Hilsener fra Norge! We have safely arrived in Oslo, Norway. Aside from my three falls on the beautiful winter ice so far, we are all navigating Scandinavian winters like professionals! So far we have admired the snowy hills, Norwegian sweaters, and the copious amounts of cheese cutters, of which I will be bringing home my own collection. We have already engaged in wonderful conversations about Norwegian culture in the Nordic, or Scandinavian, model that this class is based on. Our first evening was spent walking around downtown Oslo, and I have grown fond of the red and purple smooth brick streets that we have walked the past two weeks, bricks I can only imagine my own Scandinavian ancestors walking on.
On our first full day in Norway, we visited the University of Oslo and talked to professors from the University. One speaker in particular really sparked my interest in the relationship between not only the environment and human well-being, but how it impacts the distinctive cultures each nation strives to preserve. Karen O’Brien, a professor of sociology and human geography, studied first in the States before coming to Oslo to teach. She talked excitedly about developing and fostering change in communities to respond positively to research about climate change. Instead of the gloom and doom approach to evidence of the warming planet, she talked about a very humanistic approach that engaged and empowered the human identity. This was instead of “scaring everyone about the predicted apocalyptic future.” After presenting some of her research on climate change she took on the problem from a new angle. It wasn’t a "save the rainforest" or "save the polar bear" slogan, but was that of preserving the culture that shaped us. She showed slides of winters that have covered Norway in feet of snow for over a hundred years; featuring smiles and skis, Scandinavian pride. She then showed the more recent years in Norway, a skier walking between patches of homemade snow split by grass and mud, struggling to save the winter sporting tradition. She described the excessive heating of the planet that surpasses the hundreds of years of influx that has shaped the earth; alarming ecologists, environmentalists, and the skiers of Scandinavia alike. She explained the melting ice sheet in Greenland, the polar caps shrinking, and the acidity of the sea water rising, but she talked about more than figures. The consequences will be more than rising sea levels; it will require changes that will drastically change the culture in which we proudly identify with.
While I have often been scared away from climate fanatics throughout my life, O’Brien helped create environmental sustainability into my growing hopes for my role as a social worker. While I have been passionate about social and economic sustainability, what first intrigued me about this trip, I struggled to see where my interests in loving nature could fit into my hopes of being a crisis intervention counselor. I enjoyed this lecture because it helped me think about the connection nature has to personal identity and culture development. I am glad to be in Scandinavia discovering and creating ideas for a sustainable, resilient, and stimulating future!