When COVID19 hit Norway people were given strict cabin lockout. The government-imposed quarantine meant not only enforcing staying home orders, closing schools, and promoting social distancing in other ways. More severely, Norwegians were prohibited by law to travel to what is, in effect, the very core of their self-fashioning: their cabins. It was the equivalent of denying Englishmen their tea and Americans access to church service. Whether they are located deep in the fjords, out on tiny islands surrounding the rugged coast, or high up in the beautiful mountains, numerous cottages are dispersed around the country. These cottages are not only weekend retreats, but also the epicentre of Norwegian identity.
Ask a Norwegian about their life in their cabin and you will be able to build an image of their deepest dreams and desires. As they see it, life and nature in the periphery is morally superior and the source of everything good. To spend real or imagined time in the cabin is superior to life in the cities where most people work. In other words, the power of the periphery is that of pristine natural environments in contrast to the dirty center in need of change. At the local level, it’s the cabin on the high mountain above the city.
On a global level, it’s that of beautiful peaceful Norway contrasted to a polluted world in trouble. The power of the periphery is a system of belief that has allowed Norwegians to showcase their country as an environmentally sound nation compared to the rest of the world. To them, Norway is an admirable environmental microcosm for a better macrocosm.
Norwegians have been met by a receptive abroad audience for these ideals, especially among North American activists on the liberal left admiring everything Scandinavian. Since the early 1970s, scholar-activists in Norway have presented to the world various schemes for global environmental improvement, such as deep-ecology, eco-politics, eco-theology, sustainability, carbon emission trading, and even more. Of these global contributions, the so-called Brundtland Report of the Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland entitled Our Common Future (1987) is perhaps the most telling. It laid out the principles for sustainable development with sustainability being the distant goal we should all strive for. Academically, the thinking was inspired by protestant theology concerning the resurrection of Eden. Socially, sustainability was the imagined life Norwegians strived for while on vacation in their cabins. The reality of Norwegian industrialism is quite different from weekend life in the mountains and the fjords. And the high ideals of the cabin may hinder a serious debate among them about the environmental policies of the nation.
Norwegians often portray themselves as eco- and climate-friendly to the world despite evidence to the contrary: aggressive petroleum policies, hunting of endangered species, dumping of mining waste in the fjords, overfishing, questionable developmental projects in the Global South, investments in Canadian tar-sand exploitation, and so on. Like a crack in an ideology, the cabin lockout this spring may hopefully give Norwegians an opportunity for critical reflection on the nation’s paradoxical environmental policies.