Postcard from Finland
Water has run through everything I’ve done, thought, or read this week. Here, I’ll try to pull some of those streams together. I’m leaning heavily and gratefully on links and quotes this week, as I’m supposed to be on vacation!
Water, in the form of fog, delayed the start of this year’s Ironman 70.3 World Championship women’s race in Lahti, Finland. For those who are following, my wife finished the race in a very respectable time. See my Instagram for some videos. I’m so proud of her!
Sadly, water also took a life in that race. A swimmer was pulled from the water midway and, despite the best efforts of the medical team, subsequently passed.
We left Lahti, gateway to Finland’s lake region, at the beginning of fall and headed 100 km south to Helsinki, where we arrived an hour and a half later back in summer. We were treated to more water in the form of a torrential summer downpour which soaked us before we were able to check into our accomodation. Those summer downpours are becoming more intense, a consequence of climate change.
For a small country of five and a half million, Finland has disproportionately high contributions to and impacts from climate change.
Finland’s per capita carbon emissions are the fifth highest in the world. Part of this is that Finland still relies on coal and peat (both products of wetlands) for energy. In addition, peatlands are drained for agriculture, destroying the wetland ecology and releasing stored carbon. The country has an agressive plan to be carbon neutral by 2035.
The northern subarctic regions are warming by as much as 5 °C, while the southern humid continental climate region is pushing north, threatening Finland’s status as a winter sport destination. Rising land, still rebounding from the last glaciation, is delaying sea level rise, but only for a few more decades.
Other shores are suffering already from sea level rise. Los Angeles Times coastal staff writer Rosanna Xia asks In the face of sea level rise, can we reimagine California’s vanishing coastline? 1
She points out that the vulnerability of the shore line is as human-built and as much a part of the problem as the sea level rise.
Collapsed buildings, flooded roads, shattered seawalls — all the problems that make the coast so fragile today are not by some fault of nature. A problem exists because our human-built world keeps getting in the way of the rising sea.
The obstacles to dealing with it are human-built too.
And in this moment when inconvenient realities like climate change have become so politicized, shortsighted individualism has further clouded our ability to plan ahead.
That politicization of climate change is apparent in coverage of the disastrous Lahaina fire. ‘s set the record straight.
It was literally in 2014 that I wrote my first article explaining that climate change is never to blame for extreme weather, but that it creates the conditions for extreme weather to become even worse. That was the first time I ever used this quote from climate scientist Kevin Trenberth, which I’ve tried to use again and again over the years: “The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.”
As with sea level rise in California, the vulnerability of Lahaina, in this case to fire, was human-built too. While fingers are pointed at power lines, changes in land use, and yes, water flows, made the landscape so flammable.
Here, explains how colonial land and water theft changed the landscape around Lahaina from a wetland into a tinderbox.
Priscilla hopes that this disaster can be an opportunity to undo some of the damage from the past.
This is why the Land Back movement is so crucial: it’s a movement to give Indigenous lands back to Indigenous people. It’s also a movement to restore the practice of sharing of land and resources instead of getting rich off them. In this moment of crisis on Maui, those who wish to profit are swooping in to grab up land. But in a moment like this, when old structures have been swept away, we also have a huge opportunity to take big steps in a different direction, toward Hawaiian sovereignty and Hawaiian care for water.
Back from trail work in Montana, wrote too about land theft, and about water.
What it means, how little of it I can possibly understand, and what it has meant—what it continues to mean—to have settlers like my own ancestors and attendant value systems of domination and separation paradigms walk in and say, “This is mine now.” And what it takes to keep justifying and glossing over that theft, the stories that have been crafted and taught and enforced to make sure it stays that way.
I don’t think our societies will ever be able to begin solving our many problems until we both sit down and walk with that reality for a really long time—a historical reality but also an ongoing one. It’s an unimaginable destruction, layered on top of the fundamental injustice of the kind of private land ownership that was itself imposed and fought against for centuries among the European societies that then forced themselves upon people and lands across the world.
While water runs through all these stories, the writers highlight a second common thread; private land ownership lies at the root of both the human-built environment’s vulnerability to climate change and the obstacles we face in dealing with it.
Thanks for reading. Please read these writers whose work I’ve quoted, and please pre-order Rosanna Xia’s book. Link in the footnote below!
Excerpted from “California Against the Sea: Visions for Our Vanishing Coastline” (available Sept. 26, 2023) by Rosanna Xia.