Monday, November 1, 2010

Are The Faroese People Caught In A Conflictive Time-warp?

This is a response to a comment made by an anonymous reader to my blog post: "The Global Disney World" (

Dear Anonymous,
Thanks for a thoughtful reply. I appreciate your reflections to my blog post "The Global Disney World". I'd like to make some comments to your thoughts – and ask some questions, because I'm not sure that I'm quite getting what exactly you are trying to say. It puzzles me. Let’s start with the beginning. You say:

"The Faroese people today are caught in a conflictive time-warp, from which many other societies have since evolved. There is nothing unusual or exceptional in any society's resistance to change. In terms of "human nature" it is far more familiar and comforting to cling to a traditional lifestyle than to venture into the new and unknown."

From what you are saying, it seems that you have the impression that the Faroese are somewhat untimely backwards or ‘old-fashioned’ in their way of thinking, because they have preserved some old traditions. You and others might perceive these traditions as conflicting with a more ‘modern’ mindset, but the Faroese don’t. Correct me if I’m wrong, but between the lines I read a – slightly patronizing – attitude, as if you’re really saying to the Faroese: Hey, you’re in the 21st century. Why don’t you wake up to reality and evolve, just like the rest of us…

But what is it exactly you’d like the Faroese to evolve into? Do you believe everything ‘old’ is dispensable, just because it is old?

Since you choose to be anonymous and I have no way of knowing who you are, where you come from, or what relation you have to the Faroes, and why you're concerned with the Faroese, I don't know either how much knowledge you have about life in the Faroes. But from what you are saying, you seem not to be quite familiar with life in the Faroes – or aware of that the Faroe Islands is, in fact, a very modern society in most matters.

Although the Faroese have been able to hold on to some old traditions, they have not at all been reluctant to change as a whole. For the last 150 years the Faroese have been very eager to evolve and to adapt to the industrial world as far as it was possible in this relatively remote area with it's limited resources. The Faroese have in fact been very successful at this, which today's high standard of living in the Faroes proves.

But this evolvement is not always for the good. As I state in my blog: "It’s true that the Faroese have, like so many others, been seduced by the modern life’s luxury and amenities. It is true, that they are also infected by the western world's material greed. And it’s true that they in many ways live as people in other Western countries, first class. But by entering into the modern industrial world, the Faroese have made themselves vulnerable, like all others who also depend on oil. We see how the Faroese currently are fighting fiercely with others about ocean resources in order to get enough fish to be able to afford buying oil for their fishing vessels and maintain the living standards they have achieved."

As a Faroese I'm not too proud of the latest development in our fishing industry.  I think that in the long run the Faroese would be much better of if they rather stuck to the admirable qualities in their lifestyle from the old days, which are all about social responsibility and sustainability.

I acknowledge that the Faroese have the same obligation as everyone else on earth to take part in the efforts to save this planet from destruction. And we do not do that well if we're exploiting nature in an unsustainable manner. Unfortunately, when it comes to fishing (not pilot whaling!) some Faroese are getting a little off course for the time being.

But I have to say that this greedy way of dealing with nature is not the way the Faroese used to deal with nature in the past. It seems to be the modern world's ways of dealing with business, which urges some Faroese to adapt to unsustainable practices, very common elsewhere.

I do not think that the Faroese are any better than anyone else… I mean: as human beings. But they had found a very fine balance which they are about to overturn, which is sad.

At the same time as the Faroese live this modern life – very similar to life in other Nordic countries – on the industrial world's terms, which also has brought them wealth, they have still managed to preserve parts of their old knowledge of how to live a simple life and survive in solidarity with each other on nature's terms in a sustainable way.

They have not done this merely because of some kind of nostalgia – as you seem to believe – but primarily because the Faroese homogenous economy, almost entirely based on fishing, has shown to be very vulnerable. Some years everything goes really well – oil prices are low, fish prices are up – and people get relatively much money on their hands, which they often choose to invest in improving the conditions in the society – for instance the infrastructure, of which we can enjoy the benefits in harder times. At other times a combination of unfortunate factors tip the economic stability with dire consequences for many Faroese, who have lost everything during these periods. The deceitful modern monetary system seems to further increase the severity of these crises.

The Faroese have relatively often experienced periods, not so far apart, where they could not rely on their usual lifelines. The crises set in, in a quicker, more dramatic manner than most people on the European mainland are used to in their countries. The Faroese have grown accustomed to this fluctuating economy and the risks that follow. For instance, during World War II all connections to the 'mother country' Denmark were cut. There was a severe bank crisis in the mid 50'ties. Then again we had the oil and fishing crisis in the mid 70'ies. But also in modern times in the 90'ies where a bank crisis forced the Faroese to their knees once again. And now again we have a world crisis which started in 2008, which of course has affected the Faroese severely too. One of our two main banks just crashed recently – and we haven’t yet seen all the severe consequences, which surely will follow after this crash.

As I have explained already in my blog, our old local survival kit, if I may say so, has come in very handy in these periods of hardships. This is the main reason to why the Faroese still partly rely on old ways of surviving – including pilot whale hunting.

Note that my primary goal is not to defend the continuation of pilot whaling as such, but simply to explain the circumstances and the reasons, why it still exists. Bottom line, I guess the Faroese fail to see that they really have any better alternative, because other options seem – from their viewpoint – scarier and even more hazardous.

"Presently, change is upon us all. Nature governs our existence, and nature is, as always in a constant state of change. Unfortunately, through no fault of the Faroese, eco-systems and the very bio-diversity of our planet has been adversely affected in recent history by mankind's greed and disrespect of nature through commercial and industrial exploitation and greed."

This is exactly my point in my blog. Couldn't agree more. My point is, that nature has always governed human kinds existence. Some humans have just been more aware of that than others, which is why they have been better at taking care of nature than others. I happen to believe that the Faroese have done just that with their way of living with and off what was available in their own environment in a sustainable manner. This is what I'm talking about, when I say that perhaps the world could learn something from the Faroese.

You say: "The destruction of our oceans and it's limited resources must be addressed globally. In a time of new environmental awareness and our unprecedented ability to communicate beyond man-made borders, the message to your shores is one in the same for all mankind."

Yes, of course... and it should be. Agree. Of course the Faroese should still take care of nature in a responsible way. They have done so in the past. So they should do that now too, instead of adapting to the destructive ways of the modern world.

"If we continue to live as we have in the past, the depletion of our ocean's resources is inevitable."

Yes, it’s true – given that “we” means “people living in the industrialized world”. But I’d like you to clarify: When you say “we”, do you include the Faroese? I ask, because the way the Faroese have been living ‘in the past’ has not endangered nature as much as the way people in the industrial world have lived. Very far from it.  So it doesn’t seem to be a very good idea to ‘force’ the Faroese to adapt to modern, industrial exploitative ways of today completely and thus endorse them to make the same mistakes as everyone else. Which by the way, actually is about to happen, ‘as we speak’, unfortunately.

"It will be virtually impossible to resort back to survival techniques of the past when the ocean's resources are gone."

Very true again... on the other hand: I believe that if it comes so far – or close to it – every man will try to do what ever it takes to survive, and forget about the future, because nobody will have enough energy to think about what's best for the future, I'm afraid. They will have too much to do, struggling for their own lives here and now. The Faroese will perhaps be no better than anyone else. I assume it will not be pretty, anywhere...!

But given the fact that there are only 48.000 people living in the Faroes – a number which hasn’t increased for the last 20 years - I'd say, seen in the big picture: How big a threat can they really be to the world’s resources in comparison with the masses in the rest of the world? Not to take the responsibility away from the Faroese, but shouldn't we try to view things in the right perspective? 

"It may sound dramatic but the international scientific community is predicting dire consequences as our global population increases while unsustainable food sources have and continue to decline at an alarming rate. Overfishing and pollution as well as climate change are now of global concern."

Agree again. This is very much a concern of mine too, as I have stated in my last blog post as well as in former blogs posts, which I am sure you must have read… or?

"Warning signs in nature are evident, as in the Faroes we see the very pilot whale meat that sustained your people's existence through countless generations, now poisons and threatens the health and survival of your future generations."

Which is why I, in several of my blog posts, urge everyone – also outside the Faroes – to take a look at their own behavior. Because the modern way of life contributes much more severely to this alarming development than the Faroese pilot whaling as such has ever done.

This does NOT take the responsibility away from the Faroese. They are also obliged to live in this world not harming the overall balance, but the Faroese can only deal with their own lives first and foremost, and do what is within their own power. I can assure you that all this is very much subject to debate in the Faroes, so the Faroese are not a bunch of ignorant morons (not that you said that, but many think so...) The truth is, that the Faroese are very much concerned – and that they are not blind to these warnings, even if it may seem so to an outsider.

"Nature's reaction to man's contribution of toxic waste can now be measured and has found it's way to your shores. In 2008 your Dr Pal Weihe issued a gov't advisory warning that pilotwhale meat was "unfit for human consumption". His research conducted on Faroese test subjects found a high incidence of irreversible neurological impairment and other disablities attributed to the excessive PCBs and methylmercury levels found in pilotwhale meat. Yet, grindadrap continues."

Yes, true. I have read the advisory warning. And the report. It has caused great concern here in the Faroes, as I said.

I have stated in a former blog post that, personally, I am not for the continuation of the Grindadráp, regardless. I acknowledge that it must stop if there is evidence that proves, beyond any doubt, that eating pilot whale meat is directly life threatening – or severely damaging people's health. The research, which has been done, should of course be taken very seriously. However – though this particular scientific paper's conclusion is that pilot whale meat ought to be regarded as unfit for human consumption – it is not perfectly clear on exactly HOW hazardous it is to eat pilot whale meat – for instance, in comparison with other kinds of widespread available food.

Don't be mistaken. I’m not saying that I don’t believe in Pál Weihe’s research, and I can assure you that people in the Faroes are very worried about this. But it is confusing to the Faroese, that there have been reports which claim that not all scientists/doctors agree with the conclusions in the report made by Pál Weihe's and others. There have been other scientific researches that contradict the conclusions in Pál Weihe's report.

At the same time we are bombarded with information about all kinds of other hazardous foods. I am talking about common industrially produced  food, which we all buy in the supermarket or at the burger or pizza chains, full of hormones and other questionable, health threatening, perhaps even poisonous additives. We remember cases of cow disease, for instance, and we are also worried about contaminated foods mostly caused by extreme monocultures in the agriculture industry. We’ve learned that if you eat only MacDonald burgers for a month or so, you could actually die. If you smoke you're in extreme danger of getting cancer and all kinds of diseases too. It doesn’t make people stop though.

Therefore people here believe that pilot whale meat is, after all, perhaps not the worst food to eat – if you only limit the intake and let children and pregnant women avoid it. It is still very nutritious food, despite the fact that there are too high levels of mercury and PCB in the meat.

"This resistance to change at all cost is cause for worry and makes little or no sense to outsiders, many whose governments have officially classified dolphin meat as hazardous waste decades ago. Is it unfair to warn or advise the Faroese to stop this consumption from a humanitarian perspective?"

No, it is not unfair. Not at all – but I have difficulties believing this is the greatest concern of most of the people who claim they worry about the Faroese. It seems more to me that this is first and foremost used as an excuse to try to get the people of the Faroes to spare the whales. So why not call a spade a spade?

As I have stated earlier, Faroese people are not resistant to change – not if the change is for the better. They just fail to see if changing this particular tradition – the pilot whaling and everything that comes with it – really makes their way of life any better for anyone. Go to to study this issue further, if you like.

“Cruelty of the slaughter itself aside, as one Faroese friend once told me "nature can be cruel"... but as I see it, we must ALL acknowledge and adapt to these changes in nature before it's cruel vengeance disallows us the opportunity."

Well, I am sure that the Faroese will listen to arguments, which make sense to them. I am also quite sure, that they will be much less reluctant to change their ways than the global industry, the agriculture and the transport companies are. These are in fact the true dominators and destroyers of this world. Tell the multinational companies to stop polluting, because they kill people and animals by doing that – perhaps in a subtle and slow, but still very cruel way. But will they listen?


  1. Thank-You for your thoughtful reply Elin. So sorry I've been extremely busy since last communicating with you.

    I am planning to be part of a group of filmakers and environmentalists visiting your beautiful Islands this coming summer. Rather than elaborate on my views and perceptions here on your blog ,I am looking forward to sharing information through positive communication with Faroese citizens directly during my stay.

    I do have a question for you regarding a statement you made above , though.>

    " There have been other scientific researches that contradict the conclusions in Pál Weihe's report."

    Elin, can you please provide me a link or reference as to any recent scientifically peer-reviewed study that "contradicts" Dr. Pal Wiehe's findings regarding low-level methylmercury exposure ? I cannot find one. In fact I can only find opinions of total agreement/compliance with Dr.Wiehe's conclusions from several prominent neurologists and toxicologists within the international scientific community...

    Thanking-you in advance

  2. Dear Elin,

    I'm wondering if you've found any scientific research yet ?

    I'm very sorry if I've asked you too challenging a question.

    To change the subject , I'd like to know if you are still involved with the organisation, SamVit ,Faroe Islands Enterprise ?

    If you are , I wanted to know if there have been any professional assessments conducted on the potential of Faroese Eco-tourism ?



  3. Dear anonymous,

    No, my silence has nothing to do with your question being too challenging. I'm afraid you jump to conclusions, if you think so. I have just been busy and have not been visiting my own blog for quite some time. So I wasn't aware of your response here until just now. Simple as that.

    As already stated - I won't go into an argument about Pál Weihe's research conclusions. Someone just made me aware of an article about a similar japanese research project which showed different results. You can read about it here: - which is why I wrote as I did in my blog.

    I do not have any scientific skills in this fields so I'm not able to make any conclusions about who's right and who's wrong, but since I know Pál Weihe personally and have no reasons to doubt his research methods, I tend to believe his results more.

    The point for the Faroese, however, is not so much whether whale meat contains too much methyl mercury to be suitable for humans to eat. They're very much aware of that problem. The Faroese are concerned with the question: Is it really more dangerous to people's health to eat meat from animals living free - like pilot whales - than to eat imported, maybe irradiated and/or gene manipulated meat pumped full of hormones and penicillin, very commonly found in most supermarkets? Is there any comparative research that shows which kind of meat is actually more dangerous than the other? They'd like to get some facts about that.

    Another thing: You might be familiar with the concept of "food sovereignty". If not, I can recommend to google it. What would you suggest the Faroese should live off in a world where we cannot build our existence on fossile fuels any more? When import and transporting food over long distances can't be afforded any more, what is there to eat here that could sustain a population of 50.000 people on these islands, if the Faroese couldn't make use of all the natural resources at hand?

    Isn't it the outside industrialized world and it's extremely polluting ways - destroying all life in and around the ocean - the core problem, that we should focus on, more than on what a few people do in the Faroe Islands as part of their ancient traditional ways of providing food for themselves in their vicinity? A method which by the way has provided natural, clean and healthy food to the Faroese, up until recently, and which has been perfectly sustainable for more than a thousand years, because the Faroese respected nature's balance and ecology long before it had a name.

    By the way... Here's an interesting video about old sustainable ways of dealing with nature - just in another part of the world - but with the same philosophy behind as the Faroese have had and kept alive from the old days as one of the very few peoples in the world. See the video here:

    To your other question: No, I'm not involved with SamVit any longer, because it does not exist any more. The Foreign Ministry takes care of tourism business now. They have a department called: Visit Faroe Islands and you might visit their website to get the latest on tourism development in the Faroes, here:

    Enough for now. I wish you welcome to the Faroe Islands.

    Best regards

    P.S. I would very much like to know your name. Feels kind of odd to have a conversation like this with a totally name- and faceless person.

  4. Hi Elin ,

    I understand the concept of being busy. No problem - I was also guilty of replying to one of your posts months later for the same reason.

    Thank -you for that article. I know you're not the official medical advisor to your government, but just so you know, this newer article which was published almost two weeks after the NIMD's press release (outlined in your article from the "Probe" above)disputes the so-called findings regarding the Taiji resident testing - in that established ,complete protocol for MeHg (methylmercury) poisoning was not conducted. It highlights reaction and concerns from highly respected international neurologists and toxicologists, including Dr.Pal Wiehe . Hope you take the time to read it..

    With the onset of Climate Change I am familiar with Global Food Security and the "national security" implications of food/and or water shortages. Many governments have become concerned regarding both the "limited" water and food supplies projected to diminish as the world population grows at a steady pace.

    I fully understand the pursuit for national food self-sufficiency in light of major threats facing humanity in the forseeable future.

    One of the threats is collapse of fisheries world-wide,as a result of overfishing, pollution,climate change,ocean acidification, and destruction of biodiversity in our waterways and oceans that negatively affect the very eco-systems that support and produce 70% the oxygen we breathe.

    When I and others from my group travel to your islands this summer these are a few of the issues we'd like to discuss openly with any Faroese people willing to exchange views and ideas with us.We have some proposals that might be of interest or worth integrating with some Faroese perspectives on environmental issues in general. - nothing confrontational , but a vacation combined hopefully with a sense of understanding and overall an important global connection.

    I know there is some negative speculation among several Faroese that comment on the web regarding the Conservation Organizations that have planned campaigns for your Islands this summer and for that reason I'm reluctant to give you my name .Unfortunately because of this controversy surrounding these "visits" I don't want to risk devulging my identity at this point in time .I'm no one special anyways , just a regular Joe Blow hoping to add some positive light to a Faroese summer .