It starts with a Spark! The founding of a company

_DSC2957-3 smaller (1).jpgI have co-founded a company called Spark Sustainability! Above, you can see my awesome team: Anna T., Amanda, Anna E. and Johanna. Spark is all about spreading information about how individuals can help stop climate change. It’s about positive encouragement and reminding you that many small actions add up to something big and significant. You can subscribe to our newsletter at sparksustainability.com.  I still think that governments should take more responsibility for stopping climate change, but as long as they just keep being a bit useless, every one of us can do as much as we can by ourselves! After all, 70% of global GHG:s can be linked to individual choice.The website also has a carbon calculator, making it easy for everyone to start seeing where their carbon footprint really comes from. Spark will help everyone make better one’s.

Already a couple years ago, I was writing on different blog pages trying to find someone to keep a sustainability blog together with. I wanted to share my message in a more professional way, but I also did not want to spend 20 hours a week on my personal blog. Back then I did not find anyone, and I kept blogging here. So when Amanda, who has studied environmental and energy technology, asked me last summer if I want to co-found a platform for inspiring positive climate action, I was THRILLED! I get to keep writing about climate change, but I can develop, learn, become better and more professional.

A study by UNEP showed that sometimes environmentalist actually put people off the idea of sustainable lifestyles, because some loud environmentalists act like suffering martyrs who sacrifice a lot. An environmental lifestyle can actually add more happiness too, by increasing health, connection to local community, the joy of learning and being in nature, just to mention a few. While I personally sometimes get angry and annoyed at both myself and the world for not being more sustainable I have realised that negative comments often are a mistake. I recently received a comment on my blog which really criticised me for flying. She was factually 100% correct, but the comment still hurt. Also, I noticed that an angry comment did not increase my motivation for taking the train next time at all.  I am learning more and more that positive encouragement is much more likely to make people change. Tell me that you’ll be proud of me when I take the train, and I will. This attitude is what Spark is all about, telling people how they can do good and making them feel good about themselves. That’s why I am so happy to be a part of this new company!

We will launch in less than a month! Wiihiii!

 

Advertisements

The Great Barrier reef is not dead – why the exaggerations?

 

 

P1190347.JPGP1190262.JPGp1190096.jpgP1190076.JPGIMG_0005.JPG

One reason I really wanted to travel to Australia was to see the Great Barrier reef before it is completely gone. All coral, around the world, will suffer and die if waters get warmer and climate change continues. I wanted to see other things and visit my friends but I did really want to see the corals, after reading about them maybe being gone soon. It turned out that the news stories had been exaggerated, it is very threatened but not even nearly gone! The whole tourism of “seeing things before they disappear” is not great, because flying contributes and speeds up that exact disappearing. I know that it was quite selfish of me to fly out all the way but now that I have already been, there is no point regretting it.

I saw the Barrier Reef twice. We went to the outer barrier reef outside Port Douglas with a company called Wavelenght that was operated by marine biologists. They were really good about protecting the reef, did not put an anchor down, made sure no one walked on corals or touched fish. They also pointed out that tourism is really important for saving the barrier reef. The flying to Australia part is really bad, but the taking a boat out to the reef part is really not bad at all, especially if you go with a company that has an “Advanced Ecotourism” certificate.

I also went to a lecture about the coral reef at ReefTeach in Cairns. I learned so much! Apparently a few types of coral have already started adapting to climate change and morphed into “super coral”. It is more important than ever that we can protect this new super coral because it is still very rare and only exists in very few places! The coral in Australia also protects cities and agriculture on the coast in the case of storms. Coral is the birthplace of much of the worlds fish, so if you like seafood you better like protecting coral reefs.

Three common misunderstandings about the great barrier reef:

  1. Bleached coral is dead coral. This is false. Coral gets it colour from algae that lives on it. The algae is providing the coral with food and nutrition, but when the water gets too warm the algae starts producing toxins. That makes the coral get rid of the algae by expelling it from its surface. That means that suddenly the coral has no source of food anymore! Bleached coral is not dead, but it will starve to death within a few weeks or up to two months if the water does not get colder. If the water gets colder, it can take the algae back and get back to a healthy life.
  2. 90% of the Great Barrier reef is gone. Completely untrue. 90% of areas of the coral reef have been affected by coral bleaching because of warm water as a result of climate change. As point one states, bleaching does not mean dead. During the warm summer months many corals bleach, but as the waters get colder again a month later or so, they get their colour and their nutrition back. The barrier reef is very threatened. About 30% of corals in the area where the mentioned company operate have died in the past two years. 30% is a lot. But it’s not 90%. The entire Barrier reef is the largest coral reef in the world. It is 348,700 km² big! That means that there is still a lot to save!
  3. Tourism destroys the reef. This is partly true, partly untrue. “Tourists want to see a beautiful barrier reef, and the fact that tourists bring in so much money makes politicians more likely to support efforts of protecting the barrier reef”, says one of the marine biologists on the boat. Then it is another issue that some companies are irresponsible and do not interfere enough when stupid people for example walk on the coral. The coral burns like jellyfish, so the joke is on the people walking on it. Other things tourists do to destroy the reef is by using sunscreen containing Oxybenzone, which unfortunately is most normal sunscreen but there are many reef-friendly alternatives. I bought mine from Feel Good Inc.

It’s not only the Great Barrier reef that is threatened and similar coral bleaching have become more common all over the world. Coral reefs are really important for marine life globally. So the joke is really on me, who flew to the reef furthest away from where I live. Oh well, now I have seen it and it was beautiful. I am more motivated than ever to donate to organisations trying to protect the reef.

So why the exaggerations? As I said it is threatened, and some scientists think that an alarmist message will wake up people to try to protect it. They also think they will get more funding if they point out how bad things are. I think that they need to change the message into something more positive and make people realise that we can and should save the reef. Saying it’s dead will make people give up hope. It’s not dead and it needs your help to protect it! Try to minimise your carbon footprint, support the most sustainable tourism companies, donate money to marine conservation efforts and vote for the politicians who appreciate the enormous positive effects that the coral reef has.

Examples of when we succeed at saving the environment

Some people are just tired of hearing about environmental disasters. It’s just easier to live in one’s own bubble of happiness and not worry too much about the wider world, right? Media has a tendency to write more negative news than positive one’s. “No news is good news”. Well, luckily there are many stories of success when it comes to environmental protection. Maybe if we did a better job of spreading those stories, people would find it easier to stay engaged with the wider world? I just found an example of how the actions of an individual can make a great difference. I found another example that gives me hope that the world can come together and make decisions that benefit the greater good.

When I wrote my Bachelor’s thesis about how climate change is portrayed in the media, I came across many articles saying that people suffered from “climate fatigue”, that is, they were tired of hearing about the disasters of climate change. I have heard many of my friends saying similar things too. “Why bother when everything is going wrong anyways?”. I think there should be more positive news that show people that change is possible, and disasters can be avoided.

I just watched this short documentary about a man in India who single handedly planted a forest larger than New York’s central park and saved his home-island from an environmental disaster. I also read about how the Montreal protocol, forbidding chemicals that cause the ozon layer to diminish, has had an effect. The hole in the ozone layer is now smaller than it was in 2005! The chemicals, called chlorofluorocarbons used to be found in refrigerators and hairsprays but their use was restricted in an agreement made in Montreal in 1987. The ozone layer in the stratosphere helps catch harmful UV radiation. The destruction of the ozone layer lead to increased rates of skin cancer in Australia. Now the problem is being reversed and I am so happy! It is perfect news since I am going to Australia on Monday.

A book about economics for a better world

I started studying Economics in 2014 at Hanken in Helsinki. Motivated to understand what it actually means when people say “money runs the world”, I hoped to learn about the economy in order to one day be able to affect it and use it to make the world a better place. But what is the economy really even trying to achieve? I was still a bit confused after 3 years of studying. Economics has an important role in our society, but the way it is taught to undergraduate students is too simplified and does not challenge them to think for themselves enough. I recently finished reading “Doughnut Economics”, a book that discusses other, more sustainable ways of organising our economy. I am still not sure I can ever understand all aspects of the global economy, but I really learned what economics could achieve from reading this book.

The Doughnut is an economy with two boundaries: a minimal social boundary that we hope everyone can be above, and an ecological boundary that we can not exceed without seriously harming ourselves long term. This is so self evident to me. Economics is all about making sure that people have a tolerable life, while making sure we do not overuse natural resources.

But studying economics, no one ever said this was the goal or purpose of economics. Instead, the goal was said to maximise “utility”. Micro economics assuming that people’s behaviour is driven by only a strive for “utility” left me not knowing whether I should laugh or cry, because it just seemed so absurd. Utility, things that are good only for oneself. Research show that people who have studied Economics tend to be more selfish than people who have not studied the discipline. More money and more things.  Do we really want to teach young people that good behaviour is to be motivated only by money? I certainly don’t think we should. Therefore, whenever I hear a politician justify something by talking about economic theory, I instantly become very sceptical of whether they are just quoting 200 year old ideas of Adam Smith, without really reflecting on what kind of world she or he is advocating to create. There have been many really interesting economic theorists since Adam Smith but it seems like the stuff they teach at undergraduate is stuck in history. Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes are studied but really not much more, the discipline need more debate and more opinions.

My favourite Economics teacher at university said it very well “Economics is mathematics of social science”. Mathematics is great for understanding large concepts and simplifying is not always wrong but I think it is wrong to calculate based on false assumptions, assumptions that also teach people to behave in ways that can lead to inequality and environmental destruction. There has been ideas in my studies of Economics that I have found very interesting. The discipline has provided me with quite interesting tools to think about the world in. I however disagree with many of the values that underpin current economics taught at undergraduate level of university and repeated by 60-year old top-bankers. Most of all, the notion of eternal economic growth is just absurd. My first lesson in economics taught me that “economics is how to manage finite and scarce resources”. If resources are scarce, how on earth can the economy keep growing?

So I was thrilled when I finally discovered a book that offered an alternative to the current economics that is being misused by politicians. Raworth talks about why many economic theories that are taught to undergraduate students are just plain wrong. She envisions a future where economies are “growth agnostic”, where the goal of the economy is not growth. She talks about how different currencies, such as time banks, can promote a non-growth economy. She talks about how it is damaging to have a system that rewards people for being selfish and unsustainable.Inequality pushes for growth, because the poorest aspire to become more like the richest. If we share more, we don’t need growth to take care of the weakest in society. Finance does not have to be built to make the richest even richer.

She does not offer the perfect solution of how to get to this sustainable, equal dream-economy. But I think she does a lot more than most economic policy makers who are currently given a voice in media.

Annoyed at politician

IMG_7648.jpg

I am now on the train back from Amsterdam to London. I have spent the past for days on the European ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats) Party Congress in Amsterdam. I agree to a certain extent with liberal ideas about free choice and wholeheartedly embrace liberal values such as LGBT rights. However, I was quite annoyed at some of the politicians. During a panel discussion about the EU Common Agriculture Policy and the future of sustainable agriculture, I asked the politicians what they thought would be good solutions to decrease meat consumption. One of the politicians, MEP Jan Huitema from VVD replied that as a liberal, he is opposed to anyone else interfering with his free choice of what to eat. He also said that even though meat consumption does have a high environmental footprint, so does flying to Japan and the government should not restrict that either.

I think his reply showed that he completely missed the point. People can only have a free choice if they are offered an alternative. At the ALDE Congress, there was one evening NO meatless food available. The only meatless option was tiny pieces of cheese, and then I got offered a chicken sandwich from which they had removed the chicken. If the choice people are offered is between plain bread and a chicken sandwich, I do not blame people for choosing to eat the meat. To be honest, I do not care so much that I did not have food to eat, I just went to the supermarket and problem solved. However, I do really care about this on a larger scale. How can we encourage people to make the free choice of eating less meat, if you literally do not offer them any vegetarian food? How can we expect people to choose vegetarian food, if we do not make sure that our chefs are trained to be able to prepare delicious vegetarian food?

As for his comment about flights to Japan. I do not believe the government should fully forbid that either, but I do believe the government can play an important role in decreasing flight emissions too. If people are presented with a good choice, they will sometimes also choose not to fly. At the moment, I am sitting on the Eurostar train. I went to the conference with a team of four and can proudly say that we all took the train there and back, instead of flying. I was very active in buying the train tickets for my whole team. Luckily I have a manager who was very supportive of us taking the train, once I had showed her that it would not take more time and it would not cost more money. This shows that by being proactive, you can also impact your workplace to become more sustainable! Don’t just blame bad practices on your workplace, your manmagers or your colleagues. You can take initiatives to decrease paper use, take trains instead of flights for business trips and recycle at work.

Most people will choose to good if you give them a good choice, the right price and the motivation. But that better choice needs to be provided, one way or another. Offering people better alternatives is what gives them a real choice, it is not in any way restricting. That is what MEP Jan Huitema clearly fails to understand.

“When we stop going to conference after conference, that’s when we know climate change is about to be solved”

I went to a panel discussion on green finance titled “Making London the leading sustainable investment capital” at the London Stock Exchange last week. It was an interesting talk. But also it was a talk. Just talk. The quote in the headline is by Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, who is the Head of Government Affairs at HSBC Bank. “There are way too few real bankers in this room”, he said. Sustainable investment has become a real buzzword in the latest years, but there is still more talk and less action.

WhatsApp Image 2017-11-16 at 14.jpg

Talk talk talk. And talk.

COP23 happened in Bonn last week. I have listened to a few talks from it. So far I have not really heard anything new in these talks.  The UN meetings on climate change and all it’s related conferences are endlessly important right now, but hopefully in a few years there will be fewer conferences and more action. The scientific community does invaluable contributions to understanding climate change and other environmental problems. Science also gives us solutions. But it’s time to start implementing those solutions, not only discuss them.

“Sustainability occupies a fringe space. The main space of finance is not yet sustainable, but it is also controlled by normal people”, said Saker Nusseibeh, CEO of Hermes Investment. He’s right: the world is pretty much controlled by the normal people, through billions of micro choices. The problem is that normal people don’t know enough about the environmental challenges our world is facing, and people also don’t realise that they have the power to change things. Companies want to make money, that’s not a secret. However, it is a lie that this always means they want to be unsustainable. They only want to be as unsustainable as their customers or the government allows them to be. Since customers elect the government, it is essentially the normal people who are responsible for demanding companies to do better. It is annoying to hear, because I am sure that both you and I go around wishing that someone else would make the environmental problems go away. Companies need to take responsibility, but we need to demand it from them. The politician present at the London Stock Exchange panel discussion was Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, the party I currently work for. He is very in favour of a green economy. The truth is though, that as long as voters don’t demand long term commitments to the environment, politicians find it difficult to truly do something about it. Politicians want to be re-elected, what do you judge them by as a voter?

“Everyone should call their pension provider and ask them to implement sustainability standards to their investments, everyone should write e-mails to the companies from where they purchase their products and ask them to become more sustainable”, said Mr Nusseibeh. When he said that I feel a bit of satisfaction. I write an e-mail to a company probably as often as every second week, asking them to do better. This week I asked O Bar in Soho to stop using plastic straws, Nando’s Restaurant to allow for take away in the customer’s own Tupper Ware and to Amazon to (for the 5th time!) stop using so ridiculously much packaging material when shipping. I always feel a bit silly when writing these letters, like “who actually cares?”. It feels good then when someone older and wiser reminds me that it does matter. If enough people write them, it will make a difference. Companies want to make money and happy customers give them more money than angry customers.

People often don’t have enough information and time to actually research to know what they should even demand from companies. I have really high hopes in our newly founded Spark Sustainability company. My friend Amanda Bjornberg asked me to be a part of an awesome team to build a website and later an app that will make it easy for people to know where they can have most positive environmental impact. Stay tuned for our website to launch in January at sparksustainability.com 😉 “We are creating the change that makes people go from wanting to save the world to actually saving it”. Spark will empower people with the information they need to be able to demand more from companies, to demand more from the government and demand more of ourselves in our every day lives.

Please start demanding now. Demand sustainability at your bank, at your supermarket, from your clothes store, from your energy supplier and from your elected member of parliament.

DSC_0340

 

Not the inspiring sustainability role model anymore?

Lately, I have felt like I don’t really have much new sustainability hacks to share with everyone. It just feels like I have not been particularly environmental, just living my normal life. I have not written this blog in a few months now. I often strive to be a good example. To practice as I preach. To show other people that hey, I’m just a normal girl and I managed to cut my carbon footprint and waste, why don’t you try as well? I do feel good about writing this blog and I am now trying to restart the writing again.

There is an attitude that one should not brag about good things. I don’t think sharing my thoughts about sustainable lifestyle here on this blog is bragging, any more than people posting pic from their holiday’s is.  If I stop and think, I know that I am still living a pretty sustainable lifestyle. It is just that it has become the new normal. The things that a couple of years ago made me feel like an eco-hero, don’t really make me feel that special anymore. Is that sad? Not really. Because it means I don’t have to think about how to be eco-friendly. It means many of my habits have become so rooted that they don’t require any effort. Therefore I thought I would make a list of things I do that I am proud about, even if I don’t even remember to be conscious about it anymore!

 

Sustainable consumer

I buy less than one piece of brand new clothing per year. I buy some secondhand clothing but underwear I obviously prefer as brand new. About half of the new lingerie I get is from sustainable brands such as Luva Huva. I repair my things when they break, little things like replacing my phones battery instead of buying a new phone. Even when I can afford to buy new, I often choose to repair. The same goes for my shoes, I have had some of my shoes for 7 years now! Whenever I need to buy stuff, I always first look online to buy secondhand. Like yesterday, I bought a stool from a guy on “Shpock”, which is an app for selling unwanted things. Sometimes I fail my ideals, and buy stuff from Amazon that comes packed in thousands of dead trees because they use way too much packaging material at that firm. Most of the time, I do good. I recently bought a hemp shower curtain from Drapers Organic, because most shower curtains are PVC plastic that cannot be recycled. For festivals and parties, I bought biodegradable glitter from Wild Glitter!

IMG_5502

Wild Glitter doesn’t litter

Sustainable eater

When I started this blog, I was not a vegetarian. In fact, I documented my first stuggles of cutting down on dairy products and becoming a vegetarian on this blog. Now, even though I am essentially a pescatarian, I have managed to cut down my fish consumption to 1-2 times a month as well. Sushi, fish and chips remains delicious but luckily I don’t eat them that often. I buy package free as much as I just can. I don’t go out of my way to be zero waste, I could probably do more to go to farmers markets instead of local Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s. If I have a choice, I always buy package free though. Today, I managed to find an aubergine that wasn’t wrapped in plastic in Sainsbury’s! Happy day! I also found a zero-waste cooperative down in Elephant and Castle which is close to where I live here in London. I have been there only once but I bought so much organic, British quinoa in my own reusable bag, that it will last for the rest of the year!

IMG_5519

Always treat yourself, but better do it with a Bamboo Reusable Cup from Ecoffee!

Sustainable transport

I cycle or walk to work most days. I am wearing a pollution mask here in London to stay healthy while cycling, it feels good that at least I’m not contributing to more pollution with my method of transport! I try to avoid taking taxi’s or Uber’s, but on some rainy day’s I am not perfect. I have a rule: if it takes less than 10 hours to get somewhere by train, I will not fly. I currently fly about 5-6 short-haul roundtrip flights per year. 10 flights in total, it is not ideal. I am currently looking into offsetting these flights via Climatecare.org. I rarely drive a car. I recently rented a car for 1 day and drove about 200 km to explore nature in Scotland, and sometimes I drive to our summerhouse. However, I try to not drive more than 1000 km per year.

IMG_5961

I wear this when I cycle, to protect myself from pollution in London!

 

 

Sustainable companies

I have devoted time and some money to Secco, an online secondhand fashion shop. It is really nice to try to build sustainable business. We are launching in November at our new international site, Secco Collection! My friends Anna and Ellen founded Secco two years ago, and I am so grateful to have become part of their team, trying to tackle sustainability issues of the garment industry together. I am also involved as a co-founder for a company that will hopefully formally exist next month, Spark Sustainability! My friend Amanda, who is a sustainable energy engineer and a team of me and 4 other girls are going to build a website and an app where people can track their environmental footprint, and become inspired to make changes. Really grateful to soon be part of the Spark project as well!

Screenshot 2017-10-08 22.50.33.png

I probably will never be a famous sustainability role model like Lauren Zinger, writer of the blog Trash is for Tossers. That’s fine, because I am not trying to live sustainably to get fame or recognition in any ways. Don’t get me wrong: I think Lauren Zinger and many other sustainability bloggers are absolutely fantastic. My blog is not nearly as professional as many but still, I notice that keeping this blog makes me happy. In the same sense that someone who spends a lot of time at the gym might be happy to keep track of their results on a blog, I feel good about keeping track of choices I feel good about here on this blog. Writing this blog also helps me push myself to be even better. To always carbon compensate my flights, and to make even more effort to live zero-waste.

 

 

We need to make some plastic illegal, for real

I want to start a European citizens initiative to forbid some types of plastic. Specifically single use, disposable plastic. Plastic bags for example, they should just be forbidden by law. I just arrived in Amsterdam and I wanted to buy snack at the airport. I am shocked that everything in the small store here was packed in plastic. Just look at this, this is insane! It’s the height of being spoiled when you can’t even chew your own apple, but you need it readily chopped in plastic. Luckily I found an apple and a banana that I could eat zero waste. Yes I can eat normal apples that are protected by peel, because I’m not an old person without teeth.

Last year in September I was out sailing with my mum and my brother. That’s when I decided that this few people being “zero waste heroes” isn’t going to be enough, we need to forbid plastic. My mum had made some sandwiches for lunch for us to take with us. I arrived at her house before we went down to the harbour, and she asked me to pack the sandwiches. I usually do not use plastic bags at all, living zero waste on most days. Not all days but always when I have the energy to go the extra mile to avoid plastic. This time I was stupid, I just took the first thing I found in mum’s kitchen and I packed the sandwiches in a little plastic bag.

Out on the sea, I had just finished my sandwich when the wind started blowing more. Before I could even blink the plastic bag was in the sea. “Noo! Liam, can you turn around the boat?” I asked my brother who was handling the sails. “It’s too windy to be able to precisely aim at that plastic bag…”. For a few seconds I think about jumping into the water but it’s September. The water in the Baltic sea was really cold. So I let the plastic bag go.

DSC_3564.JPG

Anyone who knows me can be sure that I would do anything to not litter in the sea. But despite this, I ended up throwing a plastic bag in the sea! I’m not generally very dumb or stupid, but I’m not wise enough to be able to handle the responsibility of plastic. Very few people are. Plastic is dangerous, to animal and human health. Plastic is made from fossil fuels but it’s not really a climate issue, it’s a litter issue. A issue of the health of ecosystems and our own healths. There are laws that try to make sure we don’t drive too fast and that we can’t buy drugs. Why are we allowed to pollute with plastic liter without any limit?

I can’t be given responsibility of handling such a material because I cannot guarantee I won’t do harm with it, no matter how much I try. What about people who do not even try? They surely litter even more. The only real solution to this earths plastic pollution problem is to forbid single use plastics, the kind of plastics that end up in nature. Plastic is durable, so we could still use plastic to make things that are meant to last. Just an example, I think pipes and toilet seats from plastic are fine, I’m hardly going to drop my toilet seat in the ocean. But all that packaging waste. All plastic bottles. Plastic straws. You find them at any beach. We need to stop it, make sure we don’t find that litter on the beach in the future. We need to make sure that the plastic most likely to end up in nature is forbidden by law.

It might take some time before we are politically at a place where it can happen, but the sooner we start working towards it the better. We have alternatives to plastic already. There is constantly news about engineers coming up with new sustainable materials, and once we forbid plastic these materials will be so demanded that they can be produced cheaply at scale.

I love the zero waste ideology and I try to follow it myself. What I don’t like is that the view is too individualistic. People are cheered for figuring out how to avoid plastic. The harder challenges you overcome, the more you are cheered. But why is it meant to be difficult to avoid plastic? We need everyone to become more zero waste. Instead of a few determined persons going to specialty stores to buy food because the normal supermarkets are just too full of plastic, we should change the supermarkets. Change all of society, not just ourself. Changing yourself is a great place to start. The best place to start, but we can take it further. You shouldn’t have to struggle and be a hero to avoid plastic, you should be able to live a normal easy life where you don’t need to constantly panic over where to get food that isn’t insanely wrapped in plastic.

If you are a European citizen interested in joining the committee organising a citizens initiative to forbid single use plastics, please comment on the blog and I’ll be in touch! The more the better 🙂

 

Do you understand climate change? Most people don’t

“What would you care about, in case it was proven that climate change isn’t an issue anymore?”, someone asked me yesterday. I do think climate change is an important issue, but I would hardly lose focus in life if climate change was solved. I’d only be very happy! The thing is, this scenario, where climate change is solved is not some kind of utopia. In fact, we have all the tools we need to solve ut! So, why haven’t we?

Click here to read this text in Swedish.

Climate

Climate change is a problem on a too large scale. You don’t see it, you can’t feel it. You don’t even know how much your personal lifestyle contributes to climate change! The way humans try to comprehend climate change is interesting from a psychological point of view. How can we relate and fully understand it?

Even if most of us really don’t, it is still us who amplify it. It is you and me. We are the ones that buy products made by the industry that pollutes, we are the ones who fly for leisure. For about 150 years, we have been heating up the planet. I have studied how humans and the rest of nature affect each other both at university and in my spare time. I have learnt how little I know, how little I really understand. And I have learned how terribly little most people know and understand. There are so many opinions and perceptions about climate change, and what we need to do to solve it, that are not correct. One of them is the idea that we need to “go back to the stone age” in order to fix the issue, or that “climate change is too complicated, so we can’t do anything about it”.

Is it already a problem?

Climate change is in many ways different to many other problems. It can be discussed whether it even is a problem yet, although it is up to all of us to define what we even think is problematic, do decide what we like and what we don’t like. The earth is now on average about 1 degree warmer, since coal started being burned. In Helsinki, there is rarely much snow in the winters anymore, some animal species have moved away and there is a lot of smelly blue-green algae in the Baltic sea every summer. I am bothered by these things, but maybe most people are not? Maybe it’s not a problem yet, to most people.

Climate change is probably the most complex phenomenon in nature that humans have ever caused and been the subject to. The temperature of the earth is affected by probably a million different factors. Carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases is just a small part of it. Sea currents, solar winds and but also human construction! Locally, things such as large areas of black bitumen absorbs heat and warms up the air, the effect of large black areas could be bigger than local. The circulation of water has an effect too, that is known for sure, but it is very hard to predict exactly where it will rain more or less. All in all, it is very difficult to understand exactly what it would mean if the mean temperature of our earth was 3 C degrees warmer. It’s challenging to scientists, it’s very difficult to normal people. I’m writing my bachelor’s thesis on how media has reported on climate change. They have not done a very good job in the past, is my conclusion.

What’s up with the two degree goal?

You probably know that there is a global agreement that heating should be limited to two degrees. Why two? Last week I visited the national museum in Helsinki, and saw an exhibition about Finland during pre-historical times. About 6000 years ago, Finland was actually two degrees warmer than it has been during the 20th century. When the temperature dropped by 2 degrees, the Finnish human population declined about 80 %. The change in nature was too fast to adapt, and many died. Two degrees colder was a catastrophe, but a sudden two degrees warmer has a negative impact too. We will all survive at two degrees warmer, we have modern technology and science. Two degrees is what the temperature is historically known to have been changing. If we let earth heat up by two degrees, there will be effects but we will be okay. The problem is: with the current pace of emissions, we are heading towards 4 or 5 degrees warmer!! No one knows exactly what happens then, but there are many qualified guesses. In the history of modern mammals, no such rapid temperature changes have ever been recorded. Even when the last ice age in Europe ended, 10000 years ago: the mean temperature on earth changed less than this.

There are some sure things about what will happen. The sea levels will rise. This is a problem especially for poor countries. The Netherlands can probably afford to build a massive wall to keep the sea out. We here in the west, know and care too little about poor island-states. Honestly, most of us here don’t really care that much if some village drowns. We probably have a bad attitude towards these villages, an attitude that they will probably have some disaster anyways and will be poor and miserable with or without climate change. If they are going to be miserable anyways, why bother stopping climate change for their sake? This is not a conscious thought for most people, but probably an unconscious one.

Climate change is a different problem because the changes take place over a long time, they are slow but full of risks. There are signs that are not sure, like is the civil war in Syria now partly a result of drought caused by climate change? The climate of the earth is too complicated to say that because you drove your car to work everyday in the past 10 years, you have caused a civil war in Syria. In theory, it might be, that you and a billion other people with their cars, indirectly caused the suffering of Syrians today. We can’t know for sure about this specific thing, but we know for sure there are effects on people as a result of global warming.

Why are some people engaged in solving climate change, when others are not?

People who think climate problem is an issue, often have a few common ways of thinking.

  1. A fear of risk. A feeling that we do not know what we are doing, and that there might be far-reaching domino effects of changes in our atmosphere. That the effect will be so large both socially and environmentally, that civilisation will end up collapsing. We just don’t want to take the risk. Things might end up much worse than a drowned island in the Philippines and rainy winters in Finland.  Global famines when agriculture collapses if temperatures and rain-patterns end up being totally unpredictable. Global flows of migrants, fighting over the only places that are good to live in anymore. Is the fear exaggerated? I don’t know, I don’t think so. We can prevent this from happening, why take the risk?
  2. Solidarity between rich and poor countries. We should not change the planet in a way that means humans need expensive technology to survive and thrive. It should be possible to live a good life on earth in totally natural conditions. So these natural conditions can’t mean people have to afford huge walls to keep the sea out of their homes!
  3. We think there is a value of its own, in nature. We think it’s wrong to change the climate faster than animals and plants can adapt. Even if everyone would be vegan, humans would kill millions of animals by destroying their homes, if we let the climate climate change too much, too fast.

Most people are not engaged in solving the too fast climate change, that is caused by people. One might feel one’s own impact is too small, you can’t see the effect of your efforts and you don’t get any visible benefits from making an effort. Instead, you prioritise solving concrete problems, that are easily visible to you and affect yourself directly.

Solving problems here or now, or solving hypothetical future problems?

Most human problems are here and now. Such as poverty, both relative and absolute. If you can’t afford something you think is necessary for a decent life, it’s a huge problem right now. We don’t talk about the risk of possibly becoming poor in 20 years. Human trafficking and other human rights violations. We talk about those that happen right now. We help victims who have already been trafficked, by providing them with support, education and integration into mainstream society. Famine. We help people who starve right now. Domestic violence, we talk about it because it happens, not because it might be happening in the future. Mental health problems are also not fixed until they are definitely there, we don’t treat depression proactively.

People who are against strict climate policies say we should not focus on problems that do not fully exist yet. That we should not speculate and treat problems just in case. I think that we should treat climate change just in case, because it probably isn’t just in case, it probably will be just in time. I also think we should treat a whole lot of other problems just in case. Society should support people at risk of becoming depressed and at risk of becoming poor. We should educate girls before they are trafficked as sex-slaves. The reason for not doing this is often stated as money, but preventive measures are usually much cheaper. The same applies for climate change, it makes financially sense to fix it now, not later.

There is already a solution

Renewable energy and vegetarian food. By changing our diets and agriculture, as well as our energy production system: we can already decreased greenhouse gas emissions by about 45 %. On a personal level this means to eat less meat and call your energy provider to ask if you can buy wind or solar power from them. Climate change is an extremely complex problem, but there are a few very easy solutions to fix the largest part of it. The rest of the problem will be fixed when science advances and population growth slows down. So, we already have the solutions, we are just too stupid to use them!

We have the needed technology, we just need to be willing to pay that little extra for it. Both as individuals and businesses. If you and every other private consumer spends 100 euro more per month on supporting renewable energy, and 100 euro less on travelling by fossil fuels, we have already solved a large part of the problem. If you cycle to work, instead of taking your car, we have taken another step. If you own a business, you can transition to renewable energy too, it’s constantly getting cheaper. There are positive possibilities for changes on a state level too. The most obvious example is countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE who really can afford to switch to renewables, and their state economy would benefit from stopping to subsidise oil. In many countries, we can have our public transport run on electricity and biogas. We have the technology, we just need to make the investment. Humanity is now richer than ever, so it’s completely realistic to make these investments.

We do not need to go back to the stone age. I’m always a little bit confused when I talk about slowing down climate change and someone starts talking about the stone age. What do modern photovoltanic solar cells have to do with the stone age? We can fix climate change and still take warm showers, use electricity, enough food and an endless supply of Netflix series! Swap your pulled pork for pulled oats, you won’t even miss pork after a while. Your life won’t look that different after we fix climate change. The difference will be that travelling will be more expensive, when we use less fuels for aviation. Clothes and consumer goods manufactured overseas might get more expensive, when energy and shipping gets more expensive. But when a normal, middle-class Finnish person can afford to fly on vacation to Thailand only every five years, instead of every two years, or one can only buy one new pair of shoes every year instead of five, we can’t really compare it to the stone age, that’s ridiculous.

You’ll still be able to afford lots of shoes, but bought secondhand. You can still take the more energy-efficient train to Thailand every year (current route is by the Trans Siberian to Beijing, and via Hong Kong and Vietnam down to Thailand). On top of this, you’ll be able to travel anywhere by virtual reality! The point of stopping climate change isn’t to stop human development. The point is to stop shooting yourself in the foot. Why make climate change worse when we have the means to fix the issue?

The change we should make in our daily lives is so minor,  and still it could do a great deal to solve a difficult issue with huge risks. Why take the risk if we don’t have to?

Climate change can be solved. And don’t worry about me, I’ll have stuff to do after that’s solved. I think I’ll start with problems such as the out of control population growth, littering of the oceans, helping poor people both near and far, supporting development to end hunger crises, support gender equality to have an impact on domestic violence and sex-trafficking, and of course: support my loved ones around me to feel mentally well. And myself, make myself happy too. So lets fix climate change so I can get more time to deal with these other problems too!