Someone needs to remind the Norwegian government about a core concept of Environmental Studies 101. When the English economist William Forster Lloyd first defined “the tragedy of the commons” almost 200 years ago, he used the example of a common grazing area that is shared by multiple cattle herders. By cooperating, the herders can sustainably share the commons indefinitely. But if just one greedy herder grazes more than his fair share of cows, the shared resource is destroyed and everyone — including the bad actor — ends up losing.
Today the commons is our entire planet, and the resource at risk is a livable climate. A crucial goal of the Paris climate summit was to ensure that nations would act together in good faith to address climate disruption. The common goal is to limit warming to “well below 2 degrees C” (and ideally less than 1.5 degrees C), which means that at least one-third of known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground. Just over a month ago, on May 13, Norway and four other Nordic countries joined the U.S. in reconfirming their commitment to those goals and promised to “work towards the highest global standards, best international practice, and a precautionary approach, when considering new and existing commercial activities in the Arctic, including oil and gas operations.”
So how to explain that, only days later, Norway took the extraordinary step of awarding new Arctic drilling licenses to 13 oil companies, including for areas of the Barents Sea that have now become accessible because of the warming climate? Drilling in the Arctic anywhere — much less new drilling — is not only incredibly dangerous but also utterly at odds with the climate goals that virtually the entire world has endorsed.
What makes Norway’s action even more bizarre is that, in other areas, this is a nation that is actually leading on climate. Did you know that Norway has the highest per capita number of electric vehicles in the world, and that Norwegians could be driving all-electric by 2025 (making it one of Elon Musk’s favorite places)? Or that, just last week, Norway became the first nation in the world to completely ban clear-cutting of trees? Deforestation, of course, is a major contributor to climate disruption.
Clearly, Norway’s doing some amazing things that the rest of the world should emulate, but that’s not enough to justify breaking ranks and rushing to drill in the Arctic before someone else beats them to it. None of the seven Arctic nations, including the United States, can afford that kind of hypocrisy (which is why I was so glad to see Hillary Clinton come out against Arctic drilling this year). The science is clear: There’s no oil boom without climate doom — and the sooner all the world’s nations absorb that fact and act accordingly, the better.