The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the connections and interdependency between humans and the rest of nature. With ever-expanding construction leaving less and less space for the rest of nature, it is easier for pandemics to develop, too. We cannot continue this way after the coronavirus – the global ecosystem must be restored to its natural state.
Today, 5 June, we are celebrating the 49th World Environment Day, this year’s theme being ecosystem restoration. Underlying the theme is the alarmingly rapidly progressing destruction of forests and untouched living environments. We are losing over 4.7 million hectares of forest each year, with an area the size of one football field destroyed every third second. Over half of the world’s wetlands have disappeared during the last century.
Now that the vaccinations have progressed and the pandemic is slowly starting to recede, the media has begun reporting on projected economic growth and writing about travel fever, with many already planning trips abroad. However, once the pandemic is over, we cannot return to the same level of consumption we had before it. On the contrary – we must reduce our consumption. According to the WWF, Finland’s annual overshoot day would have been as early as 11 April had there been no pandemic. According to the WWF, Finland should reduce its consumption by around 70% by 2030.
Reducing our consumption is not necessary only because of limited resources, but also because heavy consumption causes emissions and thus nullifies the benefits brought along by reductions to industry emissions. Ecosystem restoration and living within the limits set by our planet requires massive changes at both societal and individual level. We must immediately rethink our approach to economy, as the current economic models are based on the fantasy that society could function apart from nature. There is no economy without nature.
Promoting sustainability at the University and in society
What is the University community doing then? This spring, the University of Helsinki has piloted a course on sustainable development, meant to become a part of studies in all degree programmes. The Student Union’s Environmental Committee has had a very active spring, and the superb Circular Economy Week it organised at the end of April focused on one of the key issues of a sustainable future, circular economy. Ylva’s Ownership Strategy was updated at the beginning of the year and continues to set out ambitious sustainability and responsibility principles for HYY’s business and restaurant activities.
Celebrating the World Environment Day is an important reminder of the prerequisites of our living environments and survival. When discussing environmental crises, the main focus is usually on climate change and, to some extent, biodiversity loss. Solving these problems is absolutely crucial, but we should also pay attention to the so-called planetary boundaries. To retain the Earth’s carrying capacity, we must, in addition to resolving the aforementioned issues, take measures including making land use more sustainable and reducing harmful human impact on biogeochemical cycles, such as the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles. Biodiversity loss is an even bigger threat than climate change.
To ensure that humanity can live in harmony with the rest of nature and restore the ecosystem, sustainable development must be the basis of all decision-making processes. Countries must promote this principle through legislation and taxation in such a way that companies and consumers find it easy to choose a sustainable product or food product. Companies and individuals should also recognise their opportunities to influence matters and urge society to promote sustainable development through the example of their own actions and choices. Sustainable development is a prerequisite of life – it is thus a good idea to think critically about the forms of travel you use and the purchases and meal choices you make!
Member of the Board (environmental and climate affairs, educational policy, tutors)