Henrik Stiesdal, responding to the oil crisis, built the 1st modern wind turbine out of scrap material in the backyard of his parent’s Danish farmhouse. Today, there are 100,000 wind turbines throughout the world, 50% of which are in Denmark. How was it possible to whisk such an expansive initiative through ever-changing legislative periods? “It’s a good question. I still don’t really believe it,” Martin says, comporting himself. “Two reasons. First, is our recent history. The first 40 years of the modern wind turbine proved very economically successful. Second, is our ancient history. Denmark’s relationship with the wind is a deep and intrinsically Danish tradition to take care of our climate, work with our environment, and to protect and ultimately preserve our culture. Once you build a windmill, you pay it off in 20 years, and then you have free electricity. With coal, gas or nuclear power plants the cost is eternal.”
How is the your green culture incentivized by your taxes? We hear that automobile tax is upwards of 100%? “We tax people like hell. But we tax them because we want to pay for our welfare state. Instead of private insurances, our country’s wealth comes in part from income, automobile, and electricity taxes that pay for our hospitals, private schools, roads and universities that are entirely free! Furthermore, we provide tax relief for those who work with rather than against nature. Solar cells, for instance, have doubled in just the last year. Ultimately, everyone is held accountable for his or her part in the green reformation.”
The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, “Political thinking must be based upon a tangible reality” and certainly your turbines could have been concealed from view. Does their visibility promote a cultural identity, not unlike the religious cross so important to your ancestors, to inspire ideological immunity? “Yes. They are a symbol of progress. But the Danes are intrinsically practical, economic people. No symbol, however romantic or ideological, can replace common sense. This is what has and continues to unite us. The industry, unions, green organization and citizens are united by this standard of practicality.”
“Winning in the interior what was lost on the exterior” was a popular slogan in 1864 when Denmark lost its southern territories to Germany. Yet when Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, approved their energy transition last year, they called upon Denmark for clues on how to re-vamp this key sector from the ground up. Is consensus, and cooperation a lesson that can only be learned from losing a war? The minister laughs. “I really think your researchers have done a good job because Denmark was one of the biggest nations of the world 500 years ago. I just read 3 novels about the Vikings who by rights were strong, forceful, viral minded men who controlled the Baltic Sea and the World. But, listen. Since then we’ve been steadily losing our geography. Energy, however, is an area where we are invited to the United States, China, United Kingdom, and Japan to instruct and share the Danish case.”
Resistance to wind farms in Germany is so great that they must be built beyond the horizon line. When you speak to China, India and the US about re-creating their energy sectors do you advise coercion, (automobile taxes, gas prices), providing incentives (tax breaks for participating in energy cooperatives) or a combination of both? “This advice depends on circumstances like tax level, geography, political climate and the like. But ownership by far is the greatest incentive. I’m so damn tired of the way we calculate these things. Being economically invested in a wind cooperative makes fiscal sense. We pay into a cooperative for the first 10-15 years which pays for the cost of the turbine. After that, the wind and electricity is free. It’s a fantastic story! This isn’t about pure altruism, its common sense. Political good is not copacetic with economic bad.”
Will Denmark, in a final analysis, reform or revolutionize the world’s energy sector? “Had Martin Luther King begun his famous speech I Have a Nightmare instead of I Have A Dream I question if he would have ignited the Civil Rights Movement? The whole environmental movement, as such, has in many ways exploited that nightmare. And I agree, there is an absolute necessity here to address our use of fossil fuels, carbon emissions, pollution, and political, even personal equilibrium with the world. But revolutions are built upon fear. Reform, on all of its platforms, is built upon hope in a better world. Hope is stronger than fear. That,” the Minster said, somehow distilling the complex issue of environmentalism into a single statement, “is essential to my message.”
Sometimes I wonder if it was hope or fear that drove my ancestors from Denmark? War, economics, and employment all played a part in that calculation I’m told. When I remember my afternoon with Grandpa who, at 92, was still designing, constructing, and teaching a young boy how to build a BBQ, I understand the spirit, even the essence of a Dane. Considered the “Friendliest People in the World,” lessons of cooperation are not born in a vacuum, but from practical experience they’ve comported into a new world order. This model of democracy is a result of 600 years of trial and error; from which the most politically powerful nation on earth was able to adapt, innovate, and share its standard for green technology throughout the modern world. Our relations with the Middle East, foreign oil, and the fraying ozone layer notwithstanding, I wonder if we can learn from history? Or if were sadly destined to rise, fall and redeem ourselves? I guess we’ll just have to see which way the wind blows.