Niels Meyer, my friend and pioneer future thinker, has died at 93

Photo Jens Panduro/Ritzau Scanpix

Over 40 years, I was privileged to be one of Niels I Meyer’s many friends.

What connected us was that we were both researchers, deeply concerned about the development of the ever more unsustainable world and a staunch belief in there being always alternatives – other ways of thinking and acting than the mainstream.

Together with his co-authors, Villy Sørensen and Kresten Helveg Petersen, of the path-breaking book “Revolt From The Center” (1981)“Oprør Fra Midten” (1978), Niels was fascinated – as a natural scientist scholar – in social affairs in a deep as well as visionary way. The book was connected with the very widespread thinking about alternative socio-economic and political possibilities and argued for a humane equilibrium society, and pioneered basic income.

I cannot say precisely when Niels and I met for the first time, but it must have been in the early 1980s, probably at public meetings about alternatives somewhere in Copenhagen. As one of the pioneering researchers concerning alternative energy, he had read my little plädoyer for alternative energy – “Energi til et bedre samfund” (1976) (Energy for a Better Society) that was one of the first attempts in Denmark to place the nuclear-versus-alternative energy issue in an elaborate sociological perspective.

In 1983, Niels was one of an editorial group that produced the anthology, “Ud Af Krisen!” (Out of The Crisis); the other group members were Ove Nathan, Copenhagen University chancellor, John Mølgaard and Hardy Hansen of the SiD labour union. I was asked to write a chapter on Peace and Development for that book.

We participated in two private study circles in Copenhagen in the 1980s together. One was a group where we met with spouses, ate dinner and then talked about what we called Ting I Tiden (Tit) – themes of our time. The members were Niels and Benedicte, Henrik Zahle and Lene Koch, Ove Nathan and Marianne Wandall, John Mølgaard and myself with Christina.

The role of science, alternative energy and society, peace and whatever happened at the time occupied us for hours. In my view, these were some of the best thinkers in Denmark at the time.

Some of these people, including Niels, were involved in the Danish Peace Foundation’s huge CAMPS meeting in 1987 – Culture – Art – Media – Politics – Science – the largest-ever peace event in modern Denmark, held at the Louisiana Museum in Humlebæk north of Copenhagen.

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It attracted 16 000 people during a weekend at that uniquely beautiful museum of contemporary art. Believe it or not, it happened right among the paintings and sculptures with, for instance, Nina Hagen playing in the park while debates between American, European and Soviet representatives of C, A, M, P, S debated security and peace.

Since I was the Secretary-General of the Danish Peace Foundation, I got to know everyone of the 185 international guests quite well. Niels was enthusiastic about the whole thing and wrote about it in his memories, “Fra Højre Mod Venstre” (From Left to Right) from 2004.

Niels and I were both of the belief that the European Union was problematic. In 1992, together with Jens Peter Bonde and Drude Dahlerup, he initiated Junibevægelsen, a movement/political party that was represented in the European Parliament from 1993 and was closed down in 2009.

I wrote a couple of smaller books focusing on whether or not the EU would likely contribute to peace and, if so, what kind of peace – and we both grew more and more critical as the years went by. (See my “Does the European Union Promote Peace?” from 2006 with a follow-up in 2011).

While Niels was not focusing mainly on peace and security, he immediately saw that this analysis could be used in Junibevægelsen’s broader struggle for alternatives to the EU – which I certainly did not mind.

The rest of the time, Niels and I met until a few years ago and had lunch together – either in his and Benedicte’s home overlooking a beautiful open landscape, or at various very Danish basement restaurants in Copenhagen serving delicious “smørrebrød.” We talked for hours. Over time, he was more and more in pain from what he always called “my stupid back.” But despite that, he always turned up before time, put that pain aside and provided intellectual leadership from one theme to the next – and always also wanted to know how Christina and I were doing. His life and mind circulated around the ‘big issues’ but he was, through and through, a humanist for whom the single person he was with was part of that ‘big issue.’

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During one of these lunches, I asked whether it was OK for me to take some spontaneous portrait photos of him. The light there in the basement wasn’t great, to say the least, but I thought it was fun to try, and he accepted on the spot.

This is one of a few I took and it was later purchased by the Museum of National History’s Portrait Collection at Frederiksborg Castle.

Niels I. Meyer, April 10, 2009 © Jan Oberg

And he was concerned, deeply concerned and engaged to the end. When our contact transformed into emails, he always told me how much he feared the future because of vanity combined with a lack of long-term thinking among decision-makers. He was impatient, kept writing letters to the editors around the Danish press – kind of could not understand that others did not immediately grasp how important it was to think creatively, long-term and in terms of sustainability.

He told me, as if to apologise, that he did not have the same physical energy as before – who would when coming close to 90 and always having been extremely busy? Then invariably, he would say something to the effect that “I can’t do that much anymore, but you continued to do so much about the most important thing of all, I hope you will for many many years ahead.”

I always comforted Niels with a resounding “Yes!”

Niels belonged to the creative/innovative Denmark that reached the world in a positive manner and, during the last 20-30 years, has destroyed itself. The rogue militaristic Denmark caused him, like myself, sorrow.

I am not sure I explicitly thanked Niels enough and in time. But I believe he felt that our countless hours of dialogue grew out of my immense admiration for his life-long, constantly constructive struggle for a better world based on partnership with Nature as well as common sense and decency among humans.

Thank you, dear Niels, for 40 years of friendship and intellectual future community.

More about Niels I Meyer (August 3, 1930 – August 16, 2023) at the Danish Wikipedia. His beloved Benedicte Fenger, whom he married in 1954, died in April 2023.


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