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“If every famous skier in Norway came out against oil exploration it would have a massive political impact.”
An interview with three Just Stop Oil activists who recently held up a FIS ski race in Norway
“I feel like a lot of skiers and snowboarders need to get woken up and shocked into action. We’re running out of time and if every famous skier in Norway came out against oil exploration it would have a massive political impact.”
It’s been interesting watching the public response to Just Stop Oil’s protests in the UK evolve from anger at the disruption to a new kind of sympathetic understanding, even if some people still disagree with their tactics. Last weekend we saw what I think is the first example of direct action at a ski race when the FIS Cross Country 20km in Lillehammer, Norway was blocked by Stopp Oljeletinga (Just Stop Oil Norway), though pls do correct me if I’m wrong in the comments below.
I spoke to three of the activists involved: Frida Steinbakk and Calum Macintyre, who are both based in Sogndal, Norway, though Calum is originally from Scotland, and Adam Formica from the US, who is also based in Norway. Calum filmed the action while Frida and Adam and three others blocked the race. It doesn’t sound like this was an action any of them took lightly. I hope you enjoy this thought-provoking chat.
Hey Frida, Calum and Adam, how’s the season started in Norway?
Calum: It’s been a bit of a slow start but on Saturday Frida and I stopped on the way to Lillehammer and went for a splitboard tour in pretty nice conditions. It was a great way to calm our minds on the way over.
Yes, so on Sunday you filmed Frida, Adam and three others from Stopp Oljeletinga (Just Stop Oil Norway) blocking a FIS Cross Country men’s 20km ski race. What inspired the action?
Calum: Skiers and snowboarders in Norway, and especially high-profile skiers who are very famous, have been quite absent in the climate movement. I don’t get it because as a snowboarder we’re completely dependent on there being a stable climate in the future to do our sport.
In the past I’ve worked on raising awareness in less confrontational ways, but I feel like a lot of skiers and snowboarders need to get woken up and shocked into action. We’re running out of time and if every famous skier in Norway came out against oil exploration it would have a massive political impact.
We’re not trying to annoy skiers, the point of the action is that it was broadcast on live TV throughout Norway and watched by millions as a big cultural event. It’s a way to disrupt normal society and show people this is an emergency. I wouldn’t want the snowsports industry to think climate activists will be blocking every single snow event in the future!
Adam: We’ve seen the traction Extinction Rebellion has been getting with mass mobilisation of people out on the streets of London and seeing huge numbers of people voicing concerns over the climate emergency. More recently, groups have broken up their demands into more specific actions, such as insulating homes or in this case Just Stop Oil, rather than trying to address the whole environmental crisis. Our group here in Norway was inspired by that more targeted formulation because we thought it was more actionable for politicians.
Norway is an oil-rich country. It is one of the highest per capita fossil fuel exporters in the world and the concrete aim of our campaign is to stop the exploration of oil on the Norwegian shelf and ensure a just transition for those who are currently involved in the oil industry. Our group has been engaging in non-violent civil disobedience for over a year now and this is one of the last actions in that cycle.
Is it the first action of its kind on snow?
Adam: In Norway yes, and as far as we know it’s the first ever such action. We attempted a similar action in a cycle race this summer, the Arctic Race of Norway, which is where I first met Frida and Calum.
Norway promotes itself as an Arctic nation that is a snowy place with beautiful landscapes, but at the same time the Norwegian government is contributing to the Arctic melting. It’s one of the fastest warming places in the world, and if we continue with business as usual, average temperatures in Northern Norway will increase by up to six degrees by the end of the century compared to a median global warming of about three degrees, so there is quite a lot of hypocrisy there and that’s also what we wanted to highlight with this event.
Frida, you’ve grown up as part of the snowsports community in Norway. How did you get involved with Stopp Oljeletinga?
Frida: Things have really changed for me in the last year. Before then I was really sad seeing our glaciers shrink and winters getting shorter and thinking I’m not sure if I’ll be able to snowboard in the future. But then I met with Extinction Rebellion, and they were talking about the IPCC report with the UN and I was really shocked to see the crisis is so much bigger than us just losing our winters. Now my concern is actually the shortage of food in the future.
A lot of people haven’t woken up to that reality at all, and also the way things are represented in the media, it's clear to me that the climate crisis hasn’t had the attention it needs in the Norwegian media. We’re talking about shorter winters in the Arctic but on our state channel they don’t mention the fossil fuel industry at all.
I feel like people in the UK are becoming far more sympathetic to the actions of Just Stop Oil. Have you noticed that?
Calum: Yes, I’ve really noticed a shift in attitudes. My parents were very sceptical about it a year ago, and even when Frida and I went to the Arctic race in the summer to take part in the action, my dad was not positive about it at all. But this weekend he was watching the ski race on Eurosport, and he was super stoked and sent pictures and messages saying it was a great action, so I really feel like I’ve seen their understanding of it change. In Norway too amongst my friends, and especially the snowboard and ski community, I’ve definitely noticed a shift in how people are becoming more accepting of these things.
What was the reaction at the race itself?
Calum: There was a guy right behind me who shouted: “I’m f**king tired of this stuff,” but next to him were his kids who were saying: “What’s this? What’s that?” which was kind of cool, as they were definitely interested.
Was it important this was a peaceful protest that didn’t injure any of the skiers in the race?
Adam: Yes, the campaign planned it very carefully for over a month, with people who had participated in previous actions at sporting events. The whole group familiarised ourselves with the FIS code of conduct, we looked at a topographic map of the race course to see where the potential action sites might be on an uphill, where we knew the skiers would be moving the slowest and did scouting during the women’s race.
We used a non-toxic smoke bomb and had someone standing at a distance over a hundred metres away to warn the skiers something untoward was going to happen. And we made sure we used a substance that wouldn’t interfere too much with the wax on their skis; we used carrot and beetroot juice to draw that symbolic line, as orange is the colour of Just Stop Oil.
We did take every conceivable precaution we could think of, and we are all trained in something called non-violent direct action, which is typically a whole-day course where we simulate the action and get into formation, discuss the safest position and also how do we react to de-escalate any potential violence.
Did you get arrested?
Frida: The people around us dragged us away from the ski track and kept us at the side of the track until the police came. But only two officers came, and they weren’t able to move us, so they just stood there during the race to make sure we weren’t jumping onto the track. I think they were calling the Oslo police for advice, as it might be the first time the police in Lillehammer had to deal with this kind of activism. After the race they asked us to leave and stay away for 24 hrs; they handled it in a good way I think.
Do you hope more skiers and snowboarders will put themselves on the line in this way in the future?
Frida: It’s not enough to repair your jackets and buy second hand stuff, that’s good of course, you should do it, but it won’t get us to the point where we need to be. We need political change.
Calum: Everyone can contribute to this. You don’t need to be getting arrested necessarily or doing these higher risk confrontational actions. In snowboarding and skiing there are so many people who are super creative with photography or videography, or marketing and social media and we need all that stuff in these movements, you can really help with a lot of other things.
Frida: I’ve been snowboarding for 12 years at this summer glacier ski resort called Folgefonna but every year the glacier is getting smaller and smaller. It has big cracks where the ski lifts are and I read that it will be a big lake in 10 years, which makes me really sad. But when you start engaging yourself and meeting other people who are engaged you feel much better and that’s one of the biggest motivations for me in doing things like this. It really helps.
Here’s a feature I did for Mpora on whether ski resorts are doing enough to reduce their environmental impact & how I’d love, just once, to receive a press release that said: “Due to the climate crisis we’ve decided not to build anything new this year…” instead of the usual highlighting all the new stuff they’ve built.
I’m just back from a surf trip to North Devon with Ocean Set, an awesome Brighton-based company run by my good friend Andy White who loves getting people into surfing and sea swimming. The waves and natural beauty of this stretch of coastline were ridiculous but the weekend highlight for me was a talk by Yvette, Cookie and Rob from the North Devon Surf Reserve, an inspiring collective who came together to get their local breaks protected status. Read about their amazing work here.
Please fwd this newsletter to anyone who you think might be interested & if you have any story tips on any of these themes pls get in touch.
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