Community members talk climate action in Nordic countries

By ROYA TOURAN

Fran and Spence Putnam, local climate activists and community members of the Sunday Night Environmental Group (SNEG), spoke Friday afternoon about their recent research trip to Scandavia and Iceland. The talk, titled “Climate Action and Social Democracy—Lessons Learned from the Nordic Countries” discussed their five week, self-designed study tour of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland, where the couple researched these countries’ climate policies.  

The Putnams cited activist George Lakey, author of “Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got It Right and How We Can, Too,” as a source of inspiration for their trip. They had never visited the Nordic countries before and were fascinated by the countries’ economic systems. 

“The Nordic model emphasizes society-wide risk sharing and the use of a universal social safety net to help their citizens,” Fran said. “From our observations, we would say that the Nordic model appears to be working and that it has support from all four coutries we visited.”

Components of the model include a very strong commitment to free education, generous family leave, child care, elderly care and strong social infrastructure. These programs are funded through high tax rates. The presenters said that while taxing is a point of contention in the United States, many citizens in the Scandanavian countries don’t mind the higher tax rates — almost double taxes in the United States.

“We did not hear complaints about the tax burden. We asked that question specifically many times,” Fran said. “We would ask people what they thought about the tax rates and they would say ‘I think they’re fair’ or ‘I don’t mind paying the taxes as long as I know what I’m getting for it.’” 

Zoe Booth ’23.5, who attended the talk, said she was intrigued by the contrast between how people in the US and people in the Scandanavian countries view their taxes.

“The reality that people in the Scandanavian countries do not oppose them because they understand the causes differs greatly to the reality here,” Booth said.

The Putnams’ presentation focused on two communities that are taking large steps towards combating climate change. The island of Samsø in Denmark operates almost entirely on renewable energy from wind turbines and conserves energy through thermal efficiency. Akureyri, a small town in Iceland, is currently transitioning to become carbon neutral and derives much of its energy from geothermal and hydropower. 

Both Samsø and Akureyri used communal decision-making tactics to reduce their carbon emissions, making sure town members were participating in the initiative. The towns implemented the co-op model so that people could own shares in public utilities such as wind turbines.

Spence believes many ideas from the Nordic model can be adapted to fit Addison County. Like the Nordic countries, Middlebury is a small place with a strong local identity and accessible government entities.

“We feel that Akureyri in particular has some lessons that can be applied here in Vermont,” he said. 

Spence hopes more group decision-making will be incorporated in decision-making in Addison County and in greater Vermont. He described how Green Mountain Power, an energy transformation company in Vermont, is looking to make the state carbon neutral by 2030, while the Climate Economy Action Center of Addison County is also trying to take steps to model the Nordic countries as much as possible. 

“The high functioning and faith in government allows the Nordic countries to tackle problems like climate change,” Fran said. “People aren’t constantly worrying about where their next problem is coming from, so they have the bandwidth to confront some of these big issues.”

The presentation concluded by offering steps community members can take to help combat climate change, including putting pressure on the state legislature to help pass the Climate Solutions Act, measuring and reducing your own carbon output and making more efficient transportation and food choices. Although she emphasizes the importance of individual action, Putnam hopes the Nordic countries can be a good symbol of the change that can happen when communities come together. 

“The presentation gave me some hope in the sense that it gave an example of somewhere that was able to find enough political stability to do something about climate change, which I don’t think we have yet. And I think that’s one of the keys we’re missing in this equation,” Grayson Barr ’23.5, who also attended the event, said.