BIOS anticipates socio-ecological changes in society

BIOS is an independent, multidisciplinary research unit which studies the effects of environmental and resource factors on Finnish society – on economy, politics, culture – and develops the anticipatory skills of citizens and decision-makers. We construct an overall picture of society, particularly from the point of view of material underpinnings, and create connections between the scientific field and other actors. The research unit was launched in autumn 2015 and its basic funding is provided by the Kone Foundation. BIOS is also part of the WISE consortium, funded by the Strategic Research Council at the Academy of Finland.

All eight of the unit’s researchers have for years created tools for interdisciplinary collaboration and developed the application of environmental information in different sectors of society.

12.11.2019

We Have a Plan: Ecological Reconstruction Ecological Reconstruction is the next step in a just transition at a national level. To find out more, please visit eco.bios.fi.

Press Release
12 November 2019
BIOS Research Unit

Ecological Reconstruction is the next step in a just transition at a national level. To find out more, please visit eco.bios.fi.

According to the latest scientific consensus reports (IPCC, IPBES, IRP, GSDR), societies need to rapidly and radically lower their climate emissions and natural resource use while ensuring equal opportunities for a good life. The recent calls for a Green New Deal, particularly in the US and to some extent in Europe, have managed to move the twin crisis of climate change and inequality to the center of the political debate. One of the key messages rising from the debates is that the transition is not bounded by money but by natural resources, ecosystems, technologies, skills, and – political imagination and capabilities.

What is now needed in all countries is 1) a comprehensive understanding of the social and material tasks that need to be accomplished internationally and locally, 2) a set of political tools that can be readily used to develop and build low-carbon infrastructure and practices, and 3) a meaningful, orienting narrative that invites people and organisations along.

Ecological Reconstruction is our answer to these three demands for Finland. Based on multidisciplinary research, we have identified key reconstruction sites and outlined a set of tools to accomplish something similar to the post-WWII reconstruction period, during which the basic infrastructure was rebuilt and the ground was laid to later welfare state developments. Unfortunately, the post-war developments also locked in the massive use of fossil fuels. This time, one of the most urgent tasks is to phase out fossil fuels.

Ecological Reconstruction continues the work that was summarised in our background report for the UN Global Sustainable Development Report 2019, noted, for example, by Vice, Huffington Post, and the Independent, and expanded later in LSE Business Review.

BIOS is an independent, multidisciplinary research unit which studies the effects of environmental and resource factors on Finnish society and the European Union – on the economy, politics, and culture – and develops the anticipatory skills of citizens and decision-makers. If you wish to contact us, please email paavo.jarvensivu@bios.fi.

19.3.2019

Problematic statements by secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization

The Finnish climate scientist Petteri Taalas works as the secretary general of the UN affiliated World Meteorological Organization (WMO) that also hosts the secretariat of the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). WMO and IPCC have a central role in climate change research. Statements by these organizations and their personnel rightfully carry a lot of weight. For instance, statements by secretary general Taalas are often relied on by Finnish commentators and politicians. However, it has not always been clear on which research sources Taalas’ statements are based on, or if he presents them as the secretary general or as a private citizen. If the grounds for the statements are unknown or the point of view from which they are presented is unclear, public discussion may suffer.

Several different areas of public interest, such as politics and science, are crucial for grappling with climate change. The phenomena connected to climate change are varied and dispersed both temporally and spatially. A huge network of measuring instruments, long periods of observation and collaboration of thousands of scientists is needed for collecting the whole picture. As climate change also poses an existential challenge to societies, the scientific views have to be thoroughly vetted. The work done by IPCC is a prime example of high priority and top quality international scientific collaboration.

Consequently, part of the gravitas of science is transferred to scientists in the public sphere. Scientists have every right to present views on matters pertaining to the future of all humanity. To think that scientists have to stick to presenting only facts within their specific area of expertise is based on a too restricted understanding on both the concept of facts and the public role of science.

This means that a delicate balance needs to be struck. A scientist can and should speak up, and it is good and right that the weight of their views benefits from the overall prestige of science. At the same time the message should be presented in a manner that makes it possible to distinguish between statements presented as parts of well-established knowledge within the scientist’s field of expertise and statements presented as opinions whether as a scientist, as a citizen or as a participant of political discussion.

As a representative of their field, a scientist speaks with the authority of science. The personal integrity of the scientist is evaluated both within the relevant scientific discipline and more publicly. The scientific integrity and the public integrity are, however, two different things. Consequently, the public needs to be able to distinguish between views that are to be evaluated as peer-reviewed facts of the relevant field, and views that are to be evaluated on the basis of the personal integrity of the presenter.

Due to his scientific merits and his position in the WMO, the views of Petteri Taalas have rightfully received a lot of attention and have been very influential in the Finnish discussion. They are repeatedly referred to as grounds for particular policy positions. Unfortunately, the views presented by Taalas have also created some unclarities, as it has not always been clear whether they have been presented from the position of the secretary general of the WMO or from the position of a citizen or scientist taking part in public debate. More particularly, it has not been clear on what kind of scientific evidence Taalas’ views are based on.

In August 2018, shortly before the publication of the IPCC report “Global Warming of 1,5°C”, Taalas gave an interview in which he said that “warming over 3°C is realism” (ref).

The first problem in interpreting this statement is that it is unclear what kind of realism is meant here. Realism from the perspective of climate science or from the perspective of politics? And is the statement presented from the position of a climate scientist or from the position of a citizen? Like the senior adviser of Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra Oras Tynkkynen wrote in a reply to Taalas’ interview, scientifically, technically and economically it is possible to stop global warming to 1,5°C. Furthermore, as Tynkkynen put it, the scope of political realism is decided by politicians. It seems natural to interpret Taalas’ statement as saying that three degrees of warming is the outcome one can expect from the perspective of political realism, since one of the main tenets of the IPCC report was that there are pathways to considerably lower degrees of warming. This interpretation, however would mean that the view presented by the secretary general of the WMO, overseeing the secretary of the IPCC, is quite different from the views presented, for instance, by Debra Roberts, one of the authors of the report, who in connection to the publishing of the report said: “I hope it mobilises people and dents the mood of complacency.”

Taalas has also given his support to the current Finnish forest policies that emphasise fellings for bioeconomy over the development of carbon sinks. He has said, for instance, that from the perspective of climate science and the atmosphere it is not a problem if forest carbon sinks temporarily shrink, if the emitted carbon is eventually captured (by the re-grown forests) (ref). The problem with this claim is that it directly contradicts the IPCC report. The report points out, first, that climate related risks, including potentially long-lasting or irreversible changes, depend on the peak of warming and carbon dioxide rates (A3.2.). It emphasises also that “Carbon cycle and climate system understanding is still limited about the effectiveness of net negative emissions to reduce temperatures after they peak”, which means that letting warming and GHG concentrations overshoot safe limits means taking unknown risks (C3.3.). All in all, the report emphasises the importance of the timescale with regard to emission reductions.

In addition, Taalas has stated that increasing carbon storage in old forests is not possible, as old forests are a source of carbon (ref). However, research suggests that old forests act as carbon sinks for a very long time, also in the boreal areas (1, 2, 3).(*) Old forests also have a major impact for biodiversity. Therefore a view according to which, from the climate perspective, old forests are a good target for logging (maybe even more preferable than younger forests) is doubly harmful.

Together the statements on forests contain the idea that a relatively rapid circulation of felling and regrowth is neutral from the carbon perspective. However, each felling causes a carbon debt that needs to be repaid by (re)growing biomass before neutrality is achieved. The carbon debt is greatest compared to a situation where no felling is done, when both the carbon sink and storage would have been preserved. The payback time is at least several decades (1, 2, 3). On top of this comes the problem mentioned above: even if the carbon is captured in the decades to come, it has already performed radiative forcing in the atmosphere, possibly contributing to warming and irreversible changes.

In connection to presenting these statements Taalas has said that the Finnish Climate Change Panel (an independent, interdisciplinary think tank serving as an advisor to the Finnish ministerial working group on energy and climate policy) has emphasised too much the opinions of researchers instead of doing forest research: “It is good that there is in Finland an entity that can present the views of the scientific community. But care should be taken, so that opinions do not get too much weight, but rather the task is to produce scientific knowledge for decision makers.” The irony is that it seems that in the statements mentioned above, Taalas has not been clear whether he is presenting opinions or established scientific knowledge. Unfortunately, his views seem to be in direct conflict with the views presented by the IPCC and by forest science.  

We asked directly both from Taalas and his colleagues in the WMO secretariat if they see a contradiction between the statements by Taalas and the research sources referred to above. Taalas replied to the message, but did not address the question. WMO personnel has not replied at all.


(*)
The report Biodiversity, carbon storage and dynamics of old northern forests contains from page 76 on a survey of research on carbon sinks and storage in old forests.

It is good to note that less than 5 percent of Finnish forests are untouched and more than two thirds less than 80 years old. The carbon balance of Finnish forests will be decided in the woods used for forestry and aging is not a threat to continued carbon capture in the near-to-mid term.

21.8.2018

Governance of economic transition: a scientific background document for the UN Global Sustainable Development Report 2019

The BIOS Research Unit was invited to produce a scientific background document on transformation of economies to support work on the UN Global Sustainable Development Report 2019.

What will happen during the oncoming years and decades when we enter the era of energy transition, combined with emission cuts, and start to witness more severe effects of climate change? What kind of economic understanding and governance models do we need, now that economies are undergoing dramatic rather than incremental change?

While economists typically emphasize carbon pricing as a policy tool for tackling climate change, natural scientists and multidisciplinary environmental research groups argue for more profound political engagement and proactive governance of economic transition.

It can be safely said that no widely applicable economic models have been developed specifically for the upcoming era. In the background document we highlight underutilized tenets of existing economic-theoretical thinking that can assist governments in channeling economies toward activity that causes a radically lighter burden on natural ecosystems and simultaneously ensures more equal opportunities for a good human life. Our focus is on the transition period, the next few decades.

The document builds on the multidisciplinary work of BIOS since its launch in Helsinki, Finland, in 2015. The main task of the research unit has been to study the effects of environmental and resource factors on Finnish society and to develop the anticipatory skills of citizens and decision-makers. In the background document we review existing socio-ecological-economic studies and utilize our own findings in the Finnish context to construct tools for governance of economic transition on the global level.

Download the background document.

For more information about the upcoming UN Global Sustainable Development Report 2019: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/globalsdreport/2019

For more information on the BIOS Research Unit: https://bios.fi/en

Corresponding author: Paavo Järvensivu, D.Sc. (Econ.), paavo.jarvensivu@bios.fi

24.3.2017

Researchers’ statement: Finland’s forest utilisation plans would accelerate climate change and reduce diversity of nature

The release event was held on 24 March 2017 in Eurooppasali, Malminkatu 16, Helsinki. The programme of the event (in Finnish) can be found here.

Download the public statement here.

Selection of scientific literature.

A wide group of authoritative Finnish researchers is worried about the effects of Finland’s forest utilisation plans and bioeconomy strategy on the climate and biodiversity. The researchers, who have studied the use of forests from different viewpoints, have signed a statement by which they endeavour to correct the prevailing notions on the subject.

The statement notes that the felling of forests and the increase in current timber use will not control climate change. In addition, the increase in felling will weaken the diversity of nature. “From the point of view of the atmosphere, the sink-diminishing effects of wood harvesting can be compared to emissions,” sums up academy professor Timo Vesala. “The era of easy and slow climate policy is over. Right now we need a rapid increase in the amount of carbon stored in forests and timber products,” adds professor Janne Hukkinen.

The undersigned are worried that the research on such effects has not reached the decision-makers and the greater public in the correct form. The research results must be taken into account better in the decision-making concerning forest utilisation. The undersigned wish to stimulate discussion on the solutions which will help timber use serve the reaching of global climate goals and secure biodiversity.

The compiling of the researcher-initiated public statement has been facilitated by the BIOS Research Unit. The Forum for Environmental Information offers an arena for discussion by organising the publication event. The representatives of the Finnish Parliament’s Energy Renovation group will be present at the event to comment on the statement.

Info

Info

What is BIOS?

The material underpinnings of societies are becoming a key issue due to climate change and other environmental problems. We need to understand ecosystems and cultures as more and more densely intertwined. The informational and experiential challenges are huge as societies are developing infrastructures and practices for energy and food production, habitation and travel for decades to come.

In addition to citizens and decision makers, scientists have found it difficult to form a general view of the central environmental and resource factors and their cultural, economical and political effects. These questions can only be answered by crossing individual disciplines.

BIOS Research Unit foresees socio-ecological changes that will affect our society deeply, and does it in an interdisciplinary way, around a communal table. In addition to research, we reserve a lot of time for making information understandable and accessible. In the coming years, we endeavour to consolidate BIOS as an actor which carries forward research-based knowledge about socio-ecological development paths beyond quarter years and electoral terms.

BIOS was founded in 2015. At the moment we are funded by the Kone Foundation.

All eight of our researchers have for years created tools for interdisciplinary and artistic collaboration, and have conveyed environmental information for the use of various sectors of society. In addition to the Finnish academic community, we collaborate with international research units. BIOS works in close collaboration with e.g. Stanford University in the United States (particularly with professors Anthony Barnosky and Elizabeth Hadly, and the Consensus for Action research group), and the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre in Frankfurt.

BIOS researchers: Antti Majava, Tere Vadén, Karoliina Lummaa, Paavo Järvensivu, Tero Toivanen, Jussi T. Eronen, Ville Lähde (+ Emma Hakala who joined BIOS in May 2018)

Jussi T. Eronen, PhD, docent
Ecosystem and Climate Research

Jussi T. Eronen concentrates on the study of ecosystems and the climate. He has studied the past, the present and the future conditions of land ecosystems and climate evolution. Eronen keeps the research unit updated on the latest research in the natural sciences. Starting in June 2018, he works as an Associate Professor of Sustainability Science at the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS), University of Helsinki, and participates in the research unit’s activities on a case-by-case basis.

jussi.t.eronen@bios.fi

Emma Hakala, PhD
Environmental Security

In her PhD dissertation, Emma Hakala examined the concept of environmental security and the role of international organizations in its promotion in the case of post-conflict Western Balkans. Her research utilizes the securitization framework to consider how environment and climate change have entered into the security discourse and what kinds of consequences this has had. Hakala has previously worked in the field of environmental cooperation for example at the UN. She is a Research Fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

emma.hakala@bios.fi

Paavo Järvensivu, D.Sc. (Econ.)
Economy and Culture

In his doctoral thesis Paavo Järvensivu studied organisational culture and corporate strategy; afterwards, he has focused particularly on the relationships between the economy and culture. He has developed collaborative forms between art and science in the Mustarinda Association, and has also written a book which merges economics, ecological and cultural research, called Rajattomasti rahaa niukkuudessa (Like) [Endless Money in Scarcity]. In the research unit he has dealt particularly with the practices and developmental paths of public and private economy.

paavo.jarvensivu@bios.fi

Karoliina Lummaa, PhD, docent
Environmental Humanities and Literary Studies

Karoliina Lummaa specialises in ecological studies from a humanities point of view; she has developed methods of multidisciplinary environmental studies in her co-edited books Monitieteinen ympäristötutkimus (Gaudeamus) [Multidisciplinary Environmental Studies] and Posthumanismi (Eetos) [Posthumanism]. With the help of these methods the research unit studies how media, art and popular culture represent and shape our understandings of nature.

karoliina.lummaa@bios.fi

Ville Lähde, PhD
Environmental Philosophy and Politics

Ville Lähde is a researcher in environmental philosophy and politics, and has co-written several books for those fields. He has worked as an editor of the niin & näin magazine since the beginning of the new millennium (chief editor 2011–2012). In his books, Niukkuuden maailmassa (niin & näin) [In a world of scarcity] and Paljon liikkuvia osia (Savukeidas) [Many moving parts] he has created intellectual tools for observation of complex phenomena connected to environment and politics. In the research unit he has popularised and synthesised research on natural and social sciences.

ville.lahde@bios.fi

Antti Majava, MFA, doctoral candidate
Fine Arts, Interdisciplinary Environmental Sciences

In his work, Antti Majava has brought together experts and viewpoints stemming from science, arts, and other fields. He is the founding member of the Mustarinda Association, and through it has created a platform for experimentation in artistic and everyday practices which take into account the material underpinnings of society. In his doctoral thesis, which employs socio-ecological methods, he studies the effects of nature, society and science on the development of artistic phenomena, and correspondingly, the role of art in socio-ecological and scientific breakthroughs. In the research unit his role has been to look at forests and bioeconomy, and to develop ways of collaboration with representatives of the media and art worlds. His texts have been published both in scientific and popular journals; alongside writing, he continues his visual artistic work.

antti.majava@bios.fi

Tero Toivanen, PhD
Political Economy and Economic History

Tero Toivanen has studied political economy and economic history; he has also developed social scientific methods for analysing and describing materialities. In addition to research, he has been working in the field of education for a considerable time, for instance as a didactitian of history and an expert in education. In the research unit he has connected current environmental phenomena to historical developments in economics and politics.

tero.toivanen@bios.fi

Tere Vadén, PhD, docent
Energy and Philosophy

As a philosopher, Tere Vadén has looked at the material and intellectual underpinnings of politics and culture, in particular the experiential dimensions of energy. In addition, he has immersed himself in the potential developmental paths of the digital world. He will take part in the daily activities of the research unit in 2018.

tere.vaden@bios.fi

Projects

Projects

Our overreaching mission is to integrate the latest research on global environmental and resource pressures, and to study their effects on the Finnish society. In addition, we are developing tools for anticipating these effects. This work results in scientific articles, public reports and applied information for the use of public and private organisations.

In the WISE project we develop society’s creative adaptation to wicked socio-environmental disruptions.

BIOS is also part of the WISE consortium, funded by the Strategic Research Council at the Academy of Finland. The subprojects within the WISE consortium are led by Janne I. Hukkinen (University of Helsinki, consortium leader), Turo-Kimmo Lehtonen (University of Tampere, deputy consortium leader), Sakari Kuikka (University of Helsinki), Peter Lund (Aalto University), Markku Wilenius (University of Turku), and Paavo Järvensivu (BIOS Research Unit, stakeholder interaction). The project started on January 1, 2018.

WISE aims to improve decision making over wicked socio-environmental disruptions and to increase Finland’s resilience and adaptation to such disruptions. The project develops and tests an integrated national level policy mechanism, the Policy Operations Room (POR). It creates rapid and evidence based adaptation approaches to unexpected socio-environmental disruptions, such as simultaneous climate refugees, energy crises, and political instabilities.

We produce scientific background research for the use of universities, artistic production and media.

Our latest lectures on various courses and events have dealt with:
– population growth, food safety, famine and poverty, fishing and hydroponics, environmental migration, the dwindling of natural resources, and conflicts
– sustainable work, the relationship between economics and environment, the management of natural resources, business beyond the fossil economy, the possibilities of political economy to kickstart and steer ecological reconstruction
– environmental education
– the anthropocene as a natural scientific, social and cultural phenomenon
– an extended conception of security
– nature conservation, the present state of natural systems, the development of climate in the past and in our time, the conditions of the climate and ecosystems in the future and the societal challenges they pose
– post-fossil fuel culture

In addition to lectures, we have collaborated in multiple ways with different actors, including Sitra (The Finnish Innovation Fund), The Finnish Science Centre Heureka, Dodo, Kehys, and the Smart Energy Transition project.

In early 2017 we began a collaboration with Visiting Professor Hanna Nikkanen’s team at the University of Tampere’s Department of Journalism. We arranged a workshop day and have taken part in the book project Hyvän sään aikana both as interviewees and advisors. The book will be published in autumn 2017.

We engage in multidisciplinary dialogue with the scientific community.

Excerpts from dialogues we have had so far, in addition to academic articles and other texts:

We helped organise the 32nd Nordic Geological Winter Meeting symposium in Helsinki, with the theme “What is the Anthropocene”. We talked about BIOS’s activities at the annual conference of the Westermarck Society in Jyväskylä in 2016. We organised a work group “Mielen tila: ympäristökatastrofin politiikka, talous ja kulttuuri” [State of mind: the politics, economy and culture of the environmental catastrophe] at the Conference of Cultural Studies in Jyväskylä in May 2017. This year, we also organised a work group “Post-COP21: Transition to sustainable well-being in Nordic welfare states” together with Tuuli Hirvilammi and Pernilla Hagbert at the Nordic Environmental Social Sciences conference in Tampere.

In March 2017 a manifesto signed by 68 Finnish researchers was published, clarifying the stance of scientific research on the effects of Finland’s bioeconomy plans on climate change and biodiversity. BIOS facilitated the writing and communication of the manifesto.

In April 2017 BIOS organised in collaboration with the University of Tampere and Yliopisto magazine (University of Helsinki) journalist and researcher Nafeez Ahmed’s visit to Finland.

In June, professor Anthony Barnosky visited Finland. BIOS organised his performance at the University of Helsinki and took part in the event on ecological compensation organised by the Kone Foundation together with Barnosky.

The researchers of BIOS have actively taken part in the Think Corner events organized by the University of Helsinki: in the “Ilmasto muuttaa kaiken” [Climate changes everything] series, in Researcher’s Night 2017’s “Vapauden tulevaisuus” [The future of freedom] discussion and in the “Kestävä planeetta” [Sustainable planet] series in spring 2017.

In our pilot project (2015–2017) we developed journalism dealing with environmental and resource factors together with the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE).

The pilot project of BIOS was a collaboration with YLE News and Current Affairs. It aimed to develop new kinds of environmental journalism. We met with the team of journalists regularly, starting from autumn 2015, and produced extensive background reports on themes such as population growth, food production, water crises and economy. Based on our research, YLE published articles on e.g. environmental refugees, sequestration of carbon in soil, and forests as carbon sinks.

During autumn 2017, the main outcome of the collaboration, a multimedia project on the prospects of the future Finnish society, was published with YLE’s News and Current Affairs and Drama editorial teams. The material was based on scientific research and varies between dramatic forms and traditional journalism. The pilot project ended in December 2017.

Publications

Publications

Publications by BIOS researchers. If you can’t access a publication, please contact us: contact@bios.fi

All

Article

Book

Other

All

Article

Book

Other

To continue to burn something? Technological, economic and political path T dependencies in district heating in Helsinki, Finland

Energy Research & Social Science 58 (2019).

T. Vadén, A. Majava, T. Toivanen, P. Järvensivu, E. Hakala, J.T. Eronen.

The Many Anthropocenes: A Challenge for the Disciplines

2017, The Anthropocene Review 4, 183-198

Tero Toivanen, Karoliina Lummaa, Antti Majava et al.

Land mammals form eight functionally and climatically distinct faunas in North America but only one in Europe

Journal of Biogeography 46(1)

Kari Lintulaakso, P. David Polly and Jussi T. Eronen

Feeding ecology and morphology make a bamboo specialist vulnerable to climate change

2017, Current Biology 27, 3384-3389

Jussi T. Eronen et al.

A Lot of Talk But Little Action: The Blind Spots of Nordic Environmental Security Policy

Sustainability 201911(8)

Emma Hakala, Ville Lähde, Antti Majava, Tero Toivanen, Tere Vadén, Paavo Järvensivu, Jussi T. Eronen

Northern Warning Lights: Ambiguities of Environmental Security in Finland and Sweden

Sustainability 201911(8).

Emma Hakala, Ville Lähde, Antti Majava, Tero Toivanen, Tere Vadén, Paavo Järvensivu, Jussi T. Eronen

Planetary emergency and critique of the Anthropocene (in Finnish)

2017, Tiede & edistys 1: 42, 6–35

Tero Toivanen, Mikko Pelttari (Eds.)

Merging paleobiology with conservation biology to guide the future of terrestrial ecosystems

2017, Science 355

A.D. Barnosky et al.

Whose Anthropocene? (in Finnish)

2016, Kosmopolis, 46, 3, 41–54

Jussi T. Eronen, Karoliina Lummaa, Tero Toivanen et al.

Endless money in scarcity (in Finnish)

2016, Like

Paavo Järvensivu

Holocene shifts in the assembly of plant and animal communities implicate human impacts

2016, Nature 529, 80–83

S.K. Lyons et al.

Many moving parts (in Finnish)

2015, Savukeidas

Ville Lähde

Posthumanism (in Finnish)

2014, Eetos

Lea Rojola, Karoliina Lummaa (Eds.)

Introducing the Scientific Consensus on Maintaining Humanity’s Life Support Systems in the 21st Century: Information for Policy Makers

2014, The Anthropocene Review 1, 78–109

A.D. Barnosky et al.

In a world of scarcity (in Finnish)

2013, niin & näin

Ville Lähde

Energy and Experience: An Essay in Nafthology

2015, MCM’ Publishing

Antti Salminen, Tere Vadén

Free download

Converge in distribution patterns of Europe’s plants and mammals is due to environmental forcing

2012, Journal of Biogeography 39, 1633–1644

H. Heikinheimo, J.T. Eronen et al.

Multidisciplinary environmental studies (in Finnish)

2012, Gaudeamus

Karoliina Lummaa, Mia Rönkä, Timo Vuorisalo (Eds.)

Ecometrics: The traits that bind the past and present together

2010, Integrative Zoology 5, 88–101

Jussi T. Eronen et al.

Politics of Nature (in Finnish)

2003, Vastapaino

Yrjö Haila, Ville Lähde (Eds.)

Blog

Blog
12.11.2019

We Have a Plan: Ecological Reconstruction Ecological Reconstruction is the next step in a just transition at a national level. To find out more, please visit eco.bios.fi.

Press Release
12 November 2019
BIOS Research Unit

Ecological Reconstruction is the next step in a just transition at a national level. To find out more, please visit eco.bios.fi.

According to the latest scientific consensus reports (IPCC, IPBES, IRP, GSDR), societies need to rapidly and radically lower their climate emissions and natural resource use while ensuring equal opportunities for a good life. The recent calls for a Green New Deal, particularly in the US and to some extent in Europe, have managed to move the twin crisis of climate change and inequality to the center of the political debate. One of the key messages rising from the debates is that the transition is not bounded by money but by natural resources, ecosystems, technologies, skills, and – political imagination and capabilities.

What is now needed in all countries is 1) a comprehensive understanding of the social and material tasks that need to be accomplished internationally and locally, 2) a set of political tools that can be readily used to develop and build low-carbon infrastructure and practices, and 3) a meaningful, orienting narrative that invites people and organisations along.

Ecological Reconstruction is our answer to these three demands for Finland. Based on multidisciplinary research, we have identified key reconstruction sites and outlined a set of tools to accomplish something similar to the post-WWII reconstruction period, during which the basic infrastructure was rebuilt and the ground was laid to later welfare state developments. Unfortunately, the post-war developments also locked in the massive use of fossil fuels. This time, one of the most urgent tasks is to phase out fossil fuels.

Ecological Reconstruction continues the work that was summarised in our background report for the UN Global Sustainable Development Report 2019, noted, for example, by Vice, Huffington Post, and the Independent, and expanded later in LSE Business Review.

BIOS is an independent, multidisciplinary research unit which studies the effects of environmental and resource factors on Finnish society and the European Union – on the economy, politics, and culture – and develops the anticipatory skills of citizens and decision-makers. If you wish to contact us, please email paavo.jarvensivu@bios.fi.

19.3.2019

Problematic statements by secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization

The Finnish climate scientist Petteri Taalas works as the secretary general of the UN affiliated World Meteorological Organization (WMO) that also hosts the secretariat of the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). WMO and IPCC have a central role in climate change research. Statements by these organizations and their personnel rightfully carry a lot of weight. For instance, statements by secretary general Taalas are often relied on by Finnish commentators and politicians. However, it has not always been clear on which research sources Taalas’ statements are based on, or if he presents them as the secretary general or as a private citizen. If the grounds for the statements are unknown or the point of view from which they are presented is unclear, public discussion may suffer.

Several different areas of public interest, such as politics and science, are crucial for grappling with climate change. The phenomena connected to climate change are varied and dispersed both temporally and spatially. A huge network of measuring instruments, long periods of observation and collaboration of thousands of scientists is needed for collecting the whole picture. As climate change also poses an existential challenge to societies, the scientific views have to be thoroughly vetted. The work done by IPCC is a prime example of high priority and top quality international scientific collaboration.

Consequently, part of the gravitas of science is transferred to scientists in the public sphere. Scientists have every right to present views on matters pertaining to the future of all humanity. To think that scientists have to stick to presenting only facts within their specific area of expertise is based on a too restricted understanding on both the concept of facts and the public role of science.

This means that a delicate balance needs to be struck. A scientist can and should speak up, and it is good and right that the weight of their views benefits from the overall prestige of science. At the same time the message should be presented in a manner that makes it possible to distinguish between statements presented as parts of well-established knowledge within the scientist’s field of expertise and statements presented as opinions whether as a scientist, as a citizen or as a participant of political discussion.

As a representative of their field, a scientist speaks with the authority of science. The personal integrity of the scientist is evaluated both within the relevant scientific discipline and more publicly. The scientific integrity and the public integrity are, however, two different things. Consequently, the public needs to be able to distinguish between views that are to be evaluated as peer-reviewed facts of the relevant field, and views that are to be evaluated on the basis of the personal integrity of the presenter.

Due to his scientific merits and his position in the WMO, the views of Petteri Taalas have rightfully received a lot of attention and have been very influential in the Finnish discussion. They are repeatedly referred to as grounds for particular policy positions. Unfortunately, the views presented by Taalas have also created some unclarities, as it has not always been clear whether they have been presented from the position of the secretary general of the WMO or from the position of a citizen or scientist taking part in public debate. More particularly, it has not been clear on what kind of scientific evidence Taalas’ views are based on.

In August 2018, shortly before the publication of the IPCC report “Global Warming of 1,5°C”, Taalas gave an interview in which he said that “warming over 3°C is realism” (ref).

The first problem in interpreting this statement is that it is unclear what kind of realism is meant here. Realism from the perspective of climate science or from the perspective of politics? And is the statement presented from the position of a climate scientist or from the position of a citizen? Like the senior adviser of Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra Oras Tynkkynen wrote in a reply to Taalas’ interview, scientifically, technically and economically it is possible to stop global warming to 1,5°C. Furthermore, as Tynkkynen put it, the scope of political realism is decided by politicians. It seems natural to interpret Taalas’ statement as saying that three degrees of warming is the outcome one can expect from the perspective of political realism, since one of the main tenets of the IPCC report was that there are pathways to considerably lower degrees of warming. This interpretation, however would mean that the view presented by the secretary general of the WMO, overseeing the secretary of the IPCC, is quite different from the views presented, for instance, by Debra Roberts, one of the authors of the report, who in connection to the publishing of the report said: “I hope it mobilises people and dents the mood of complacency.”

Taalas has also given his support to the current Finnish forest policies that emphasise fellings for bioeconomy over the development of carbon sinks. He has said, for instance, that from the perspective of climate science and the atmosphere it is not a problem if forest carbon sinks temporarily shrink, if the emitted carbon is eventually captured (by the re-grown forests) (ref). The problem with this claim is that it directly contradicts the IPCC report. The report points out, first, that climate related risks, including potentially long-lasting or irreversible changes, depend on the peak of warming and carbon dioxide rates (A3.2.). It emphasises also that “Carbon cycle and climate system understanding is still limited about the effectiveness of net negative emissions to reduce temperatures after they peak”, which means that letting warming and GHG concentrations overshoot safe limits means taking unknown risks (C3.3.). All in all, the report emphasises the importance of the timescale with regard to emission reductions.

In addition, Taalas has stated that increasing carbon storage in old forests is not possible, as old forests are a source of carbon (ref). However, research suggests that old forests act as carbon sinks for a very long time, also in the boreal areas (1, 2, 3).(*) Old forests also have a major impact for biodiversity. Therefore a view according to which, from the climate perspective, old forests are a good target for logging (maybe even more preferable than younger forests) is doubly harmful.

Together the statements on forests contain the idea that a relatively rapid circulation of felling and regrowth is neutral from the carbon perspective. However, each felling causes a carbon debt that needs to be repaid by (re)growing biomass before neutrality is achieved. The carbon debt is greatest compared to a situation where no felling is done, when both the carbon sink and storage would have been preserved. The payback time is at least several decades (1, 2, 3). On top of this comes the problem mentioned above: even if the carbon is captured in the decades to come, it has already performed radiative forcing in the atmosphere, possibly contributing to warming and irreversible changes.

In connection to presenting these statements Taalas has said that the Finnish Climate Change Panel (an independent, interdisciplinary think tank serving as an advisor to the Finnish ministerial working group on energy and climate policy) has emphasised too much the opinions of researchers instead of doing forest research: “It is good that there is in Finland an entity that can present the views of the scientific community. But care should be taken, so that opinions do not get too much weight, but rather the task is to produce scientific knowledge for decision makers.” The irony is that it seems that in the statements mentioned above, Taalas has not been clear whether he is presenting opinions or established scientific knowledge. Unfortunately, his views seem to be in direct conflict with the views presented by the IPCC and by forest science.  

We asked directly both from Taalas and his colleagues in the WMO secretariat if they see a contradiction between the statements by Taalas and the research sources referred to above. Taalas replied to the message, but did not address the question. WMO personnel has not replied at all.


(*)
The report Biodiversity, carbon storage and dynamics of old northern forests contains from page 76 on a survey of research on carbon sinks and storage in old forests.

It is good to note that less than 5 percent of Finnish forests are untouched and more than two thirds less than 80 years old. The carbon balance of Finnish forests will be decided in the woods used for forestry and aging is not a threat to continued carbon capture in the near-to-mid term.

21.8.2018

Governance of economic transition: a scientific background document for the UN Global Sustainable Development Report 2019

The BIOS Research Unit was invited to produce a scientific background document on transformation of economies to support work on the UN Global Sustainable Development Report 2019.

What will happen during the oncoming years and decades when we enter the era of energy transition, combined with emission cuts, and start to witness more severe effects of climate change? What kind of economic understanding and governance models do we need, now that economies are undergoing dramatic rather than incremental change?

While economists typically emphasize carbon pricing as a policy tool for tackling climate change, natural scientists and multidisciplinary environmental research groups argue for more profound political engagement and proactive governance of economic transition.

It can be safely said that no widely applicable economic models have been developed specifically for the upcoming era. In the background document we highlight underutilized tenets of existing economic-theoretical thinking that can assist governments in channeling economies toward activity that causes a radically lighter burden on natural ecosystems and simultaneously ensures more equal opportunities for a good human life. Our focus is on the transition period, the next few decades.

The document builds on the multidisciplinary work of BIOS since its launch in Helsinki, Finland, in 2015. The main task of the research unit has been to study the effects of environmental and resource factors on Finnish society and to develop the anticipatory skills of citizens and decision-makers. In the background document we review existing socio-ecological-economic studies and utilize our own findings in the Finnish context to construct tools for governance of economic transition on the global level.

Download the background document.

For more information about the upcoming UN Global Sustainable Development Report 2019: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/globalsdreport/2019

For more information on the BIOS Research Unit: https://bios.fi/en

Corresponding author: Paavo Järvensivu, D.Sc. (Econ.), paavo.jarvensivu@bios.fi

24.3.2017

Researchers’ statement: Finland’s forest utilisation plans would accelerate climate change and reduce diversity of nature

The release event was held on 24 March 2017 in Eurooppasali, Malminkatu 16, Helsinki. The programme of the event (in Finnish) can be found here.

Download the public statement here.

Selection of scientific literature.

A wide group of authoritative Finnish researchers is worried about the effects of Finland’s forest utilisation plans and bioeconomy strategy on the climate and biodiversity. The researchers, who have studied the use of forests from different viewpoints, have signed a statement by which they endeavour to correct the prevailing notions on the subject.

The statement notes that the felling of forests and the increase in current timber use will not control climate change. In addition, the increase in felling will weaken the diversity of nature. “From the point of view of the atmosphere, the sink-diminishing effects of wood harvesting can be compared to emissions,” sums up academy professor Timo Vesala. “The era of easy and slow climate policy is over. Right now we need a rapid increase in the amount of carbon stored in forests and timber products,” adds professor Janne Hukkinen.

The undersigned are worried that the research on such effects has not reached the decision-makers and the greater public in the correct form. The research results must be taken into account better in the decision-making concerning forest utilisation. The undersigned wish to stimulate discussion on the solutions which will help timber use serve the reaching of global climate goals and secure biodiversity.

The compiling of the researcher-initiated public statement has been facilitated by the BIOS Research Unit. The Forum for Environmental Information offers an arena for discussion by organising the publication event. The representatives of the Finnish Parliament’s Energy Renovation group will be present at the event to comment on the statement.