mandag 29. oktober 2007

Images from the weekend

Friday: Moon at noon over Adventtoppen.

Saturday: Blues in Mine 3, Little Victor playing

Saturday (and Sunday): trying out the new scooter.

Emma wishing she was 16.

Sunday: Ivar and Peter (and Aina, not in the picture), digging snow cave.

fredag 26. oktober 2007

At the peripheral centre of things

What´s fun about Longyearbyen is that it´s a rather popular place for Big (and middle-sized) Names to visit. For such a desolate place, it´s really quite central. What other small communities have visitors like kronprinsesse Mette-Marit, comedienne Shabana Rehman and writer Anne B. Ragde within a few weeks time?

Politicians have been here as well: Norwegian and Russian, mostly - putting gentle diplomatic pressure on each other to show who´s Toughest in the Arctic (this I ought to write more on - but not just yet).

And scientists come too. Wednesday, the British scientist James Lovelock gave a short talk at UNIS. In the 1960´s, Lovelock introduced the idea of the earth being a superorganism, the so-called Gaia theory. However, the talk at UNIS was called Creative Adaption to Climate Change, so it was mainly on his views on global warming and the future energy problem of our world. I´m not going to repeat all he said, only that he thought that even the estimates of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was too mild, he expected the temperatures and sea level to rise even more than they predict. He didn´t think that we´d be able to stop the climatic changes, but believed that we should instead concentrate our efforts on learning to live with it.

Also, he believed that nuclear power plants would be the solution to the world´s future energy demands. Not surprisingly, this brought some reactions from the listeners - but he was quite firm, and claimed that modern nuclear plants are a lot safer than those that were built first. He seemed sure that only nuclear power could sustain the world´s demand for energy in the long run - he didn´t believe that solar power would do the trick, and he almost sneered at wind power.

Hm. I myself felt the "anti-nuclear" spasms starting in my guts - it´s the automatic reaction of most Norwegians, I think. But his enthusiasm almost turned me around. But not quite.

I liked the way he was critical towards all the environmentalist propaganda that overflow the western world. The politicians drone on about trading of climate quota (emissions trading), to make it sound as if they´re doing something - and oil companies have huge campaigns where they advertise for environmental-friendly energy, to make it look like they care about anything else than making a profit. The whole thing is quite stupid. Since the Kyoto-conference nearly 10 years ago nothing has happened, except a lot of words.

It´s depressing of course, but Lovelock didn´t seem depressed - he focused on the fact that we have to learn to live with the consequences. He also predicted that Northern Europe would become a more popular area to live, because of rising temperatures, while the Mediterranean areas would become deserts (and as an apropos, he suggested that Norway should continue to stay out of the EU, to stop the flow of "climate refugees" from the south).

This was actually the final talk on a over 2 week long tour in Norway, where he´s been on radio and TV, and held several talks. That´s pretty impressive when you hear that the guy is 88 years old! With this vitality and a solid reputation, he can say almost anything he like - which made his speech both entertaining and refreshing to listen to. Whether I agree with all is another case, but he´s certainly a qualified voice in a loud choir.

Here´s his homepage by the way, if you want to know more about him.

So that was one Big Name that came visiting this distant spot. Some other Names have just landed (or are arriving as we speak) to take part in Dark Season Blues Festival that started yesterday. How Big they are I won´t dare to guess at, as I know almost nothing about Blues. But I´ll be going to at least three concerts, so hopefully I´ll know more when the weekend´s over.

onsdag 24. oktober 2007

Thomas´weather report for the next 4 days

... I hope he´s wrong.

Local exteriors & irritating conditions

So, where does she do her shopping? What does the Longyearbyen school look like? And the hospitaI?

Maybe these are the kind of questions you´ve been asking yourselves for a while (or maybe not). Well, seek no further, underneath you´ll find photos of some important buldings in the Longyearbyen community.

Looking up the main street. Svalbardbutikken on the left hand side. The one and only place to buy groceries.

Across from Svalbardbutikken, you´ll find the "mall" Lompensenteret, shops, library, pub, cafe, restaurant and hairdresser under one roof.

The hospital.

Longyearbyen school, with the sportscenter on the left.

What´s hard to appreciate from these pictures is the cold wind and the lashing snow and the perilously slippery streets. We had some mild weather a few days ago, and that turned most of the roads into ice rinks. I´ve fallen twice today - I´m sure that if I´d been a porous old lady I´d have broken my hip both times.

I can deal with the wind and the snow - it´s not that cold, so it doesn´t bother me much. What really irritates me are the icy streets. I hate it when I can´t just stride along.

Oh, by the way - maybe you´re curious about the election? As I thought, Arbeiderpartiet did well, they got 7 out of 15 places in Lokalstyret. Tverrpolitisk fellesliste got 4, Høyre 3, Svalbardlista 1 and Fremskrittspartiet got 0 (it´s kind of nice to live in a place where Fremskrittspartiet has no representatives in the local government).

But only 637 out of 1.563 decided to vote, 40,3 %. What a shame.

lørdag 20. oktober 2007

Election time

For the first time in my life I have the pleasure to vote twice in one year. I voted last September, as every adult Norwegian could do, in the general local election. But this weekend I´ll have another chance to have my say - on Sunday (and Monday), the election for a new Lokalstyre (local government) is taking place here in Longyearbyen.

Arbeiderpartiet, Høyre, Fremskrittspartiet, Tverrpolitisk fellesliste and Svalbardslista run for election. (Which means that the party I voted for in the mainland-election is not represented, so I have to think anew.) The campaign hasn´t been terribly exciting - some leaflets in the post box, and three of the parties taking turns with stands outside the supermarket. One of the candidates in Svalbardlista has run an energic campaign in the local paper Svalbardposten, with lots of letters and opinions, but the other representatives haven´t used the local media much.

The responsibilities of Lokalstyret cover the school, nurseries, public library, sport center, gallery, cinema and everything technical when it comes to heat, water, renovation, etc etc. The money comes from local taxes, as far as I understand (which results in lower taxes than on the mainland). According to the Svalbard Treaty, Norway can´t claim more taxes than what is needed to run the local community, but whether this is still the case I´m not sure. (More here, if you´re interested).

Anyway, at the moment, Lokalstyret has 15 members, 6 from Arbeiderpartiet, 5 from Tverrpolitisk fellesliste, 2 from Høyre and 2 from Fremskrittspartiet. Arbeiderpartiet has the "mayor" (lokalstyreleder), Kjell Mork. How the situation will be after the election is difficult to predict, but my guess is that it won´t be very different. Mork seems to be pretty popular, and I have a feeling this is Arbeiderparti-land.

Last election the voting percentage of the population was disturbingly low, only 41,1 percent. I suppose a lot of people are in my situation - they´ve only just arrived, or they´re not staying for very long. So maybe they don´t feel they know enough. And then there are several other "excuses", I´m sure. Well, I´ll participate, here´s a real chance to make a (tiny) impact on how this community will function the next 4 years.

But what to vote? None of the parties want to relocate the population of Svalbard, as I suggested some days ago (that would indeed be kind of surrealistic - like a kamikaze politician!), and hardly any will put tougher restrictions on the use of cars and scooters. But they´re all for a better environment and a happy population, and I´m all for that, too.

Well, I´ll think of something. Godt valg!

tirsdag 16. oktober 2007

First visitors

My sister Birgit and her boyfriend Tor Ove have been visiting - our first visitors from the mainland. I hope they enjoyed being here as much as we enjoyed having them.

Here´s from our expedition to Bjørndalen, where we managed to get the car stuck.

A local knight in blue overall and a four wheeler came to the rescue, and towed us out of the pile of snow.

Back in Longyearbyen, at Huset.

And walking home (looking for Northern lights, but no such luck). Sorry about the quality - I like it anyway.

And that was it. It´s a little empty after they left, so we´re looking forward to the next visitors with anticipation.

mandag 15. oktober 2007

A black look on coal

What makes Longyearbyen tick? Why can people live comfortably here, in large, warm houses, with good shops and even better restaurants? How can life standard be so high, for so many people, so close to the North Pole?

I´m afraid it´s the coal. Not only is Norway one of the world´s biggest providers of petroleum, it also earns a nice profit on exported coal from Svalbard. And some of the coal is kept back, to be used in Longyearbyen, to keep me and my family and everyone else here warm and snug.

I´ve heard that the local coal is a "pure" sort, that it doesn´t send so much carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds (VOC), mercury, arsenic, lead and cadmium (more about coal pollution here), as coal found other places. I don´t know whether this is correct, but it doesn´t make much difference to me. If not used in the power plant here, it will be burnt up somewhere else - and the gases will enter the atmosphere and add to the Greenhouse Effect.

So, in one way, I´m a bit ashamed that I´m here at all. It´s a great adventure for me and my family, but it probably would be better for the environment if we weren´t here - in fact, better that as few as possible of us humans were here.

And what would that mean? It would mean that we chose not to take out coal (losing profit), and that maybe only scientists were allowed to stay here over longer periods. AND it would mean that Norway would lose some important strategic points. It´s a badly kept secret that one of the main reasons for having such a large population living here has to do with sovereignty.

So it´ll never happen, will it? I´m pretty sure we´ll mine the coal of Svalbard as long as it benefits our dear selves.

One positive thing that has just started to happen is this: UNIS, together with Store Norske Spitsbergen Kullkompani and two oil companies, has initiated a project to see whether it will be possible to "trap" CO2 from the power plant in the ground. Here in Longyearbyen, they have started to drill a core hole down to 800-1000 meters, to see if they can find a layer of sandstone porous enough to deposit CO2 in. The sandstone must be covered by a layer of shale that´ll keep the gas down. If the conditions are right, and the technology for trapping CO2 can be developed, that´s certainly good news, not only for Svalbard, but for power plants oher places.

Beneath is a photo of the drilling site near Bykaia, next summer a second hole will be drilled in Adventdalen.

The vision is to make Longyearbyen CO2-free within at least 2025 - partly by trapping the CO2, but also by the help of alternative fuel for cars, scooters and boats. (More about all this here and here.)

So that´s a good thing - and hopefully it will make a difference. Maybe it can make a huge difference in - let´s say, China. That would be great!

But as for making Longyearbyen CO2-free, I still think that that would be obtained a lot quicker by shipping the population off to the mainland. Myself included.

tirsdag 9. oktober 2007

Another Sunday walk

Again a slow Sunday, with grey skies and a rather unpleasant wind. So what better to do than a stroll to the airport?

We walked the "Burma-road" (how many cities and towns around the world have an unofficial Burma-road? It certainly has a special sound to it these days...). This Burma-road runs along the old transportline for coal. The road starts next to the Taubanesentralen, a well-known profile from many Svalbard-pictures.

This is what it looked like in August, by the way.

Earlier, coal from 3 different mines were brought in on taubaner in containers called kibber (sorry, I have no English words here) to this Central. In 1987 trucks took over the transport, and in 2004 the whole site, building and all, were conserved.

Barely enough snow - but Thomas insisted on skiing.

The road was definitely closed. And has little in common with the original Burma road.

The departure hall at the airport is bright new, and a great improvement compared to the old one. We had to go through security to get in and have a look (and forgetting the signal-pistol in the rucksack, we almost created a commotion), but this textile-piece on the wall made it worth it. The artist is Trine Mauritz Eriksen, the fabric is wool, in long, twisted pieces. I like the way it gives an impression of light-waves.

And then the plane took off, and we got a taxi back.

October 15 will be Blog Action Day

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

fredag 5. oktober 2007

Changing lights

Maybe these are a bit cliché - I don´t care. They´re taken by me (except a couple by William) in Adventdalen during the last three weeks, and I´m just grateful to have had the opportunity to be there so I could take them.

One extra cloud-picture for good measure. You´ve probably noticed by now that I have a thing for clouds.

It seems that winter has finally settled, after a few false starts. There´s now quite a bit of snow, and the forecast predicts cold temperatures. The light is dwindling fast too - a lot quicker than back home.

I´m a little apprehensive of the coming dark months, whether I will handle it OK - or go stark raving mad. On the other hand, having lived through all those wet, shadowy winters of Bergen may have made me immune.

Anyway. This last photo is the most recent. From now on all will be white. And eventually dark.