The schedule is pressing and there is much to do. The foundations of our society are under threat. That is why a shared vision and public coordination are needed. Individually, without coordination and a common goal, different actors (businesses, NGOs, public servants, etc.) and parts of society (education, healthcare, arts, etc.) as well as different industrial sectors (forestry, IT, heavy industry, etc.) – not to mention individual citizens – cannot undertake the transformation at the necessary scale and pace.
Only publicly elected government has the capacities and legitimacy to steer a comprehensive societal transition. However, the state with its multiple organs is not a stationary whole but a historically developing one. Generals are always fighting the last war’. Likewise, the state and the government are results of solutions to past problems and challenges. In the face of current challenges, they also need renewal and new capacities and functions. We have to find ways to make ecological boundary conditions the guiding principles for all public, private and economic activities.
Further, the costs of the transition must be divided justly. The crucial observation is that almost all groups have good reasons for committing to the shared goal despite some painful losses and hard labour. The acknowledgement of ecological boundaries is a precondition for all peaceful, rule-based, democratic and sustainable societies: from now on no group or nation can be an ecological free-rider and gain more than a short moment of competitive advantage.
When ecological boundaries, social justice, public capabilities and market mechanisms are taken into account, the following tools for ecological reconstruction are most fruitful.
The first set of tools includes emissions trading and carbon tariffs, which are already widely supported in political discussions. Their development takes place internationally, mainly in the EU. Emissions trading and carbon tariffs are basically restrictive measures: they punish unwanted activities. The rest of the tools generally fall within national sovereignty. However, especially through financing, they are connected to international cooperation. The financial connections and political possibilities are discussed in the next section. Unlike emissions trading and carbon tariffs that limit the fossil economy, the rest of the tools are for building a new economy and society.
1. Emissions trading and carbon tariffs
The idea behind emissions trading is to internalise previously externalised costs of emissions into market prices. Currently, in the EU-wide emissions trading system, a political decision is made about the amount of emission rights to be sold, implying the maximum aggregate amount of emissions that the market can cause. The price of these emission rights is then set on the basis of how much market actors are willing to pay for them.
Carbon tariffs, in turn, are intended to curb the competitive advantage that market actors outside the emissions trading area could possibly gain by not being included in the emissions trading system. The tariffs would be levied on imported goods and services according to their climate effects. The EU emissions trading system has been in use since 2005, but the carbon tariffs are still in the planning phase.
Several factors have weakened the emissions trading system’s effectiveness. For instance, construction, agriculture, transport and waste management are outside the system, even though they produce roughly half of the EU’s emissions. Industry has also been given too many free emission rights. The reasoning has been that in the absence of carbon tariffs, free emission rights protect the competitiveness of EU industries. In general, emission rights have been excessively plentiful, implying a low price and low effectiveness in curbing emissions.
On the plus side, emissions trading supports economic flexibility by harnessing demand-and-supply pricing. In principle, emissions are reduced without any political deliberation or decision-making over technological pathways or the precise areas of economic activity to be scaled down. At the same time, this is one of its weaknesses: emissions trading contains no coordination over how the existing social and political systems (e.g. complex energy and transport systems with their intertwined path dependencies) could be radically overhauled in a reasonably orderly way. In addition, emissions trading as such does not facilitate simultaneous attention to unsustainable use of natural resources and loss of biodiversity.
From the perspective of ecological reconstruction, it is vital to note that emissions trading does not generate investments – it simply punishes high-emission economic activity. A wider and tighter emissions trading system in the EU must be aimed for to ensure that emissions caused by industry decline. In addition, carbon tariffs on the EU border are a good idea. However, the rapid renewal of all infrastructure and practices currently relying on fossil fuels, and the task of addressing the other environmental crises, more or less connected with climate change, demand many more tools besides carbon trading.
2. Public investments
Ecological reconstruction requires massive investments in infrastructure and elsewhere. In the EU and the US, the aggregate level of investments has been exceptionally low for a long time despite uniquely low interest rates. In Finland, the level of investment has been one of the lowest in the EU. Uncertainty about the future of the global economy has been identified often as a key reason for such low investment: investors have difficulties in identifying profitable investments. Investments into low-carbon infrastructure are particularly challenging because they typically imply long commitments, high up-front costs and high technological risks.
Monetary policy requires additional measures. Emissions trading also fails here: it can shift the profitability between different investments, but as such it does not generate new investments. This means that active fiscal policy, especially including long-term public investments, is called for. Public investments create demand and direct production. Combined with an active innovation policy (see section 3), public investments also provide a platform for piloting and developing new solutions.
Among potential public investments are subsidies for environmentally beneficial projects that currently have overly long payback periods to make sense for private investors. Subsidies for companies can push markets forward in cases where the technological path is known, but companies still regard the needed investments as a bit too early or risky.
Examples of investment targets are charging infrastructure for public and private electric vehicles, subsidies for infra-scale heat pumps, educating farmers and providing them with tools for carbon-sequestering practices and diversifying production.
3. Mission-oriented innovation policy
Even in the case of basic infrastructure, reconstruction is not only about routine planning and implementation – it requires creativity. Furthermore, creativity must be directed properly to ensure that the necessary changes in a wide range of interdependent socio-technical systems can be realised in a relatively short period of time.
Economist Mariana Mazzucato and her colleagues have emphasised the need for a mission-oriented innovation policy. The key idea arises from the observation that, historically, the government had a decisive role when a network of different actors would produce breakthrough innovations. The government has helped by setting the bar high enough by coordinating the efforts of different actors and by guaranteeing long-term financing. Examples of these kinds of cases include the moon flight and the internet. A similar case in Finland is the success of Nokia and the telecommunication cluster.
The success of ecological reconstruction depends on different actors working together in a common direction. In recent decades, ideas like network management and open innovation have been popular. These ideas are characterised by cooperation between the public sector, universities and various representatives of the private sector. Current discussions around deep-tech arising from Silicon Valley also share this feature: the goal is to combine deep (university research-based) technological knowledge and business expertise in rapid up-scaling to solve not only problems in software development but also in the material world.
The make-or-break points of preventing and adapting to environmental crises must be identified across economic sectors. Actors within and across different sectors must share a common goal, and knowledge must be disseminated openly. The economic risks of investing in innovation should not be allowed to form a bottleneck. As a shift towards such mission-oriented innovation cannot be initiated by the market, the government has to assume leadership.
Examples of innovation policy missions are the renewal of the Helsinki metropolitan area energy system to minimise technologies based on burning; technologies and practices for expanding, monitoring, managing and trading forest-based carbon sinks and storage; technologies and practices of carbon-sequestering agriculture; construction of large-scale wooden buildings; electrification of transport, including energy storage; humane care for the elderly; and eco-social educational policies that support both practical skills (crafts, maintenance, care) and cognitive capacities.
4. Job guarantee
For a long time, discussions around jobs and employment have been content-free. That is, policies have sought to raise the level of employment, and there has been little-to-no debate on the job content – what kind of work is worth doing. Another topic missing from the discussion is direct employment by the public sector.
Political economic studies have widely discussed the idea of job guarantee. The starting point is the observation that unemployment is not needed to restrain inflation. Within job guarantee, the public sector offers jobs to all willing employees with salaries that, in practice, become the minimum wage. The jobs do not require long training but have decent conditions and are directed toward improving the society. The government finances the guarantee, but the jobs may be organised more locally – for instance, at the municipal level.
Originally, job guarantee was presented as an automatic macroeconomic balancing mechanism to offset economic cycles. In times of low demand, the guarantee increases public spending to maintain full employment. The job guarantee fits very well with ecological reconstruction. There are both jobs that need to be done and people who are unemployed against their will. Examples of reconstruction jobs include reforestation of peatlands in the countryside and energy and waste services in cities. In addition, many infrastructure projects involve jobs that do not require previous qualifications.
A job guarantee offers citizens a sense of economic security and reinforces the idea that it is not necessary to take any job regardless of its content. The job guarantee ensures that there are always jobs available that provide a livelihood and contribute towards building a sustainable society.
5. Sectoral transition policies
Transitioning away from the unsustainable use of natural resources and fossil-fuel based production infrastructure means that some areas of production will disappear and the practices in many others will change profoundly.
In Finland, for instance, the energy use of peat must be stopped. This means that the current job profiles of hundreds of workers in the state-owned Vapo will become obsolete. A sectoral transition policy includes retraining for workers and services for forming new career paths. These new jobs can include, for instance, reforestation of peatlands and construction of wind power.
Big disruptions are also in store for shipyards building luxury cruisers and for the construction industry building shopping malls out of concrete, glass and steel. The workers in these sectors have skills that are readily applicable in ecological reconstruction, but the current market conditions do not direct their labour towards the correct goals. The new jobs must be organised so that the workers’ motivation is maintained or increased.
One model for sectoral transition policies can be found in Spain, where the minister for ecological transition, in close cooperation with the labour unions, directs a programme of shutting down the last coal mines. Similar policies are currently being planned in several other countries.
Education and training
Relationships with nature and care for the environment start developing in the early years as parts of the skills, capabilities, ways of thinking and acting that children acquire in their environment. The identity and worldview of a child are influenced by the prevalent culture with all its possibly contradictory values and notions. It is possible to acquire both a strong connection to nature and a sensitivity to environmental issues and ideals of economic success through continuous growth or both a view of nature as a self-repairing whole and as an inexhaustible source of materials.
Environmental education is an essential part of the cultural change included in ecological reconstruction because it raises awareness of biodiversity, planetary boundaries of human life, the processes of nature that uphold all life and the socio-cultural values that shape our interaction with nature and non-human life. Environmental education for children, adolescents and adults alike communicates models of ecologically sustainable life, gives grounds for evaluating ecologically sound values and offers tools for independently forming an ecologically informed view of the world. In Finland, environmental education is among the activities of many NGOs and is also included in the contents of exhibitions in natural parks and museums of natural history.
An important part of environmental education is given within the legally mandated programmes of early and basic education. Sustainable lifestyles are mentioned in the National Agency for Education’s national core curriculum for early childhood education and care (2016) and local plans for early education (2017). The national core curriculum for basic education (renewed in 2016, in use stepwise in 2016–2019) highlights forming wide capabilities, which means not only mastering diverse new subjects and skills but also the capacity to connect them.
One of the learning goals mentioned in the plans is building a sustainable future and the skills of participation and democratic action needed therein. This goal is tied to the subject area of environmental studies, which combines information from multiple sciences and utilises various learning environments. It is also connected with the annual multi-subject learning modules included in the national study plan. The modules are implemented in different ways in different schools and provide an opportunity to delve deeper into environmental questions with help from multiple subjects. According to the ministry’s directive, sustainable life must also characterise the schools’ mode of operation – that is, everyday practices.
In the future, more extensive environmental education must be provided to individuals and groups during different stages of life and be tailored to different aspects of life. The contents must contain more education on the topics of democratic political action at different levels. In addition to emphasising nature protection and conservation, environmental education must increase citizens’ resilience in the face of the changes brought about by climate change, new technologies and new infrastructure.
Education can be thought of not only as a top-down effort of information and guidance but also as informal negotiations and discussions between citizens concerning the values and meanings of nature and of a good life within planetary boundaries. As the population and the number of uninhabitable areas on the planet grow, environmental education must strengthen solidarity and awareness of human dependence not only on nature but on each other. The role of skills in communication and mediation and mediation will get bigger.
In addition to environmental education, ecological reconstruction requires development and intensification in several areas of education and training. As production, logistics and construction change, some jobs are lost and new ones gained, which increases the need for professional (re)training. Technical and natural scientific fields are essential for developing many solutions.
However, social transition and cultural change also demand other types of skills. The effects of new technologies must be analysed critically from both the perspectives of human communities and natural environments. Due to environmental destruction and change, migration and other types of intercultural encounters become more prevalent.
The increase in catastrophic natural phenomena causes anxiety, possibly together with anxiety over injustice. The experience of the lived environment is transformed; as familiar natural environments change, seasons appear out of joint and everyday life must be adjusted accordingly. These changes cause many kinds of emotional responses and thoughts. The better and wider the knowledge and understanding of the environment, and the better the related skills, the easier it will be for citizens to negotiate these challenges and live with them. Environmental education has a key role in building up skills and knowledge, but addressing the environmental and resource crises and socio-economic change also necessitate renewal in basic, professional and higher education.
Issues of ecological and social sustainability will affect all sectors, from agriculture to healthcare and from trade to heavy industry. Changes in the education system, like cultural change more generally, demand humanistic and social scientific skills. Multidisciplinary environmental research has long understood the significance of cooperation between different fields of research and expertise. From the perspective of ecological reconstruction, the situation is promising: issues of nature, environment and the interaction between human and natural systems have finally been embedded in the humanities and social sciences for good. The groundwork for the scientific and educational aspects of ecological reconstruction has already been laid.
Education is a fitting tool for ecological reconstruction because it already has a considerable and lasting influence on people’s skills and mind-sets, and officials and politicians are used to directing it vis-à-vis changes in the world. Educational policies must now anticipate the needs of ecological reconstruction.
Education planning in recent decades has relied largely on observed trends in the job market. Thus, it is expected that, for instance, the need for education in the agricultural and textile sectors will reduce further, while the need for education in marketing, sales and administration will continue to increase. However, the environmental crises and the socio-economic response to them cause a non-linear break in educational demands. The anticipation of disruptions in employment and working life must pay attention, on one hand, to the material boundary conditions of the economy and, on the other hand, to digitalisation, automation and ageing of the population.
From the perspective of ecological reconstruction, the above-mentioned sectors – (multispecies) agriculture and various sectors producing (sustainable and long-lasting) physical objects – are not a thing of the past. They require a lot of skilled labour and new expertise. It cannot be expected that global trade will continue to develop in a direction where it is always somebody else producing the food and goods we consume. Yet it seems that many jobs, for instance, in the insurance and financial sectors, can be automated. This means lower labour demand in these sectors.
In sum, education has to emphasise learning about the intertwinement of natural and human systems. In all sectors of society, understanding of the material boundaries of human activities has to be improved.
7. Accepting lower levels of consumption
Pictures, statues, poetry, stories, music and dance have always been methods for perceiving reality, expressing thought and creating meaning. Although our views of art are historical and cultural, certain key elements, like connections to the senses and emotions, expressivity, creativity and collectivity, have typically accompanied artistic world-making. In art, humans investigate themselves, their society and their environment. Art has expressed and interpreted intra- and inter-community conflicts and ideals, social upheavals and relationships with the non-human.
Artistic expression has a reciprocal relationship with concurrent views of humanity, nature and the world, as well as its material conditions. Futuristic art and its experimentality were inspired by the noise and speed of the rapidly industrialising world, propelled by the possibilities of the steam engine, motor car and electric devices. The modernisation of the Western world was reflected in the development of new forms of expression in literature, visual arts and music. The power of art in portraying and communicating ideas and experiences has had a decisive influence on the development of societies – Finnish national romanticism is a good example.
Furthermore, the relationship between humans and nature, questions of protecting nature and environmental problems have been addressed in the visual arts, literature, music and the performing arts. Famous literary examples are the fictional story ‘A Fable for Tomorrow’ about the disappearance of birds, which US biologist Rachel Carson placed at the beginning of her book Silent Spring (1962), and the book Laulujoutsen – Ultima Thulen lintu (Whooper Swan – Bird of Ultima Thule, 1950) by Finnish writer Yrjö Kokko, relating the impressions of a photographic journey to a nesting area of a then nearly extinct species. Both books succeeded in raising interest and alarm in their contemporaries. To a great extent, due to Carson’s book, a critical discussion on pesticides emerged, and Kokko’s book helped in ending the persecution of the whooping swan.
However, the main or only task of art is by no means to directly influence a particular topic. At the most fundamental level, art deals with human existence and the meaning of life. Art cares for meaningfulness by holding a constant inner and interpersonal dialogue on what is important in individual and common life. In art, the dependence of one human on other humans and nature becomes recognisable, acceptable and even enjoyable. Art expresses the fragility, finiteness and mortality of all life and the necessity of change.
Art has a specific relationship with truth. Among drastic changes, art can help us understand why facts are hard to deal with and provide the capability for accepting the truth. The importance of truthfulness is heightened in societies where there is a strong contradiction between the scientific, lived and experienced truth and the so-called official truth. In artistic work and in experiencing works of art, facing facts and truthfulness happen as collective processes, giving space also to the emotional reactions that new facts and knowledge may trigger.
Traditionally, art has been seen as connected to the senses and emotions: different visual, rhythmic, melodic, gestural and verbal expressions arouse feelings, experiences and insights. In this way, art can also portray phenomena that are otherwise hard to grasp. In this context, several humanists and art researchers have noted that climate change is a phenomenon whose spatio-temporal scale and planetary effects may be beyond human comprehension. Instead of scientific graphs, the matter may be easier to grasp via artistic means.
Artists have freedom of material, expressive and conceptual experimentation and freedom of imagination. They can propose new ways of being human and of forming collectives. Environmental philosophy has, for a long time, investigated how non-humans should be acknowledged as actors influencing human societies and cultures. The role of animals in scientific research, economic production and everyday life demands ethical scrutiny. As wild animals become ever more uncommon, the conditions and modes of co-existence of humans and non-humans must be reviewed.
All political measures have to start from the principle that nobody is encouraged to consume against their will ‘in order to keep the wheels of the economy turning’. Currently, citizens reducing their consumption are, in practice, accused of hurting the economy. Correspondingly, nobody should be (economically or socially) forced to take a job that destroys the prerequisites of future societies (see the section on job guarantee).
Typically, worrying about a decline in consumption is ultimately worrying about how to finance welfare services and social security. However, at the material level, the services provided by a teacher or a nurse are in no way dependent on someone first buying minced meat or a car. As part of ecological reconstruction, the economy must be reorganised so that the level of private consumption does not determine whether a teacher or a nurse can be paid a living wage. At the material level, the economy must be organised so that there are sufficient sustainably produced food, heated housing and transportation services for the teacher and the nurse. In so far as education and healthcare demand products that are not made in Finland, there must also be sufficient exports to import the necessities.
What will replace the missing consumption? As noted above, it depends on the cultural development, but at least spending time with communities, families and friends, and enjoying hobbies and artistic endeavours, provide a multitude of possibilities.