Saturday, 12 April 2008

Global warming? What global warming?

I thought that would get your attention...

Spent a few days in the Arctic earlier this week and no, I haven't turned into a climate change denier, but it was certainly very cold - minus 18! We arrived in Tromso, in the High North of Norway (a mere minus 1) and then went out to Longyearbyen on the island of Spitsbergen, which is part of the Svalbard archipelago. It's roughly the same distance north of Iceland as Iceland is north of Britain, if that helps you place it. Or you can look on Google Earth, where you will see lots of snow.

Will post a few separate blogs about it during the course of the day. It was an incredibly fascinating trip, which taught us a lot about Arctic politics, energy policy, fisheries policy, the relationship between Norway and Russia, and the impact of climate change on all these things. We also had a lot of fun, exploring inside a glacier (sort of like caving but with icicles instead of stalactites and stalagmites, and some very slippery bits); attempting cross-country skiing, (hopeless, and I have the video footage to prove it - we resorted to sliding down the mountain on bin lids instead); and dog-sledding (same place where Cameron did his husky photo-op; if you look closely you can still see the Lexus tyremarks in the snow).

The Norwegians are very nice people, I think I can confidently say. We tend to look to Sweden for examples of social democracy in action, but we can learn a lot from Norway too. They are committed to spending 1% of GDP on overseas aid, and have very enlightened family-friendly policies around work, childcare, welfare. (It helps of course that the country is "stinking rich", as one of the Norwegians we met on our travels told us, because of oil and gas revenues).

A few years ago, however, the Christian Democrat party introduced a system of payments to parents who didn't use state nurseries for their one and two year olds; the argument was that they were contributing towards the cost of this provision through their taxes, and so should be compensated if they didn't make use of it. One of those arguments that seems plausible at first glance, but soon unravels when you look a bit more closely. What about the childless, or those with adult children? What about people who pay for the health service but virtually never see a doctor? Etc, etc. The other criticism levelled at the scheme was that it was really motivated by the belief that women should stay at home with their kids, i.e. a piece of social engineering. When the Red-Green coalition, led by the Norwegian Labour Party, reassumed power in 2005, however, they ended up keeping the payments as they'd proved so popular, despite not really agreeing with the concept.

More musings to follow...

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