It takes a different kind of candidate to attack opponents for giving balloons to little kids.
Helga Kristiansen, the top-ranked candidate for Svalbard’s Green Party, ripped into some of her rivals for handing lots of the helium-filled wildlife killers out to tots at campaign booths in Longyearbyen’s town square. But she said it’s a small example of how her party’s goals are both more practical and more misunderstood than many people realize.
The balloons, many of which are left to the fate of the winds after kids get lose their grip on the, have been found in the stomaches of dead animals unable to digest them. And while the Labor Party, the main distributor and the current ruling party on the Longyearbyen Community Council, notes they’re using latex balloons that supposedly break down as quickly as leaves, Kristiansen isn’t impressed.
“We’re in the Arctic so a leaf doesn’t break down quickly,” she said.
All of which might suggest the local Green Party, befitting its name, has an obsession with the environment over all other issues, practicality be damned. But Kristiansen said she that isn’t the case and any members elected to the council won’t simply be there as the party of “no.”
“We agree with the right on some things, we agree with the left on some things and we agree with Labor on some things,” she said, adding “What I really hope is to get enough votes to come in and be a guard dog.”
She agrees, for example with the Conservative Party’s proposals to vastly expand tourism – and is fine with an a doubling of all current activities, including those with adverse environmental impacts impacts such as snowmobiling and cruise ships. She noted more than 90 percent of all cruise ships sail under guidelines established by the Association of Arctic Cruise Ship Operators (AECO), which are stricter than government standards.
Furthermore, while the party wants local officials to travel less to reduce their environmental footprint, she isn’t opposed to new ventures such as Finnair starting direct flights to Longyearbyen next summer.
“Flying up here is a necessary evil,” she said. “Burning coal is an unnecessary evil.”
But when it comes to the Big Issue: namely the fate of Store Norske in the wake of the collapsing coal industry, she is merciless in her criticism about how local leaders approached the crisis.
“I think it’s horrible so many people have lost their jobs, and I think it’s horrible how the Labor Party and the right have done nothing for change,” she said.
She, along with the Liberal Party, are opposed to Store Norske’s request for additional government funds to maintain Svea and Lunckefjell for up to three years in the hope coal prices recover.
“I think it’s insane to spend 300 million kroner to keep a company in rest,” she said.
While candidates in other parties talk about focusing on selling coal for industrial purposes – which brings higher prices and has less environmental impact than energy coal – Kristiansen said she doesn’t see that as a practical solution right now.
“The prices are high, but not high enough,” she said.
Among the more notable proposals for the Green Party is building a renewable power plant to replace the current coal-fired one, fueled by some combination of warm water from Adventfjorden, solar panels and wind mills. Opponents have expressed skepticism about the feasibility of such methods on a large scale in Svalbard, but Kristiansen – noting alternative power devices would need to be tested on a small scale initially – said windmills are already operating in harsher conditions on the northern mainland.
Longyearbyen can still be a vibrant community with fewer residents, Kristiansen said, and it will eventually recover, especially by focusing on luring other types of businesses here.
Kristiansen said being relatively new to Longyearbyen and its politics will be her biggest challenge during her early days on the council. But she also expects the influence her party can have is significant.
“I honestly think we can make a change if we get into the lokalstyre because the passion is there,” she said. “I’m not into politics to make friends or be thought of as the best person. This is something I believe.”