Responsible tourism in Norway

Compared to many countries, responsible tourism in Norway seems close to the nation’s heart, bolstered by national wealth, a love of Nature’s bounty, plus widely professed Nordic egalitarianism with respect to indigenous Sami. 98-99% of Norway's electricity comes from hydroelectricity, billions are invested in biomass and other renewable energy projects, and Norway has committed to being domestically carbon neutral by 2030. Norwegian fish stocks are managed sustainably and in good condition - albeit after past overfishing. Yet a long consumer boom has actually seen domestic CO2 emissions rise since Norway adopted a carbon tax in 1991, while critics argue global warming is fuelled by its vast oil/gas exports – a charge, of course, all producers face. Land issues with the Sami also remain unresolved. Norway clearly wants to be a leader in environmental and social responsibility – but it can still up its game further when it comes to practice.

People & Culture

Sami rights – but which Sami?

Around 40,000 indigenous Sami live in northern Norway, with 25,000 concentrated in Finnmark. And they live on the frontline of climate change in an Arctic landscape highly sensitive to climatic variables. Melting ice, changes to humidity and precipitation plus acidification of waters impact directly on key elements of Sami life such as reindeer husbandry and fishing. In the light of ongoing threats, responsible tourism helps Sami communities both financially and in maintaining traditions.

A balance needs to be struck, however, between the benefits of cultural tourism and possible threats from adventure tourism, which can impose competing demands. Reindeer herding is regarded as a key part of Sami identity, for example, but herders are suffering from a shrinking of available herding land as other users encroach on their territory. And while Sami are earning increasing amounts from souvenir sales and small-scale tourism initiatives, there is still little actual Sami ownership of things like hotels. The need is to preserve and present a wonderful Sami wilderness, while maximizing indigenous local benefits from tourism.

On a political level, stresses need to be resolved around the Norwegian state's efforts to mediate between differing Sami groups.. The so-called ‘East Sami’ who live along the border with Russia and Finland are particularly affected by these developments, with a decreasing number of grazing sites. The situation is worsened by what the 'East Sami' see as encroachment on their territory by the so-called ‘Sea-Sami’.

The UN Human Rights Committee has urged the Norwegian government to designate an area along the Neiden River known as Neiden-siida for the sole use of the ‘East Sami’. And though the ‘East Sami’ are unrepresented in the Norwegian Sami Assembly, the Assembly is nevertheless responsible for protecting their interests – but has failed to consider the issue, which remains unresolved.

Source: Media Global News

Source: World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples

What you can do:
Support Sami-focused tourist initiatives. Do tours and visit events in Sami settlements like Kautokeino and Karasjok; buy locally-made souvenirs; eat Sami food; visit cultural spaces such as the Sápmi Culture Park in Karasjok. And when you are out in the wild, remember that this is their homeland first and foremost, not your playground.

Wildlife & environment

Stop your Whaling!

Though Norway has boomed from the black gold of North Sea oil since the 1970s, in the preceding decades since the end of WW2 things weren't nearly so rosy. A key industry in these lean times was fishing, and any attack on that was seen as an attack on a key prop of the country's economy – which, sadly, included commercial whaling. And Norway continues to defy anti-whaling demands from across the globe.

Unlike the reasons offered by other whaling nations – scientific 'research' by Japan, sheer, spiky, national bloody-mindedness for Iceland – Norway simply denies key tenets of the anti whaling position. They dispute that whaling decimates stocks by claiming they operate a sustainable quota system, and even now claim to use “humane” methods of slaughter.
Norwegian authorities also argue that they firmly support the protection of endangered whale species, and only allow the hunting of ones they say are not at risk due to high numbers, such as the northeast Atlantic minke whale, which they say has a population of around 100,000. But history is full of examples of ‘huge’ populations decimated to extinction. Most of the trade is driven by global export rather than domestic consumption which, as in Iceland, is low in Norway. You will, however, see plenty of whale meat on sale in fish markets in tourist hotspots like Bergen, as well as on tourist menus.

But just stopping eating whale meat is not enough to stop the slaughter. As fewer people are tucking into whale steaks, the campaign organisation Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has discovered that the meat - equivalent to around 75 whales' worth - is now being used as animal feed. Worse still, it is being fed to animals that were being reared for their fur, such as fox and mink. Norway is a major exporter of fur.

So although Norway is hardly a struggling nation, economic alternatives to whaling must be found to deter the hunters. Other countries have shown how whale tourism can be a vital weapon in the battle against whaling. The Azores is a prime example. Whale watching vacations in the Azores have become a symbol of responsible tourism, and are excellent for business – as are elsewhere in the world, as illustrated in our whale watching travel guide. Even fellow whaling nation Iceland now has thriving whale watching initiatives that are rolling back the drive to kill these magnificent ocean giants. While whale watching is still on a small scale in Norway, conditions are excellent for it to expand.

What you can do:
Don't eat whale or eat in restaurants that serve it. Book local whale watching trips where available to help boost demand. And support organisations such as EIA and Greenpeace which campaign against whaling.

When the hunters become the hunted

No more than 70 wolves inhabit Norway today, clustered along the Swedish border in the southeast, and they are listed as critically endangered. Despite polls showing 80 percent of Norwegians want to maintain or increase their tiny wolf population a cabal of vocal farmers and politicians appears intent on culling these animals. Around 2 million sheep graze untended in territory roamed by wolves and other predators, and fewer than 10 percent of the country's sheep farmers report any predation at all. Any losses that do occur - around 1,500 per year - are handsomely compensated by the government.

For a country that proclaims its love of nature and wildlife, Norwegian authorities seem to exclude predators from that equation. Just one percent of the country is designated as 'wolf zone' – though even here, only a few litters a year are permitted, with the rest being shot. Such low population levels on their own threaten the survival of Norway's wolves through lack of genetic viability, even without any direct assault on numbers. Thankfully, legal challenges are being made; a court case brought by wildlife associations resulted in a judge stopping a wolf cull around Junsele in February 2014.

Culls are justified using various dubious tactics. Arbitrary targets are set for the number of litters each year, unsupported by scientific reasoning and in the face of all evidence to the contrary with regard to dangers posed by the animals and the needs of genetic diversity. Another tactic is to simply assert the greater rights of livestock and reindeer over predators, thus allowing populations of animals under no threat at all to take precedence over animals on Norway's own Red List of 'critically endangered' species. A third approach is simply to designate certain individual wolves or other predators as 'problem individuals' – then shoot them.

Strong state support for the farming sector does not require a demonisation of Norway's predators that flies in the face of any professed national respect for nature.

What you can do:
Support wildlife associations and other campaigns seeking to protect these predators in Norway (and elsewhere). And write to Norwegian authorities – MPs, tourist bodies – letting them know you oppose the wolf culls, and making it clear that they damage the image of Norway. A good starting point is the Norwegian Ministry for the Environment who oversee Norway’s conservation policy.

Responsible tourism tips

Always ask permission In Sami areas before taking a picture of someone, as some Sami are sensitive about photography. The same applies if taking pictures in places where whaling takes place, as locals may be concerned that photos will be used against them in the media. Norway is very strong on recycling, including a mandatory deposit scheme for glass bottles and cans. So if you buy these, be sure to take them back to a shop (not necessarily where you bought them). Supermarkets also give money back for aluminium cans and plastic bottles (though only around 1 kroner, so you won't get rich). Alcohol consumption is not only very expensive in Norway but strictly controlled in terms of where it can be bought. Drunkenness can be heavily frowned upon, and drinking beer in public is even illegal in some places, running the risk of incurring a hefty fine. That said, don't worry about enjoying a drink in a bar (though your wallet might...)! Speed limits in Norway are slower than many other European countries – and rigorously enforced by mobile police units and speed cameras. Even going 5km/h over the limit could earn you a fine of around £100 if you get caught.
Written by Norman Miller
Photo credits: [Page banner: Iakov Kalinin (Shutterstock)] [Whale hunting: Espen Klem]