Lapland shepherds look red over turbines

Lapland shepherds look red over turbines

On a steep mountain top, the Jama brothers weave themselves between windmills that extend as far as the eye can see, on what used to be their animals’ winter pastures. Climate distress or not – for these reindeer herders, the mills need to go.

“Before, the area was perfect for our reindeer. The place was untouched, unspoiled by human activity. Now everything has been destroyed for many years to come,” regrets Leif Arne, the youngest of the brothers, at the wheel of his 4×4.

On both sides of the Arctic Arctic Circle, members of Northern Europe’s Sami minority are fiercely opposed to large wind farms and other “green” infrastructure projects that they say threaten their livelihoods and interfere with their ancestral traditions.

A classic tale about David and Goliath – and the Sami may end up winning.

In a groundbreaking ruling in October, the Norwegian Supreme Court ruled that two wind farms built on the Fosen Peninsula in western Norway violated the rights of six Sami families – including the Jamaas – to practice their culture, violating the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

With four smaller, adjacent installations, the two wind farms – Storheia and Roan – constitute Europe’s largest onshore wind farm with a total capacity of 1,057 MW or enough energy to supply more than 170,000 households.

While the 11 Supreme Court justices unanimously declared the operating permits and expropriation permits that paved the way for the construction of the 151 wind turbines invalid, they did not say anything about what should now happen to the structures.

For the Jama brothers, whose family has been raising reindeer for generations, there is no doubt about it. “These turbines need to be disassembled,” they insist.

They say the Storheia wind farm, which was completed in 2020, deprives them of the best of their three winter grazing areas, which they use in shifts.

Reindeer are nomads who roam, depending on the season, to find lichen, their main source of nourishment, especially in winter. If they are disturbed by the wind turbines, they will look elsewhere.

– Not a reindeer in sight –

With his lasso strapped to his shoulder, big brother John Kristian scans the huge, snow-covered horizon with his binoculars.

Not a reindeer in sight.

“It’s impossible for the reindeer to come here now, with all the enormous disturbance that the turning and turning of the turbines gives and that scares them. And they make so much noise,” he says.

“There are also parking lots, roads, crossings … Here, nature has been completely destroyed. There is nothing left but rocks and pebbles,” he adds.

Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, a lower court had recommended that the loss of land should be compensated financially to allow shepherds to purchase feed for their animals.

They rejected that possibility outright.

“The reindeer must find food themselves. If we give them food, it is no longer a traditional shepherd,” says Leif Arne.

If nothing is done, the lack of grazing land means the Jamaas will have to reduce their herd size – the number of which they do not disclose publicly, because “it would be like sending out how much money you have in the bank.”

At the age of 55, Leif Arne is already struggling to make ends meet.

He told the courts that his business made a profit of less than 300,000 kroner (30,000 euros, 34,000 $) in 2018.

Reducing his crew would threaten the viability of his operation.

Meanwhile, the mills continue to spin despite the court’s decision.

“We take the Supreme Court ruling very seriously … We would of course like to rectify the situation,” insists Torbjørn Steen, spokesman for Fosen Vind, the consortium that operates most of the wind farm.

“The next step is to define operating conditions that ensure that we can operate the wind turbines without violating the rights of the shepherds or threatening their shepherd. What we prioritize now is to have a dialogue with the shepherds,” he says.

– Danteian dilemma –

The Norwegian state – the main shareholder in the criticized project through the publicly owned energy group Statkraft – is now in a pinch.

How does it respect the legal verdict and protect the rights of the Sami people without compromising its enormous economic interests – the six Fosen wind farms cost a total of more than a billion euros – nor does it slow down an already sluggish green transition?

Storheia and Roan alone accounted for more than 20 percent of the wind energy produced in Norway in 2020, according to Fosen Vind.

So far, the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, which has since declared the concessions invalid, has said more expertise is needed.

“We have not decided whether the installations can be in place in whole or in part,” said Minister Marte Mjos Persen to AFP.

It has frustrated the Sami, who see the delay as a stopping maneuver that allows the turbines to continue to operate, or worse, a way to circumvent the legal verdict.

“The state has to acknowledge that serious mistakes have been made in the last 20 years, and they can do so by making an apology,” says Silje Karine Muotka, chair of the Sami Parliament, Norway’s Sami Parliament.

“And concrete actions must follow: the operating license must be canceled, the turbines must be completely dismantled, and the area must be restored, replanted and returned to the shepherds,” she told AFP.

For every day that passes, Sissel Stormo Holtan, a 40-year-old shepherd, loses a little more faith in the justice system.

She fought against the Roan wind farm and won – or so she thought.

“Well, nothing happened even though we won. It feels a little weird, just starting a new fight all over again, and it feels … unfair,” she says as she feeds fistful lows to a young orphaned reindeer, now tamed.

Smiling but annoyed at the same time, she says she is tired of hearing the authorities talk about a time-consuming “process”.

“The sooner they take them down, the faster we can use the area again,” she says, before quickly adding, “I can not see myself using the area. Maybe my daughter or my grandchildren can use it.”

– Do not know? –

The Sami – formerly known as the Lapps, a term now considered derogatory – are a native minority of about 100,000 people who have traditionally lived off reindeer herding and fishing.

Distributed across the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, society has a painful past.

They were subjected to brutal assimilation efforts in the 20th century, and the land they have trusted for generations is today marked by energy, mining and tourism projects.

Before Storheia and Roan, other wind farms were built on “their” land, and some are under construction or ready to go up.

Like today’s Don Quixotes, the Sami now stand up to wind turbines. The Sami Parliamentary Council, a co-operation body that unites the parliaments of society in Norway, Sweden and Finland, demands a form of veto power for future projects.

Any wind farm plan must be approved by the local Sami people and their elected representatives or suspended, it is stated in a statement adopted in January last year.

While “recognizing that climate change is a serious problem affecting Sami society”, the Council emphasized that “the measures taken to curb climate change must not adversely affect the culture and living conditions of indigenous peoples.”

According to many observers, the ruling of the Norwegian Supreme Court may set a legal precedent that could affect other infrastructure projects on Sami-populated rural areas in Norway and neighboring countries.

“Other companies will have to think twice before starting a project without having its legality tested first in court,” predicted Susanne Normann, a researcher at the Center for Development and the Environment at the University of Oslo.

The issue is problematic throughout the Nordic region.

In Finland, which aims to become a world leader in the production of electric batteries, mining projects are causing the Sami people anxiety.

In their eyes, there are currently two exploration permits granted in the tundra near the northwestern village of Enontekio, a region known for its breathtaking views and believed to be home to huge mineral deposits.

Terrified by the environmental damage caused by mining in other parts of Finland, the Sami collected more than 37,000 signatures for a 2020 petition protesting the authorities’ failure to consult local residents or conduct impact assessments of how the projects would affect reindeer husbandry.

– ‘Double penalty’ –

The Sami live mainly in the Arctic, a region that is heating up three times faster than the rest of the planet, and is witnessing climate change first hand.

“For those of us who have lived and worked here all our lives, we see how the vegetation changes, the tree line moves, the permafrost thaws, we see new species of insects and other plants,” says Matti Blind Berg, a reindeer herder near Kiruna in northern Sweden.

Temperatures fluctuate wildly today, with periods of alternating cold and thaw sometimes building thick layers of ice on the ground, preventing the reindeer from reaching the low they normally dig up under the snow with their hooves.

It has also given rise to fierce competition between shepherds on pastures.

In this occasionally explosive context, wind farms, copper deposits and rare earth minerals – all highly valued as the global economy shifts to electric power – as well as forests planted for biofuels all put extra pressure on land use.

“I fully understand that we need a green transition, I am the first to sign it,” insists Blind Berg.

“But I find it strange, to say the least, that a green transition must take place at the expense of nature.”

For Susanne Normann, Center for Development and the Environment, climate change is “a double punishment for indigenous peoples”.

“Not only are they among the people most exposed to climate change, but they also have to pay the price in the form of wind farms and hydropower dams built on their territories in the fight against global warming,” she said.

“Where is the justice when we know they contribute very little to the problem?”

jll-sgk-phy / map / po / kjm

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.