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Youth Declaration in Rovaniemi Arctic Spirit Conference 2019. Photo by Marko Junttila. 

New voices, fresh perspectives

13.11.2019

True to the conference theme, the first day of Rovaniemi Arctic Spirit 2019 brought new faces and meaningful discussion to the Arctic arena.

“The future is ours, and the future is in danger.” Local teenagers began their declaration with these disconcerting words and urged the conference participants to listen.

Unlike many official declarations, their statement did not limit itself to pious wishes. Instead, the young people demanded concrete actions – more wooden buildings heated with solar panels, a system of deposits to encourage the recycling of plastic bottles throughout Europe, local and vegan food at schools.

“Yes, it will cost you money, but climate change will cost us the planet.”

Associate professor Maria Ojala of Örebro University has researched climate anxiety among young people. She pointed out that young people are not a homogenous group. They have diverse viewpoints and various ways of coping with climate change stress. Meaning-focused coping can evoke constructive hope.

“We should not focus too much on getting rid of climate anxiousness. It is a normal reaction to a very serious problem”, Maria Ojala emphasised.

According to her, it is important to include young people in the societal efforts to deal with climate change for pragmatic, ethical and knowledge reasons.

Gosia Smieszek who moderated the panel discussion on the perspective of Arctic Youth on Climate Change, remarked that young people do not need to be given the voice, they are the voice.

The young panellists agreed on the importance of traditional knowledge even in modern times.

“Climate change is not the primary problem, but a symptom of our loss of relationship with the land”, stated Chloe Dragon Smith who has launched Bushkids, an initiative to connect schoolchildren with the land.

“You cannot do environmental politics without the indigenous people, because the Arctic belongs to them”, observed Anni-Sofia Niittyvuopio who represented Finnish Saami youth organisation Suoma Sámi Nuorat.

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Anna-Katri Kulmala of the Arctic Youth Network emphasised the importance of sharing and coming together.

“We talk a lot about hope, but if we want to create hope, there has to be action and results. Governments need to find ways for us to be sustainable”, she pleaded.

President of Social Democratic Youth of Finland and member of Rovaniemi city council Mikkel Näkkäläjärvi agreed.

“Politics never takes place in a vacuum. We need to be vocal to make politicians understand that voters support climate actions.”

Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Krista Mikkonen believes that the activism of the young people has already borne fruit.

“Our government program about tackling the climate change would not be as ambitious if the young had not mobilised.”

ArcticFinland.fi
Text: Maija Myllylä
Photo: Marko Junttila

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