Cloying moralistic product-placement: a quick write-off of Borgen

Fiction is fiction, and we should judge it according to different standards. Except when it wades tendentiously into controversies and presents a poorly formulated point of view as morally unassailable. At that point we can throw off the critical gloves without worrying. You can’t watch the Danish political soap opera Borgen without pretty much immediately sussing where it sits on the political left-right continuum, or rather where its creators sit. They push all the right buttons. The PM-to-be arrives at parliament on her bicycle (check). She struggles, presumably unlike those anywhere to the right of the creators, with the morality of her decisions (check). She chafes at the polished old-Europe condescension with which a (right-wing) political suitor treats her in a meeting to discuss her (junior) position in his proposed coalition—CHECK!!!

They’re hip.  They’re principled, but (Hollywood) flawed. They’re racy. They’re selling you wind turbines.

They’re hip. They’re principled, but (Hollywood) flawed. They’re racy. They’re selling you wind turbines.

All of that is fine, familiar, well-trodden West Wing stuff. If that’s what turns your crank on a Wednesday evening, no problem. I don’t really care where the show creators are regarding left vs right. What bugs me is, unfortunately, what differentiates Borgen and, I guess, makes it Danish. What makes it Danish, to me at least, is its righteously moralistic—yes, moralistic—positioning of wind power, of all things, as something on the same plane as Abraham Lincoln. Wind power supporters would applaud the characters’ unflinching conviction, in Cabinet meetings no less, in pushing a deal to sell Danish wind turbines to a former Soviet republic suspected of questionable prisoner rendition. Audiences are treated to glimpses into the scintillating decisionmaking challenge facing the protagonist as she weighs the sheer moral rightness of wind turbines against the evils of rendition.

Take a small step back, and how ridiculous does this look. This is the best conflict the writers could come up with? But what do I know. Maybe it really is what the Danish cabinet discusses. Abraham Maslow might have said such idiotic “meta-gripes” prove only that the Danes are rich enough to indulge in facile phony green posturing.

Denmark has bravely pushed itself into the vanguard of countries investing in wind power. The table below shows what it has achieved, after decades of beating the wind drum, in comparison with other jurisdictions.

Grid areaCIPK, gramsPer capita
CO2, tons
sources: Germany, Denmark, France data given in IEA “CO2 emissions from fuel combustion”; Quebec, Ontario, Alberta data from Environment Canada “National Inventory Report, Part 3, 2013” and StatsCan CANSIM, table 051-0001.

You can sort that table, by metrics that ought to count among those who profess to care about the environment. Metrics like the CIPK of energy from the electrical grid, and per-capita electricity CO2. Try it. Play with those numbers.

Where is Denmark on this list? Where is Germany, the World Heavyweight Champion of talkers of the green talk and walkers of the green wind walk? Both Denmark and Germany have been on decades-long PR offensives to paint themselves as green, using wind turbines as their physical PR. This table, which as you can see draws from the OECD among other sources, shows what all that talk has achieved.

Wind power in Borgen is product placement. The table above shows whether that advertising contains any truth.

The question all for those who love Borgen for its fearless portrayal of fearless wind pushers is, or ought to be: how did Ontario, Quebec, and France achieve carbon footprints that are an order of magnitude smaller than those of Germany and Denmark.

And before they glom onto Quebec, which has uncommonly clean electricity, they should remember that Quebec achieved that by flooding a boreal forest land area the size of Belgium, along with the ancestral homes of thousands of aboriginal people.

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8 years ago

If I refused to watch any TV show with dodgy reasoning, I would have a lot of time for gardening. 🙂 And I’d pretty much have to give up reading sci-fi.

As for taking a “moral” position on different energy sources, that’s a really subtle fault – if it is even a fault, rather than a reflection of how many people actually think. Biological concepts of evolution and mutation are far more egregiously distorted. Wild misrepresentation of nuclear power and nuclear accidents are more likely to bring the big red button into play.

I do enjoy Borgen, in fact, and it is by no means perfect in its representation of the world, but no worse on that score than a lot of other enjoyable dramas.

R Budd
8 years ago

It does say much that the “irrefutable good” default position for many minds right now is the image of a wind turbine or a solar array. Largely its the minds of folks with zero experience living with them or cost/benefit analysis.
At least Denmark took the path of public ownership and used largely domestic content. And the national developer has been sensitive to the fact large on-shore development is now not so fascinating to many residents.
Given the fact we don’t have a chance of stabilizing AGW with these technologies, how long before they are seen as a really catastrophic misdirection? Or will we just keep erecting more moai statues?