‘This is a game where we have to find the solutions together’
Erik Jaques meets Frederic Hauge, founder of Bellona
Early on in my interview with Frederic Hauge – founder and incorrigible
leader of international environmental NGO Bellona – I ask him how much he
has been shaped by Norway, his native country.
He pauses for a moment then smiles mischievously. “Not as much as I’ve
shaped it,” he chuckles.
Hauge is not joking and, if anything, he’s underselling himself. After
all, this is the man who put carbon capture and storage (CCS) on the agenda
way back in 1991 and has been instrumental in marshalling it slowly but
surely towards commercial viability.
He battled the KGB to prompt Russia, and indeed the international
community, to wake up to the realities of dealing with nuclear waste. He
helped devise a scientifically proven method for Sellafield to dispose of
technetium (Tc-99) that was appearing in traces as far afield as Svalbard.
He slam-dunked the term “miljøkriminalitet” (literal translation:
environmental crimes) into Norwegian legal terminology.
His manifold achievements in drawing attention and reacting to
environmental malpractice are such that in 2006, to celebrate the 20th
anniversary of Bellona, a collective of underground artists cast Hauge as a
comic book hero for an anthologised history of his organisation’s exploits.
Named after the Roman goddess of war, Bellona was formed in 1986 as a
visceral, hardcore direct-action thorn in the side of Norway’s worst
polluters and an explosive conduit to fast-track local environmental cases
through the quagmire that is central government bureaucracy.
While those radical roots remain very much alive, the Bellona of today
– staffed by 75 engineers, ecologists, nuclear physicists, economists,
lawyers, political scientists and journalists – is more likely to hit the
headlines for its willingness to work with industry to find solutions,
often in syngergistic unison with the very corporations it has – and
continues to – campaign against.
Bellona is also winning plaudits as an irrepressible can-do catalyst
for environmental betterment in Brussels where, despite Norway not being a
member of the EU, Hauge since 1997 has been righteously representing the
European Commission’s Technology Platform for Zero Emission Fossil Fuel
Power Plants as vice president.
Bellona’s indefatigable and influential lobbying has been instrumental
in paving the way for EU-funded CCS demonstration projects, and it recently
established an EU technology platform group, to be chaired by Hauge,
dedicated to developing policies and criteria for ‘carbon negative’ power
plants fuelled by algae and fitted with CCS technology.
The Bellona gospel is also vociferously disseminated from offices in
Washington, and Murmansk, and St. Petersburg. Not to mention via its
floating operations hub, the Kallinka, a boat that tours the coast of
Norway and elsewhere to bring environmental justice to the people.
As a collaborator and co-manager with industry of game-changing climate
change mitigation projects Bellona is in an NGO field of its own, with over
40 partnerships currently ongoing.
“This is not a competition of who is right,” says Hauge, who points out
that in the Bellona Scenario, an extensive solutions-led report unveiled to
much fanfare at the COP15 debacle, it states that is possible to cut at
least 85% of the world’s CO2 emissions with pre-existing technology.
“This is a game where we have to find the solutions together.”
Bellona’s CV of collaborating with big business is littered with
intriguing prospects. Together with Eidesvik Offshore, via the FellowSHIP
programme, the shipping industry’s first commercially viable fuel cell has
seen the light of day on the Viking Lady ship.
Currently running on LNG instead of heavy fuels, the fuel cell reduces
CO2 emissions by up to 50%, improves energy efficiency by up to 30%, and
eradicates emissions from harmful substances such as nitrogen oxides (NOx),
sulphur oxides (SOx) and particles.
It’s a promising start, but Bellona is pushing to go one further to get
the fuel cell running on hydrogen.
There’s the Trondheim Smart City project, where Bellona is working with
Siemens Norway to propel Trondheim to the top of the world efficiency
league by revolutionising the way the public, private and industrial
sectors consume energy.
Meanwhile, over in Holland there’s a deal with Dutch firm AlgaeLink to
create algae-based fuels for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines fomenting
encouragingly behind the scenes.
Then, of course, there’s the Sahara Forest Project, which is arguably
capturing the imaginations of committed, tech-savvy environmentalists most
of all. Biomimetically inspired by the Namibian fog-basking beetle’s
ability to harness its own fresh water in the desert, the project aims to
marry concentrated solar power with seawater greenhouses to produce
renewable energy, water and food, not to mention trailblaze a potential
method of combating desertification.
Partners include Exploration Architecture, which worked on the Eden
project, Seawater Greenhouse and consulting engineering company Max
Fordham, and Bellona has wasted no time in rustling up philanthropic
funding to the not-inconsiderable tune of £300,000.
“If you team up with environmental organisations like Greenpeace or
others, they only see problems, they don’t see possibilities,” says Siemens
Norway CEO Per Otto Dyb.
“Over the years Bellona has changed, and Frederic Hauge has changed, to
not be this enfant terrible just pinpointing problems, but instead wanting
to be a part of the solution.”
Last summer, environmental activist and attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
(nephew of John F. Kennedy) got to know Hauge and his modus operandi well
after spending three days onboard Bellona’s boat for an oil drilling
protest near Lofoten and Vesterålen. He was impressed, to say the least.
“Frederic is smart, he’s opportunistic, he’s not an ideologue,” Kennedy
“He uses the conventional tools of advocacy, which Martin Luther King
said were ‘agitation, legislation, litigation and education’, but he also
uses innovation, both technical and scientific.
“He is saying ‘how do we make society work’ given where the power
As with many that know or work alongside Hauge, Kennedy is quick to
praise his open mindedness, and enduring optimistic belief that by getting
the right people working together, change will come.
“His willingness to work with companies and make free-market capitalism
work for the environment instead of a hardcore ideological approach is
“You have to be very careful when you do that because you don’t want to
compromise yourself or your principles, but I think he’s been able to walk
through that minefield without losing his credibility.”
Lois Quam, founder and chair of Sahara Forest Project collaborator
Tysvar (a “new green economy” proponent and health care reform incubator)
and one of America’s “50 most powerful women” according to Fortune
magazine, echoes the sentiment.
“Bellona utterly stands out as probably the single most effective
organisation in this space in the world,” she notes.
“Time magazine was correct in naming Frederic one of the most
influential people in the world [in its 2007 Heroes of the Environment
issue]. He will be one of the most important people in the new green energy
Growing up by the sea, Hauge was drawn to environmental activism as a
young boy after witnessing first-hand the devastating effects of oil
spills. “When you like fishing and sailing it is not fun to see a lot of
dead seabirds bobbing around,” he says.
He joined youth organisation Natur of Ungdom (Nature and Youth), but
soon realised its limited scope for rattling the system was holding him
back from making bold, lasting impacts on environmental issues.
Hauge wanted to get his hands dirty. The young Bellona’s trademark
involved donning red boiler suits, and showing up unannounced at polluting
plants with the media in tow, often to physically dig up incriminating
waste. High profile cases of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), dioxin and
quicksilver disposal malpractice were all early scoops.
In 1987, to draw attention to the dumping of dust in the Jøssing fjord,
Hauge and a couple of Bellona foot soldiers stormed the office of Norway’s
then environment minister Sissel Rønbeck and chained themselves to her
desk, upon which they dumped incriminatingly rotted shellfish.
Rønbeck was not amused, and branded Hauge the environmental movement’s
Ludvig Nessa (an upopular Norwegian priest with virulent anti-abortion
In another gambit, Bellona, together with pop group A-Ha, imported the
first electric car to Norway and started driving it around without paying
tax. The car was impounded on several occasions and consistently bought
back by Bellona.
The media lapped it up, and before long, the government had introduced
a progressive tax incentive for electric vehicles. (Hauge last year became
Norway’s first owner of the coveted Tesla Roadster).
“Seeing is believing,” says Hauge, who has over the years become
intimately acquainted with the inside of a jail cell (his last arrest was
five years ago). “We got a lot of attention.”
Bellona first piqued the international consciousness in 1989 when a
protest against nuclear test explosions in Novaja Semlja, Russia, evolved
into an ambitious mission to map sources of radioactive waste pollution
across the country.
The project stuck in the craw of the KGB, and Aleksandr Nikitin, a
Bellona employee and former submarine captain, was eventually arrested
during the compilation of a report for espionage and charged with high
This incident proved a crippling blow for Bellona, which went on to
spend millions over the next three years to free their man, who risked the
death penalty. The battle almost bankrupted the organisation, but it
prevailed and Nikitin was acquitted – the first time anyone had ever won a
case against the KGB in the Russian high court.
Nikitin is today the leader of Bellona’s St. Petersburg office. “It was
a fantastic example of environmental rights and that environmental
information should be open, and that the need for environmental rights
exists in a civil society,” Hauge reflects proudly.
For all the rabble-rousing non-violent action and media stunts,
however, Hauge has from the outset imbued Bellona with a pragmatic edge,
and a strategic vision that stretches far beyond blinkered on-the-barricade
“We always had a cup of coffee with the police and the director of the
company afterwards,” Hauge explains.
“It’s important not to make it personal – we can always talk with
It is this kind of perspective that has enabled Hauge to develop a
stunning network of contacts (his mobile phone holds over 3,000 numbers)
that can be brought together and configured in any number of ways to bring
about the resonant changes he seeks.
“Frederic has got a phenomenal energy and a real presence,” says
Michael Pawlyn, director of Exploration Architects.
“He manages to be very persuasive and charming at the same time, and
not many people are able to do that. Many people, if they tried to do what
Frederic does, would end up being very pushy, and get up peoples noses. He
is extremely skilled at dealing with people.”
Bellona’s 25th anniversary falls next year, but Hauge claims he is only
just getting started.
“It is fascinating to see what can be done with small resources and a
good team, and the ongoing motivation is what we could achieve with larger
resources and even more people,” he says.
“Next year, we’re really going to start working.”