Climate change challenges our values and way of life

Concluded in 2015, the Paris Agreement was a convincing signal of the UN member states’ motivation to commit to the mitigation of climate change. Moreover, the Paris Agreement was a strong recognition of scientific climate research. Now, the ranks of climate sceptics are thinning day by day, and achievements in scientific research have rendered the credibility of their arguments void.

For citizens, science offers multiple solutions to mitigating climate change.  Among these, innovations and models for energy production, transportation, nutrition and consumer behaviour are basking in the limelight. People can take personal climate action by shifting towards vegetarian cuisine, for example. International agreements and legislation, on the other hand, make entire nations committed to jointly agreed climate policy objectives.  

Studies show that on a general level, people are willing to impose limitations on driving, flying and eating meat. On a personal level, however, they often want their own lives and surroundings to remain unaffected by such limitations. Solutions that help optimise personal interests are also available. For example, people can buy voluntary carbon offsets for their flights. Yet, sticking to our old habits by resorting to carbon offsetting is not a sustainable solution to reducing air travel.

A basic precondition for stopping climate change is for political decision-makers and citizens alike to adopt a more comprehensive and responsible environmental mindset, alongside individual and isolated climate actions, which are also important as such. Achieving this goal calls for a change in citizens’ values and way of life. For the past 150 years, industrialised societies’ growth in welfare – and their very way of life – have increasingly relied on the use of non-renewable natural resources and a belief that technological development will eventually solve our environmental problems. The pollution of water and air are phenomena that are easy to detect, and their impact is often limited to a local or regional level. However, it is very risky to rely on technological advances to stop the warming of our climate, because the problem we are dealing with is global and not limited within any borders. It is vital that we replace non-renewable natural resources with renewable ones, especially in energy production and transportation.

This poses a challenging task for natural sciences and the humanities: on one hand, they need to create innovations and models that can reduce our carbon footprint. On the other hand, they need to educate citizens and make them committed to environmental values and a way of life that are responsible.  Instead of optimising personal interests, the well-being of future generations needs to come first.

Harri Siiskonen

Academic Rector

UEF Bulletin 2019