Greta Thunberg is back in the news. This time she is protest installation of wind farms in Norway. Earlier this month, Thunberg and several activists chained go to the gate of the Norwegian Ministry of Energy. Some protesters, including Thunberg, were carried away and detained by the police so government offices can reopen. The protesters claim that the wind farm of 151 wind turbines erected two years ago by the Norwegian public energy company, Statkraft, is seriously disturbing the land used for reindeer herding by the country’s largest indigenous population, the Sami.
In 2021, the Supreme Court of Norway ruled that the wind turbines endangered the “cultural rights” of the Sami people under international law. However, since the wind farms have been deemed ‘invalid’ and not ‘illegal’, they are still operating.
Thunberg has been protesting climate change since his first pink in the global spotlight in 2018 for his week-long protest outside the Swedish parliament, holding a sign that read “school strike for climate”. Despite its good intentions, Thunberg’s agenda embarks on zero-sum, all-or-nothing thinking that ignores the innovative solutions that markets generate to avoid the kinds of negative fallout that climate activists are most worried about.
The government, according to her and her traveling companions, must intervene to prevent the environmental damage caused by an unruly market. In this case, noisy and overbearing windmills invade land that has traditionally been used to herd reindeer, a Sami convenient since the 17th century. But this thinking overlooks a broad tradition known as free-market environmentalism, which argue that “for markets to work in the environment, as in any other, rights to every important resource must be clearly defined…defended…and assignable (transferable)”.
When property rights are well defined and enforced, parties can address environmental issues in a resilient manner. Elizabeth Saether, Norwegian State Secretary, implicitly acknowledged this when she said“The first thing we need to do is find out if there are solutions that allow reindeer herding and wind turbines to work side by side.”
Representatives of the Sami tribe are push decommission the wind farm, jeopardizing the effort achieve full carbon neutrality by 2030. “We want the wind turbines taken down and the land returned to the indigenous communities there,” Thunberg told reporters defiantly.
Free market environmentalism, on the other hand, emphasizes the role that private property rights play in internalizing the costs borne by unwilling parties. Why take down the wind turbines, which provide electricity to 100,000 homes, when wind turbines can remain in operation And solve the reindeer scaring problem?
As Europe’s largest onshore wind project, Fosen Vind understand six separate wind farms located along the central coast of Norway. Although majority owned by the state (Statkraft), Fosen Vind has clearly defined property rights (a license to operate) which incentivizes it to maintain the value of the land, including the reindeer that inhabit the peninsula.
Indeed, a raft measures have been implemented by Fosen Vind not only to compensate but also to offset the potential disruptions caused by the newly erected infrastructure. Some of these measures included “funds for housing for herders, modernization of slaughter facilities… the removal of drafts, compensation for reduced grazing flexibility, and legal assistance and fees.” administrative”. In some cases, new migration routes were cleared, allowing reindeer to migrate around windmills, while compensating surrounding landowners for cleared forest.
To internalize the additional costs borne by the Sami, Statkraft could install acoustic barriers or invest in other technologies to muffle the noise, so that the reindeer are not moved. Amund Vik, State Secretary at the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, describe other possible solutions include providing new grazing areas for reindeer herding and directly compensating the Sami for the additional costs imposed by the windmills.
If Fosen Vind were privately owned, moreover, there would be an even greater incentive to take care of the land. The reindeer would provide an opportunity for profit to the savvy entrepreneur whose reputation and bottom line relies on a thriving reindeer population. Media scrutiny would further constrain opportunistic behavior as wind power consumers choose alternative energy companies that provide reliable power while respecting indigenous rights.
Today, the growing calls for clean energy are collide with indigenous groups. A free market approach would ensure that indigenous rights do not come into conflict with renewable energy. In Oaxaca, Mexico, where native Zapotecs and Huaves thrive, disputes have arisen because of wind farms which activists say crowd out suitable land used for grazing and agriculture.
But when property rights are clearly understood, the parties are encouraged to negotiate among themselves. In the largest green energy project ever undertaken, for example, the Western Green Energy Hub in Australia is giving its indigenous community a share of the benefits and key decision-making rights, which avoids conflict by aligning the interests of both parties. Similarly, renewable energy companies in Canada have in partnership with Indigenous nations so that clean energy can provide electricity to millions of users while respecting the concerns of Indigenous groups.
With renewable energy capable of become main source of electricity in the years to come, the adoption of free market solutions will ensure that everyone benefits from clean energy. The Manichean view of climate activists like Thunberg undermines the very goals they wish to achieve, neglecting the power of human ingenuity. After all, the ultimate resource it is the human spirit, not the fiat of the government.