The Politics and Future of Climate Change, Immigration, Technology and Wealth

Patricia Oprea

“We live in the most prosperous times,” assures Hans Brattskar, aside from what the news is showing.  There is a revolution in life expectancy; people are living longer and healthier lives than in any other past epoch.

Hans Brattskar’s own people also top the life-expectancy list; he is from Norway, and the country’s Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His foreign affairs work is lengthy and life-long, having included Ambassador and Special Adviser for Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding, Operations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Minister Counselor and Head of the Political Section at the Norwegian Mission to the United Nations in New York, and Director of the Secretariat of the Minister for International Development.

Brattskar begins his talk by speaking of technology: “a cellphone has more professing than the 1970 missions to the moon.” What is unseen cost of this? “There is a loss of freedom.” Brattskar refers to the power of technology and connectivity. With cell phones, we always exist in the virtual world, reachable and traceable. There is no obscurity. He mentions other aspects of worldwide connectivity, such as the deregulation of the airline industry. When flying was first commercialized, only the wealthy and elite could afford such costs. Now, due to deregulation, the price of plane tickets is 50 percent cheaper than decades ago.  “I can buy a flight from Norway to London for less than the price of a train from the North of Norway to the South,” Brattskar said.

Speaking of money and policy, Brattskar then goes to describe that the richest 1 percent of people will go on to own over 50 percent of global wealth. The poorest 80 percent will own 5.5 percent. “Will people accept this?” he questions.

Referring back to the sensationalized mass media, Brattskar states that violence is actually less common; we just see it more in our technologically driven society. There has been an increase in terrorist attacks, however. Gradually, the world is being divided into the “world of order,” and “world of disorder,” says Brattskar drawing on Thomas Freidman.

He speaks of the refugees, how their own country used to identify and send them as refugees, but now they are coming on their own. The challenge now becomes to distinguish the real asylum seekers from regular economic migrants. There is also the problem of matching a modern economy calling for specific job tasks, with a low-level skill set. Refugees often come from countries where they don’t work with the same types of abilities that match modern-Europe. Also, as technology increases, people become obsolete. Brattskar describes how it is cheaper to have automated machines rather than workers collecting tolls, or how it can be cheaper to let fines go unpaid, rather than to hire workers to oversee and collect those fines.

In regards to his own country, Brattskar foresees an expanding on armed forces, economic development, peace development, and continuing with NATO.  Currently, Norway has the fastest growing capital and highest rate of immigration in Europe. Brattskar also has lengthy insight in terms of environmental issues. He was Director General and Special Envoy for Climate Change at the Ministry of the Environment and served as the first Director of the Government of Norway’s Climate and Forest Initiative. Brattskar hits the audience with facts: “15 to 20 percent of global greenhouse emissions are from deforestation,” and “all rainforests could be gone in 40 years.”

He touches on the importance of trees, which store more carbon than the atmosphere, and the high level of biodiversity- the rainforest holds two-thirds of all plant species and half of all wildlife species… and there is still more to be discovered. Plants make up 20 percent of modern medicine, while only 1 percent of all plants have been studied for medicinal potential. Brattskar also speaks how in Norway, people become increasingly aware of sustainability causes. In Norway, palm oil that is not from deforested lands is being labeled as such, so consumers can see before purchasing.

Unfortunately, there is more to directly earn from cutting down forests than from taking time to research and discover the lands’ benefits.  Fortunately, Brattskar tells that in the last years, Brazil reduced deforestation by 70 percent. Perhaps this momentum can be continued.

Brattskar’s final advice is a call for action. “Engage in the real, physical world, and local politics.”