The Facebook post that made a difference!

Niklas Bengtsson and the lamb Puff

On June 11, Niklas Bengtsson from Sweden posted a request for aid on Facebook. The unprecedented drought in Sweden, which lasted all through May and the first couple of weeks in June, withered all grassland in many parts of the country. The farmers had to let their cows graze on lands that should have been used for winter fodder, which means that many animals will have to be sacrificed for lack of food — and the slaughter houses can’t keep up. In this dire situation, the response to Niklas’ post was staggering: 900 000 people shared, liked, commented or read it. Almost 10% of Sweden’s entire population of 10 million people were informed in order to help farmers and their animals in need!

Niklas has a degree in biology and runs a consulting company, where he mostly dedicates his time to helping farmers apply for financial subsidies. He also tries to safeguard the ecologically important Swedish meadows, nowadays threatened since there are too few animals grazing them to keep the woods away. Hence his wish to connect farmers with owners of wild meadows.

A dry spell of 6 weeks, with extremely high temperatures to boot, is very serious business in a wet country like Sweden. This past month of May was actually the longest period of uninterrupted drought ever recorded in Swedish history. Niklas can read the landscape. He knows the signs. “Normally the grass shoots right back even before the cows have managed to tuck it all in, but this year there was no regrowth at all”, he says. He heard a farmer on the local radio station talking about millions of kronas lost (i.e. thousands of euros), and, finally, when he drove past the best grassland in the entire region of Uppland and found it all brown and withered, he knew he had to intervene.

So he made his plea. What happened next was almost surreal: “Since I’m a consultant, I always keep my cell phone close. It was tinkling all the time. And it wasn’t just one person who liked, shared or interacted, there were 10, 50, 100 people per tinkle. In the end I just laughed.” Since then, Niklas has become a local celebrity, having been interviewed on Radio Shows as well as newspapers. As to the results of his Facebook post, he has connected many a farmer to owners of unused pasture — thus saving their cows — and he knows that many more deals have been struck without his intervention. He also started a Facebook group to facilitate future interaction and to serve as some kind of back-up in case of further troubles. Today, the group has 1800 members and it’s still growing rapidly. “The Swedish landscape really engages us”, he says. That, and the enormous and instantaneous response to his plea, really impressed him!

Niklas’ brilliant initiative and the response it generated reminds me of other actions that more or less singlehandedly unleashed forces which changed the course of history. Like Rosa Parks, the black woman who refused to vacate her seat and leave it to a white man on a segregated bus, thereby creating impetus for the entire Civil Rights Movement in the USA. Sometimes, one person can have a huge impact on the actions of the rest of us! Even if Niklas hasn’t started a political movement, he has created a precedent for the kind of grassroots’ movement we are going to need when climate change hits hard!

I ask Niklas whether he has noticed any signs of climate change where he lives. Apart from the extreme weather we’ve had for a couple of years now — going from serious drought to flooding in summer and alternating between sever cold and heavy snows or extremely mild temperatures in winter — he has primarily noticed the absence of insects.

“10 years ago, Sallows and Maples vibrated and hummed with bees, bumble bees and other insects. But these past few years, it has been quiet. And now there are reports saying that the insects are dying. So I was right.”

Sometimes the only thing that’s needed is for someone to take the initiative, and the rest will follow. When people are stirred to action, we are a force to reckon with! As Niklas so rightly proved, if we want something done we will have to do it ourselves, since government agencies might not always be on hand to bail us out. In fact, as to climate change, most governments seem more inclined to pretend it doesn’t exist, thereby leaving us, the people, to remind them of their job. So, like Niklas: act, reach out to others, and before you know it we might be 900 000 or more! Together — but only together — we can change the world!

In Sweden we talk about “weekday heroes”, as opposed to the people who get to do heroic things in public. Niklas: you are our weekday hero!

Article written by: Susanna Melchior from Sweden

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