There’s no snow on the ground in Helsinki, barring the undisturbed patches near the bay, lakes, and harbor. It’s warm, too. Not warm like I’m-wearing-shorts-and-going-to-the-beach, but it’s warm, almost unseasonably warm. I can’t call it unseasonable, because this has, to deploy a tired cliché, become the new normal.
During the childhoods of many of the Finns I’ve met, it snowed well before Christmas, kept at it through the winter, and the city was still covered well into March. Now, a black Christmas is more common than a white one, and the first snows arrived when we did – the first weeks of January.
Times, they are a’changin’.
A few weeks ago, I was invited, along with the other Fulbright Distinguished Teachers in Finland, to Oulu to participate in the Fulbright Arctic Symposium, where a team of scholars and researchers would share their findings and explain their projects.
As a proud teacher in the Marin School of Environmental Leadership, I was very interested in hearing from these experts (which included one of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates) about the environmental impacts the arctic is experiencing. Based on the 5 weeks I’ve spent in Helsinki thus far, I’m been impressed by the comprehensive waste management system the Finns have implemented, sorting waste as completely as possible as close to the end user as they can. I’ve also been disheartened, however, in the sheer amount of plastic packaging consumer goods require. (No one needs individually wrapped toothpicks.) From reading Bill McKibben’s Eaarth, my students and I know that extreme environments are affected in disproportionately extreme ways. And it doesn’t get more extreme than the arctic. From observing my students’ projects working with community partners around water processes, toxic consumer goods, public transit and transportation emissions, native plants, and sustainable energy, I am now aware of the need to recruit communities of all sorts and sizes in the quest towards responsible civic planning, consumption management, and preparations for climate change.
Needless to say, I approached the symposium with an amount of anticipation. I felt ready, prepared for the deluge of information.
What I learned: there are few certainties. There’s lots of data, but most of it is incomplete. There are many international agreements, but they are far from comprehensive. There are the beginnings of consistent policies and multi-lateral movements, but not quite yet.
There is still more to do.