I attended a seminar with two colleagues from the GreenZone-project concerning Russian nature’s impact on Finland organized by the Ministry of Environment on December 11th 2017. As a bystander in the natural scientific discussion I was happy to learn a great deal of new and useful concepts and ideas and most of all to get inspiration for my future research. Instead of writing a summary of the contents of the interesting lectures I thought it would be more fruitful (for me and for you, my potential reader) to contemplate the notions and concepts that I thought were the most interesting in today’s world through the eyes of a humanist and a historian.
The speakers came from versatile scientific, political and civic societal backgrounds – although the majority of them were men. I have to admit, that in some strange level I was happy about the “men in suits” talking about nature and climate; somehow, I take that as a sign that the world is gradually entering a stage of mental change. If there has to be “all” or “most male panels”, let them talk about things that matter.
The starting point of the seminar was the Green Belt of Fennoscandia (GBF), the area of existing and planned protected areas along the border of Finland, Russia and Norway. It is the northern part of the European Green Belt, which stretches from south up along the Finnish-Russian border. Many speakers also mentioned the Barents Protected areas (BPAM) project, which aims to promote and protect biodiversity and boreal-arctic nature. The co-operation roots from the 1970’s, and new technologies such as geographical information system has provided new measures in the work of preserving biodiversity of the area and in that way to also restrain climate change.
As I was observing the – mostly natural scientific – discussion on nature and geopolitics these were some of the keywords I picked up: connectivity, ecological entities, ecological corridors, biodiversity, holistic areas, ecosystem services, healthy nature – healthy human, co-operation, trust, personal relations. The key term seems to be connectivity. Everything is connected: nations, continents, the centres of power with the periphery, people, human wellbeing and the nature, different nature areas to each other.
With every national or communal decision we prioritise, appraise the nature and make choices at the expense of others. While talking about “ecosystem services” – the role of nature in human health and wellbeing, local communities, tourism, cultural heritage etc. – the perspective is on human benefit. One message between the lines was that all kind of nature counts, not only nature resorts and the places we have chosen to preserve, not only the important biodiverse entities connected to each other with ecological (meta)corridors. Not only green areas and forests and swamps and but also water systems, which also cross borders and act as a lifeline for nature and man. Nature also counts on its own, not always in relation to people – and it will most definitely outlive man.
One of the most interesting viewpoints was the one of Ville Brummer (from Crisis Management Initiative CMI), who talked about trust. His thoughts resonated not only with my current research but also the interest I have on the emotional history of the Finnish Civil War. Brummer’s thesis was that an individual – maybe also a nation – strives for personal autonomy, and that is why trust is a key issue also in making people to engage in nature conservation.
Trust – and in many cases personal relations – is also crucial for intercultural scientific co-operation, as it was stated in many presentations. The differences between the infrastructure and official policies – as well as in scientific culture – are so big, that the actors in natural scientific research and natural conservation must achieve a level of personal trust in order to proceed and strive for common goals, which has to be seen to benefit both nationalities. Many big dreams were stated concerning for example the updating of Unesco’s world heritage site list in 2018 and the 80th anniversary of the Finnish natural parks on the same year. The big question is, however, how to secure the long-term continuance of international nature conservation in changing conditions and new people replacing the old familiar persons.
Only One Earth
In the world of political tension environmental issues should be the last ones to be compromised. The co-operation concerning nature and sustainable development is also a way to achieve positive connotations on the co-operation and encounters across national borders. That is one of the key issues of the GBF co-operation: both the nature and the people benefit from it on both sides of the border. Ironically borders and barriers are also one of the reasons the European Green Belt exists, because the iron curtain and national border zones have allowed nature to take its own course without human intervention.
In the opening of the first UN environmental meeting in Stockholm in 1972 Olof Palme, the host of the meeting, stated that “the air we breathe is not the property of any one nation, we share it. The big oceans are not divided by national frontiers, they are our common property.” You could say the same thing about the forests and the green areas, which are becoming increasingly important for humankind. They should be protected, researched and cherished. Unlike the air or the wide oceans, the forests are divided by political barriers and borders, and that is why communication and co-operation is crucial. In Finland, the forests have been called the “green gold”, and today the saying resonates on a completely deeper level than before, as the value of the green areas, water systems and other nature’s carbon sinks become more and more important for our future.
Finally, a small note. After a lot of talk about nature and climate I was waiting anxiously what we would be served, and was happily surprised as I noticed that no red or white meat was served either at breakfast or lunch. Although one could endlessly bicker about the carbon footprint of lettuce and cheese etc., I was happy that this time the organiser was living more or less as they preach. Also the new premises of the ministry in the heart of Helsinki are told to be energy efficient and the ecological footprint has been taken in consideration in the planning, reconstruction and everyday use of the space – as one would expect it to be, for credibility’s sake.