The warrior who fell

Publish date: November 5, 2003

Runar Forseth is gone. But this time he did not manage to leave us a message before he left. At other times we always knew where Runar was. Few have been so available for the environmental movement as Runar was. Runar would always speak his mind when he felt there was a need for a reasonable thought. For the environmental movement Runar's departure means an enormous loss of unique competence, enormous working power—in short, a loss of devoted environment warrior.

Runar Forseth (1962 – 2003)

For those of us who were Runar’s close friends and colleges the loss is much larger.

In January 1983, Runar arrived in Oslo from the small Norwegian town of Skien to start as the daily manager of environmental organisation called Natur og Ungdom (NU, or Nature and Youth). NU was in difficult and decisive times. Environmental engagement in society was not as strong as it was in the 1970s. The Alta fight—the fight against the construction of a hydro-electric power plant in the northern Norway which had paved the way for development of the Norwegian environmental movement—had worn environmental activists down. The membership numbers in Norway’s environmental NGOs were falling. The year Runar arrived, much new happened in Natur og Ungdom, and Runar’s invaluable efforts were decisive in these events. In June 1983, Runar was one of the few who travelled to Jøssingfjord in the southwest of Norway in a VW van to protest against the discharges from A/S Titania—a chemical plant.

The means that the activists had at their disposal were scarce, and in the beginning the battle seemed to be hopeless. Runar was so engaged in the fight that he that same summer brought his bed with him to live in NU’s office so he could be on duty for both journalists and activists 24 hours a day—when the battle reached its peak.

Runar’s ability to combine routine office work with good strategic and tactical thinking was an important contribution to the Titania case becoming the crowning victory of the Norwegian environmental movement. It is also a mark of Runar’s qualities and commitment that he had held the position of NU’s daily manager longer than any of his predecessors.

In 1987, he started at Bellona where he excelled in various positions. Wearing many hats—all of which fit him equally well—he was by turn Bellona’s information technology expert, it’s economic oversight manager, and the editor-in-chief of Bellona Magazine.

Eventually he became the central figure in developing Bellona’s web site and was, until the last moment, the editor of Bellona Web. Runar made an extraordinary contribution to the development of Bellona, and even though he is now gone, what he accomplished while with us will leave a mark on Bellona forever.

For those of us who were Runar’s colleagues at Bellona, he was a unique pillar of experience and competence because of he had been with us since the very first years. He understood himself the value of this competence and was committed to transferring it to the others when his health began to worsen. At the same time he was, until the very last moment, ready to learn and search for new solutions. His loyalty towards Bellona as an organisation was boundless, but he was never afraid to launch a debate with his colleagues about goals, priorities and means by which to improve the environment. Likewise, he was always ready to listen and if your arguments were strong enough, he was open-minded enough to change his opinion. Runar’s sense of logic gave him, among other things, the ability to always see both the immediate solutions and the long-term perspectives. Runar had, perhaps, the best ability of all of us to bring the debate back to in reality when creativity was breaching the realm of common sense.

Runar was never a man of the sea, but he was an extraordinary safe harbour. Some of us were rewarded of not only being his colleges, but also were privileged to have Runar as a close and good friend for many years. Runar was always ready to help his friends and was an extraordinary and trustworthy listener with whom you could share your inner-most thoughts. His political insight and engagement with public society was enormously developed, and we all remember numerous lively debates on environment, politics, civilian disobedience and many other topics.

Runar was always in search for new viewpoints and new knowledge on the subjects he was working on, whether it dealt with environment or computer technology—or, better, the combination of the two. During the case of Alexander Nikitin—Bellona’s co-worker who was charged with high treason by the Russian security police for working on our report on radioactive waste problems in the Russian Northern Fleet—Runar spent long days and late evenings in St Petersburg pressing the technology to its limits to get out on the web the latest news about the case. Or those great numbers of sleepless nights we spent together to develop new tools for the battle for the environment—it is not something that we shall easily forget.

He is an example to many, both in the Norwegian environmental movement and outside. Despite his bad health, which had begun over the past few years, he never complained and was not bitter about his fate. Environmentalists have lost with Runar’s passing one the strongest driving forces they have had seen in the past 20 years. But he and his efforts have left behind solid, concrete and long living traces. No one can take from us the bedrock results of Runar’s life left for Bellona.

We shall all remember our Runar.

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