I would like to address and reinforce but there simply is not enough time, so apologies to those I have to ignore in replying to this.

    Returning to the OP it is a fine job of outlining the difference between a true democracy and the false democracy that poses as legitimate in the US today. One point alone is sufficient to cast in stark outline the difference. In Norway the entire population pays a significant amount of their incomes into collective, you might say socialized programs, such as health care and retirement. They have a bit left over for discretionary purposes. In the US we all spend more than we actually earn, we carry a burden of heavy debt at onerous interest rates to banks and credit card companies and should some grave illness or other misfortune befall us, we are faced with the prospect of poverty and homelessness.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Between Jeanne and Shannyn, Alaska is doubly blessed.

  7. bubbles says:

    outstanding post Shannyn. thanks. i concur with Mona.

  8. MonaLisa (inCT) says:

    Excellent piece, Shannyn. You impress me more and more as time goes by… (Please be flattered, I’m not easily impressed, not at ALL!)

  9. mike from iowa says:

    Out of curiousity, does Brian have any Scandanavian cousins in good standing,that he might call on for votes in the next general election? If he could get them to Alaska in due time,I sure wouldn’t augur with them when they showed up to vote. Its time for some good old skull thumping in the 49th state. Time to erase apathy and replace it with some knots on some noggins. I’ll chip in for travel expenses if someone gives me the correct address to send check or money order. why do I care? ecause I’m moving to Alaska as soon as I win the lottery,that’s why I care. Go Bri-lets rouse some rabble.

  10. mike from iowa says:

    Norway’s situation is much too sensible for this side of the big pond. Too many Socialists and Commies to suit rethuglicans and once they complained about Dems being Socialist-the experiment would be dead in its tracks. I would love to see just one state with the intestinal fortitude to adopt this type of governance.

  11. Diane says:

    Excellent article.
    Republicans would ask what religion the head of the country was and what were their abortion policies.

    Why can’t we learn and do what other countries are doing?
    Because some how, if we learn from other countries, it may be we are weak and not as ‘exceptional’ as the republicans would like us to believe.

  12. Bravo, bravo. Now that’s an exceptional country.

  13. physicsmom says:

    Shannyn, this is a terrific article, one which I hope the lawmakers making the trip take to heart. We need to abandon the “not invented here” mindset and learn from our neighbors. However, I’m afraid that the greed and self-serving interests which KS Sunflower fears are coming are already here. It may, in fact, be too late for us.

    It saddens me in a way that grumpy old Newt Gingrich can actually get something right, ie. say that Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan is bad and that an insurance mandate is good, and get hammered by the RWNJs and force him to backtrack. He had also said last week that we needed to focus on good government rather than less government. If he was sincere about those things, then I’d welcome working with opposition like that. Unfortunately, the crazies have hold of the Republican party and there is no hope for a reasonable mind.

    Ack. Too depressing. Shannyn, please keep us informed as to the feedback from the Norway visit, assuming the participants write it up. Thanks.

  14. Wallflower says:

    Fascinating stuff! I don’t think Norway could be a role model, exactly, for the whole US just because of the differences in scale–but for a state? Heck-yeah!

  15. mike from iowa says:

    You’ve certainly laid out the groundwork and blueprint for the next “oil-envy” RWNJ Potus that decides a foreign nation’s oil belongs to U S oil korporations. Norway-he we come.

  16. HappyinAK says:

    Glad to see this post today as it is Syttende Mai (17th of May – Norwegian Independence Day). My brother and his family live there and we could certainly do well to emulate the way they handle their energy. The taxes for cars are enormous, so few people have them – and few need them with their great transportation system.

  17. M. Paul says:

    Shannon,
    I am going to make an educated guess and suppose that Norway has an exceptional education system and that being so they do not suffer from our epidemic of ” low information voter ” syndrome and all the trauma associated with this sickness.

    I am sure there electorate do not vote against their own best interests…

    M. Paul

    • maelewis says:

      Norway offers free public education, along with public health care. Norway has the 4th highest GDP per capita in the world per-capita in the world. Today, Norway ranks as the second wealthiest country in the world in monetary value, with the largest capital reserve per capita of any nation. The economy mixes free market and state ownership. It is considered to have the highest standard of living. This is the basis for their successful energy program. I don’t even want to attempt a comparison with Alaska, or even the United States. European nations have been developing alternative sources of energy, while we lag behind.

      Years ago, Bill Maher suggested that the government order hybrid cars from Detroit, buying as many as 20,000-40,000 cars fo a fleet for the Post Office, for example. With a big order like that, Detroit would have geared up in a year. Maher made this suggestion years ago, when he wrote a book that warned if you drove a gas guzzler, you rode with Bin Laden. We are late to the party.

  18. ks sunflower says:

    Shannyn, this post may prove to be one of the all-time great posts on this blog even though mudflats is known for its stellar analysis and first-rate statements of issues.

    I deeply agree with you. I hope I am not misinterpreting your view when I say it is time for this country to grow up and accept that lessons can be learned from countries older than us. Those countries, such as Norway. may not be perfect, but they may have learned from their mistakes and be able to transcend group differences to achieve a cohesive policy for the benefit of the country. They seem able to create profits while protecting the environment. They seem able to regulate and restrict while nurturing growth. Everyone everywhere probably moans about taxation, but in a country such as Norway their tax system supports tangible benefits for the citizens that the citizens themselves, as a whole, could not afford individually. They pay a lot, but they seem to get even more in return.

    They can live without fear of medical crises. They can rest assured their children will get an education (some high-taxation nations actually allow free university education for those students who qualify). They can live without fear of the water they drink, the air they breath, or the land upon which they grow their food because their governments have made the welfare of their citizens a top priority. Why can’t we have that kind of thinking here?

    We used to believe in “all for one, and one for all” as a sort of national ethic. Where has that gone?

    Some of our most prosperous moments in time have come during high taxation. However, it requires politicians who rise above partisan interests to envision a national good and use those taxes for things such as schools, infrastructure, policing, fire protection, environmental protection (where do people think our parks system came from) and the like.

    It used to be possible to disagree on things, but work together for the common good. Politicians who fought for their beliefs could, at the end of day, gather together over drinks or dinner and agree that being American was what mattered. Where has that gone?

    I suspect there is a stronger personal ethic regarding the need for taking education seriously in Norway; for learning how and why the government works, learning strong skills in many areas to create well-rounded citizens who want and expect a high quality of life for everyone and are willing to work hard to ensure decent living standards for everyone. I think we can look to other countries that do that to learn how you can be unique, independent and free to pursue your own dreams while supporting the rights and opportunities for everyone else to do so. Otherwise, a society becomes a dog-eat-dog, look-out-for-yourself tangle of greed and selfishness; a condition I fear is beginning to take root here.

    People who live in environments such as Alaska should be on the forefront of innovation because they understand the necessity of coexisting with nature and the necessity of being there for each other when things get tough. Truly tough people can afford to be gentle and caring. They live with confidence, not fear. Truly confident people can reach out to learn from others, admitting that while they are strong and competent, they can always learn more and be more.

    Norway has had to survive invasions, has had to meld-together various groups, and face tough challenges for centuries. It seems to have found a path that might be worth following because it works. It would be foolhardy to dismiss it or to ignore their hard-won wisdom.

    Let’s see if it can be adopted or adapted to work for us. Take the best, pass on the rest (or make it even better). I think Americans can overcome our current “tough time” and our fear of the unknown and our fears of each other. I think we can indeed become better than we are, protect our lands, water and air if we change our attitudes. The only way we can change our attitudes is through research, reflection and discussion.

    “The meaning of things lies not in the things themselves, but in our attitude towards them.”
    - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    What I find tragically laughable about the fragmented political scene here is that those politicians who support tax breaks and subsidies for large corporations are not supporting American business or the average American’s job, welfare or future. Those corporations are mostly multi-nationals; their profits do not shore up our economy – they flow elsewhere. There is no real tax stream from these large corporations because their Articles of Incorporation most likely speak to their reason for being as running a business for the profit of their shareholders, and that’s why they’ve lobbied for tax exemptions and most wind up paying no taxes at all. They are bound by their legal documents to maximize profits anyway they can – for them, not for our benefit.

    We need to remember this. We need to learn and grow. Exploring other options in countries where they seem to understand how to work with businesses for the benefit of their citizens as a whole is really the only viable option we have if we want to survive as a viable economy. We have to learn when to reign in greed and when to take charge of our own future. It is a delicate balance with no simple answers – but we do need to ask questions and look to other societies to see if we can learn from their mistakes and successes.

    Thank you so much for your astute observations. I suspect you will have most of us applauding your stance and turning to politicos to get their reaction – asking those who don’t agree with you, why not?

    • Zyxomma says:

      Loved the quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery. I’m his birthday mate (a later year, same date), and have always admired the writing pilot.

      Shannyn, thanks for the post. Well written, and well thought out.

    • Pinwheel says:

      May be late to comment, KS Sunflower. Between the two of you, we have a pretty thorough blueprint of how we could proceed. I wonder if, in this case, size may make a difference. Norway probably has more relevance to a place like Alaska than the entire US. But if the practicum succeeded in some smaller population states, than perhaps the concept of States’ Rights could be revisited. Discount that last. I just think the model is worth considering for smaller populations who maybe have a handle on their own natural resources. (Owner State!!).

      Each of you have provided excellent review and analysis of Alaska’s most critical consideration. Thanx again. nem

  19. Mo says:

    wow, another incisive analysis – tnx, Shannon. I hope it gets read a lot.

  20. maelewis says:

    I think that you want to read about the Norwegian owned state industry: Statkraft: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statkraft In addition to the renewable energy systems that they develop for Norway, they have installations in a number of other countries: http://www.statkraft.com/about-statkraft/ownership-positions/norway/ They are also pioneers in developing new forms of producing energy, for example, using the osmotic pressure that builds up between salt and fresh water. They figured a way to harness this energy and convert it to electricity:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8377186.stm

    I don’t want to burst any Alaskan bubbles, but this is a major enterprise that probably is best developed on a national level, and in many places around the country. (Have you read about the towers of molten salt in the California and Arizona deserts which store solar energy from mirrors, and release it to create elecricity? http://www.solarpowerengineering.com/2011/02/arizona-uses-molten-salt-for-storage/Good luck, Alaska, if you can do this on your own. It’s a start.

  21. Bob Benner says:

    My God Shannyn, you only have to look at the tax rates that Norway imposes on its citizens to realize any comparisons between us and them is absurd… Here’s a hint for you… IT’S a JUNKET!!! By the way, I’m still waiting to find out what we learned from their junket to the Olympics… Maybe you can ask Sarah Palin apologist Lesil McGuire about that next time she’s on your TV show…

    • Pinwheel says:

      At least local citizens are also contributing financially for their govenment. More than we can say.

  22. GoI3ig says:

    They produce a darn good Sardine as well. Skoal!

  23. carol says:

    Who is going? Damn right, they’d better take lots and lots of notes! Take the knowledge and USE it, if it worked there, will it work here? If it won’t work here, why not and/or what would? The more I hear about Norway (yes, socialist government, entrepreneur friendly Norway), maybe I do want to move there. Sounds like they have a more intelligent population, rather than the knee jerk reactors we have way too many of here. I had to block a long time acquaintance from my email the other day because I had asked multiple times to NOT send me crap that hadn’t been fact checked. The response I got was to slam one of the four sites I’d suggested as hyper-liberal and false. The slammed site had, in fact, been checked by another fact check site and had gotten a glowing write up – not hyper-liberal and not false. It seems that far too many, politicians included, think fact checking is worthless; I suppose the politicians know their audience, the ones who will swallow everything that sounds like what they believe. Sad, and it doesn’t do my blood pressure any good to point out more productive uses for their passions than passing around lies.

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  1. [...] May a delegation of Alaska lawmakers will head to Norway.” reads today’s The Mudflats article by Shannyn Moore. This week, Sen. Mark Begich announced a proposal to streamline the Arctic [...]



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