This blog isn’t really needed anymore

Is this blog needed anymore? That’s what I’ve been asking myself, and why I haven’t updated it for over a year. I’ve been writing for Spark Sustainability every now and then instead. Spark is a sustainable lifestyle consultancy and web platform focused on inspiring individuals to become involved in climate action, that I cofounded in early 2018.

About a year ago, the entire media world literally exploded with sustainability and climate news. Even my grandparents are now constantly updating me on sustainability news. I see my grandparents as typical members of an older generation, who have worked all their lives to increase our living standards and just have quite average European consumption preferences. So I see them changing as an indication that the whole sustainability awareness thing is spreading further than to woke university educated millennials!

My grandmother initiated a discussion on the differences in benefits between electric vehicles and biodiesel, last time I saw her for lunch. This would literally never have happened in 2013 when I started this blog. I started this blog after starting to study environmental sciences at university and just being chocked how it was possible that I hadn’t known all this stuff earlier.

There are of course a whole bunch of people who couldn’t care less about sustainability. The thing is though, I very much doubt that my blog will reach these people. I need to keep thinking about how I could reach out to a wider group of people than my socially conscious millennial friends and their friend’s friends.

In the end I think it’s an utopia that everyone would put the environment highest on their priority list in life. We just need enough “active starters”. Take LED bulbs as an example, if stores would just put them on the most convenient shelf, many people would not even realise that they’re buying the most environmentally friendly light bulb. It would just be the light bulb that you could access without having to bend down to the lower shelves.

Of course, governments can just forbid everything that’s bad, but that takes time. So until then we need to keep getting a large enough group of people to care. That would increase the likelihood of any shop owner realising that they should reorganise their shelf of lightbulbs and make it really uncomfortable to reach down for those high energy consuming bulbs.

In the end, I think my conclusion is that when growing up and moving on in life, I hope I can find better channels to educate and nudge society around me to become more sustainable. Much of the main-stream media has taken up the job that I originally intended this blog for. For example, CNN wrote about how you can have an impact on stopping climate change.  This summer, there’s been so many stories on people skipping flying. Most prominently of course, Greta Thunberg. I don’t feel the need to document every train journey I’m doing anymore.

The fact that the original idea of my blog has become a bit useless couldn’t make me happier. We’re moving in the right direction, keep writing more mainstream media! I promise to keep sharing it all on social media 😉

Perhaps I’ll update here if I get some new brilliant idea on how to save the world. We’ll see!

PS. About that discussion on electric cars vs biodiesel, my opinion is that we should definitely let’s go electric. We need all available biofuel for aviation and perhaps shipping, as those are much harder to decarbonise. So we shouldn’t waste it on passenger cars.

 

A discussion on paying tax

I had dinner with two of my best friends the other night and we started discussing how different university educations primed you to be more left wing or more right wing  politically, because of which society problems you got exposed to during your studies. I should mention now, this post has very little to do with the environment.

This night, me and my friends were specifically comparing a business school offering economics, finance and business leadership as degrees, and a school of social science offering social work and social psychology to mention a couple. You can probably guess which one primed you to be left or right wing ;)?

I have a problem both with left wing and right wing politicians. The left wing, both in Finland and the UK have this really weird style of shaming wealthy people. As if they were deliberately trying to screw everyone over and make poor people miserable? That’s obviously not the case.

We live in an economic system of capitalism with inheritance rights and property rights. If you are born to parents who have the resources to raise you into a well educated person with high work ethics, you have more of a chance to become rich. Blaming and shaming wealthy individuals is absurd, because they just behave according to the circumstances and system they were born into. This mentality is quite common in Finnish culture though.

To the next point, the right wing has this absolutely absurd way of shaming people who were unlucky in life. People who were born to poor parents with mental health problems, are shamed and blamed for inheriting both the poverty and the other problems. Imagine a child who does not have access to any kind of after school help with studies, who does not have an adult with the time and capacity to prepare healthy meals, and has no role models for choosing careers that make you rich. It’s not their fault that their parents had to work evening jobs to make enough money.

If you are poor and you become seriously ill, for example, you just might become so stressed about the money situation as well that you can’t even focus on properly recovering from your illness. There are obviously exceptions to this rule, but in many cases it’s really this way. Sometimes right wing parties blame these people in an unfair way, based on false accusations about being “lazy” when its really just that someone has been more unlucky in life than most of us would be able to cope with.

Finland ranks as the number one happy country in the world this year. I believe a big reason for that is our high taxes. However, this system won’t be sustained if the people paying the highest taxes are being blamed and shamed. Then the people earning the most will move abroad, and Finland is left with too little tax money to support the people born into less lucky circumstances.

How people feel about paying taxes depends on how it is psychologically presented. Right now, the way the Finnish state presents if feels to many people who work hard like “We are going to take 50% of your income to punish you for trying to be better or work harder than other people. Shame on you for earning to much, give the money here right now!”.

What if instead of lowering the tax rate to make these wealthy people feel better, we just changed the psychology behind paying tax? First of all, I think that wealthy people need to do a little bit to let go of the thought that “I’m worth all this money”. In my opinion, we should never be psychologically motivated to work just for the benefit of ourselves. We should be motivated to work harder to make also other people’s lives better.

What if you really started realising that the money that goes into tax was not your money to begin with? You and the job you did really was worth only 3500 euro a month, not 5000. That extra 1500, it was destined to be a gift to children. That money was never even meant to be yours, it was meant to make sure that all children can receive an equal education. Humans have an amazing capacity to empathy, and we have strong instincts to care about our community. So instead of pointing fingers at wealthy, hardworking people: make them realise how much good they do for the community.

People who contribute with much work but little money also deserve thanks and feeling good, the fact that our buildings are clean and our babies are being delivered safely are worth being grateful for. It is not an “either or” situation, it is possible to let wealthy people feel good about contributing without being afraid that it would mean people who pay less tax are worth less. The left wing seems to thing that letting someone else feel good is somehow away from them.

I think there has to be income differences, because different people have different preferences and we should be able to have some free choice of how we want to live. Someone does not like big houses and think the idea of working more to get a big house is absurd, whereas someone else would literally give up all their free time to get a big house. Those differences in preference are fine, and they do not make one person better than another.

However, we live in a community and by living in a community, you can’t just do a complete solo race and not give a f*ck about anyone else. I don’t have an idea of a better system right now, so I think we stick with capitalism for sure, but the redistribution that the Finish state does, is not “stealing from hard working wealthy people”, it is making sure that we have a working community where happiness is maximised. Then again, I might not always agree with what the current government does…

I have two ideas of how to make paying taxes more fun. One is that you would get to indicate a preference where 5% of your taxes should be spent. Children, elderly or the environment, for example? That would psychologically trigger the feeling of giving a gift, a feeling that most people love! Then, whenever you get your tax form sent to you, there would be a letter showing how much good you did and how your indicated preference was improved.

The counter argument to this would be that it allows rich people more control in democracy. However, IF it proved to be a good way of avoiding tax evasion, this little trade off would surely be worth it.

We should remind ourselves that it can be really motiving to work harder and better for the benefit of our community, and not just for ourselves. Giving gifts makes everyone happy. Receiving gifts should also never be seen as something shameful. The fact that someone was not able to pay for their own hospital care does not in any way make them a worse person. We live in a community with individuals with different weaknesses and strengths. Let’s also be happy if we are not able to contribute that much with either money or work, let’s remember that we can all contribute with love for our community, and that’s what matters: showing that you care about other people.

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!

 

A couple of success stories – it’s not all bad news

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.

Liberal politicians misunderstanding “free choice”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

I’m so happy she’s running in the local elections

Amanda_Pasanen_lokaatio_KP-5WebShe is wise, she is educated, she’s brave and she’s humble. My friend Amanda Pasanen and I share a lot of political values, which made it easy for me to support her all the way through her campaign. Sometimes we disagree on a few points, but both of us has an attitude towards always wanting to learn more which makes even those discussions really good. I’ve known her for 7 years, now she’s running in the local elections for the green party.

Voting in local city elections is extremely important. After I went to Dubai I have been even more interested in city planning, because that was in my mind an example of a complete disaster. Bicycling in Dubai was practically impossible. A well planned city is crucial because it makes it easier to live a sustainable lifestyle. And green areas! Who doesn’t like plants and trees? A nice park to hang out in with your friends? I think Helsinki could become even greener and more beautiful. Tourists could be attracted to come here if they knew they are able to get both city life and nature experiences in just one place. Helsinki has a lot to improve when it comes to energy production as well: coal power stations are bad anywhere but here they are placed in central areas that could instead be beautiful seaside restaurants and leisure areas. I get quite excited when thinking about how Helsinki could develop!

I give Amanda my full support. She knows environmental science really well and could do Helsinki a great favour in that aspect. But she knows more than that. She has studied economics, she know there aren’t endless resources but still she thinks the priority of a society should be to take care of each other. Making economically sense and wanting to take care of each other shouldn’t be seen as contradictions. I think Amanda has a healthy mix of realism and idealism. After all, you can have a city making economically sense and still put priority into taking care of the weak ones!

One of her particular priorities is young people – making sure they do not become marginalised. The “economical benefit” of a young person who escapes unemployment, substance abuse and poverty is very difficult to measure. By investing in the future, we can have benefits over the next decades.

She envisions a green Helsinki in the future, literally a green one where plants can flourish. Save the city forests and use land more wisely by building high buildings. Helsinki has a huge influx of new inhabitants. The majority of people moving here are young people. If the city incentivises building houses where flat-sharing is easily possible, where rooms are properly isolated to give privacy but bathrooms and kitchens can be shared, this would reduce the living cost for many young people.

Tomorrow’s the election, I think you can guess who gets my vote 😉