New perspectives on a society beyond oil

By Lisa Fischer

Norway is a country with an interesting energy profile. It is known to be rich on oil and gas, which now account for about a quarter of Norway’s GDP and almost half of its exports by value (The Economist, 2015). Despite rich oil and gas reserves, Norway’s domestic energy supply is dominated by hydropower (nearly 40%) (IEA, 2011). In light of a recent encounter with Norwegian energy transition researchers, however, it seems to me that Norwegians are starting to redefine their relationship towards oil. In October 2015 I attended the conference “Beyond oil” in Bergen ( The conference name itself suggests that Norwegians are starting to seriously think about alternatives and ways to realize a transition to a society beyond oil.
Joining the conference, I was especially inspired by three new perspectives that I believe are worth sharing:

1.) Respect for oil workers
I learned that Norwegian professionals in the oil sector, once a highly respected and prestigious workforce, have lost their good reputation. One of the two speakers, who mentioned the current “shaming” of oil workers in Norway, was arguing for showing respect for those employed in the industry. He mentioned the pioneer oil divers, who installed pipelines, took samples etc. – some of whom died in the course of doing their job. The idea of acknowledging work done by oil workers seems rather new in the current energy debate. Could we possibly introduce this way of thinking into the German discussion about energy supply, e.g. in the case of coal workers or workers in the nuclear power sector? The speakers went even further, and explained the idea to create new climate jobs and to address the dilemma of losing traditional jobs along the path to climate neutrality. I do like the idea of acknowledging what has been done by the (oil) workers for us, not only have they worked and sometimes still work under precarious conditions, but by doing so they secure(d) our energy supply and push(ed) economic prosperity. By taking care of them we would possibly enhance the acceptance of renewable energies and counteract resistance as we take a new and more sustainable energy pathway. It might be one way to actually work together and not against each other. It would also demonstrate that we implement the idea of sustainable development more holistically, by also taking care of the social pillar.

2.) Leaving the oil in the ground.
This is a radical and challenging idea. There is no global agreement of regulating or maintaining resources in the ground in individual states. The international community has no legal jurisdiction to decide how e.g. oil and gas discoveries should be regulated. Every state has the right to development (“Declaration on the Right to Development” by the United Nations, 1986). I learned that Kenya has just recently (2012) discovered oil. Companies are still in the exploration phase, so not actually extracting the oil from the ground. While discussing with Kenyans the idea of leaving the oil in the ground, researchers discovered that it is considered a rather absurd idea. Leaving resources in the ground seems quite a radical idea compared to the current way of thinking, but I do think that it is an idea worth discussing, and one which also arises when we think about new methods such as fracking for shale gas or extracting oil from tar sands.

3.) Broadening the discussion for a society “beyond oil”
It seems that in Norway the discussion about a society beyond oil is taking place on a relatively large scale, and taking a holistic view on things. In Germany, in contrast, the debate appears to be narrowed down to a few aspects, with energy supply by renewable energy dominating the public debate. However, speakers and participants at the Bergen conference had an even broader view on the issue of a society beyond oil, also thinking about production and consumption, corruption and justice with respect to energy access, among others. I think that the discussion in Germany could benefit from such a broader perspective on a society beyond oil.

International Energy Agency (2011) Energy Policies of IEA Countries- Norway 2011 Review, (accessed 31.10.2015)

The Economist (2015) Norwegian Blues, (accessed 10.10.2015)

United Nations (1986) Declaration on the Right to Development, (accessed 31.10.2015)

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