Mikko Pyhälä: Get Schools to Help Save Biodiversity

In the panel discussion organized by Pekka Kuusi Ecofoundation (Ekosäätiö sr.) on 19 December, 2019, at the Oodi Library in Helsinki, biology teacher Pentti Heikkinen asked the keynote speaker, Chair of the Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Sir Robert Watson what he would do if he were the president. Watson replied: “I would scrap all the economic subsidies which keep destroying nature.”  

A student of the South-Tapiola high school, William Bordonaro, told that students had started to become aware of the necessity to avoid plastic, and two thirds want to increase vegetarian food at school lunches.  ”School must succeed in broadening our world-view from egocentric to such that at the level of society as a whole, the prices of goods and services can be transformed to become protective of our environment. That is why we participate in the Climate Strike.”

”Capitalism is a bad boss, but a fine servant”, said Pertti Salolainen, former Cabinet Minister and founder of WWF Finland. ”I love nature and the forest is my church”, he declared. With political will, national economies can be transformed from being destructive to supporting life and diversity.

Together with Chair of Finland’s Nature Panel and Chair of this event, Prof. Janne Kotiaho of Jyväskylä University, we had succeeded persuading Sir Robert to introduce the recent sea-of-change IPBES report through Skype. For reasons of health he was unable to come personally, but he did send in advance a large number of excellent slides which he commented one by one. As former Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) he shared in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. I personally collaborated closely with Dr. Watson when I worked at the United Nations Environment Programme in 1991-1994, and he was Chair of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel of the Global Environment Facility until he became Director for Environment at the White House of President Bill Clinton.

Sir Robert explained in a very convincing way using statistics and graphs how climate change and loss of biodiversity make it necessary for governments and enterprises to change completely their principles of behavior in order to keep the Earth supportive of life. Only healthy and diverse nature can guarantee humanity sufficiently cool climate, circulation of water such as rains and flow of rivers, and source of new medicines in a situation where most of the world’s ecosystems have been seriously disturbed by quest of short term profits. In the maintenance of forests and agriculture it is important to rehabilitate and build upon nature’s own models.

According to IPCC, if climate warms by 1,5°C, nearly one tenth of insects and plants will lose over half of their habitats, and if heating is 2°C, that will be felt by 18 % of insects, 16 % of plants, and 8 % of vertebrates. If the global average temperature rises 2°C, almost all of the coral reefs in the world would collapse. In that case the already decimated pelagic fish stocks would lose their essential environment for reproduction. 

Dr. Aino Juslén, expert on Finland’s endangered ecosystems, signaled changes in land use as the greatest problem in Finland. While the European Union already declared Climate Emergency, perhaps the approaching catastrophe has not been sufficiently understood in Finland’s Parliament. Anders Adlercreutz, Member of Parliament, saw the industrialized counties bearing the greatest burden, and that the carbon footprint of us Finns comes largely at our doorstep through importation of goods. Dr. Teea Kortetmäki, environment philosopher, stressed Finland’s unique responsibility for our arctic ecosystems. 

Conversation revolved around what could be learned from the relationship to nature that indigenous peoples have. Various speakers emphasized the importance of preserving large forest tracts as a key issue, and that turf should not be burned at all as a fuel. The famous skills of Finland’s teachers give a firm base to turning around in our own behavior.

Mikko Pyhälä, Ambassador emeritus and nonfiction writer, Chair of the Governing Council of Pekka Kuusi Ecofoundation