Disappointed and disillusioned. That pretty much sums up how a group of international students from the Danish Institute of Study Abroad feel following their dealings with the Environment Ministry this past month.
The 56 American students are exactly the kind of highly-skilled personnel this country says it needs in order to remain globally competitive, and they mostly chose Denmark due to its exemplary environmental record.
But now many of them will leave this summer with a bitter taste in their mouths. And they won’t be coming back in a hurry.
Like many concerned Danes, the students were alarmed to find out that the French company Total had been given permission to drill for shale gas in northern Jutland.
Unlike the Danes – who have spent the last few months protesting against the fracking, which was halted last week – the students have seen the effects the drilling can have first-hand.
Given their experience and vocational background, the students thought the Environment Ministry might be interested in hearing their opinion. It turns out they couldn’t have been more wrong.
The students accordingly wrote a letter to the environment minister, Kirsten Brosbøl, outlining their concerns and the potential health and environmental impacts related to fracking.
“We have experienced first-hand the devastating effects that natural gas extraction has on local communities and ecosystems,” the letter stated.
“Investing in shale gas exploration and infrastructure does not align with the Denmark’s national strategy for sustainable development and their commitment to take long-term global consequences into account. It does not align with Denmark’s goals of eliminating all reliance on fossil fuels by 2050. Finally, it does not align with the public interest, as shown by the months-long occupation of the proposed test site by local residents.”
On April 9, they delivered copies of the letter signed by all 56 students, both physically and electronically, and were assured they would receive a response within a week. But when they enquired about a response 16 days later, both had mysteriously disappeared.
“I resent the letter while we were on the line, and the employee ensured me that this time I would absolutely receive a response,” revealed the students’ spokesperson, Jack Hanson, who is himself studying sustainability.
Several weeks later, there has still not been any recognition from the ministry.
To the students, it sends a clear message: the ministry is not interested in their opinions and that their experience counts for nothing.
Many new arrivals often observe how Denmark is rather dismissive of overseas findings and likes to do its own research – rather like a willful child learning from its own mistakes. And in the case of the fracking, the students contend, this is an almighty blunder that could have extremely serious repercussions.
“I can tell you first-hand that fracking is a toxic nightmare,” contended Harrison Wills, a student majoring in environmental studies and public policy, who has spent most of the past decade in California “witnessing the severe public health and environmental problems caused by fracking”.
“Besides, Denmark has access to so many other sustainable energy options.”
For many of the students, the experience has burst their allusions about Denmark being a world-leader in environmental issues.
“I want to understand why Denmark of all places,” asked Molly Pfeffer.
“I felt as if I had just discovered that my new environmentally conscious girlfriend had been cheating on me with the son of an oil baron this whole time,” added fellow student Duncan Gilchrist.
A lifeline is dangling
But while it would appear that Denmark is not only damaging its environment but also its reputation, last week’s decision has thrown it a lifeline.
“Denmark has the opportunity to maintain its reputation as an environmental and social justice leader by following the lead of France and several US states and banning the practice of fracking,” contended Hanson.
“It will be deeply distressing if they choose to go ahead with these plans.”
Unfortunately for Hanson, since this story was published, Total has been given permission to resume drilling.