A New World

Siiri Mäkelä & Amanda Rejström.

A new leaf in climate change action has been turned: enter a generation that thinks about climate change with clear minds set on finding solutions. Climate change movers and shakers Siiri Mäkelä and Amanda Rejström sit down in a cafe in Helsinki to discuss responsibility, change and youth over a bowl of new potatoes and kale.

There’s currently a lot of talk about small deeds, but also about the undeniable importance of big decisions. Do small deeds matter and how can we make sure that we don’t fall into a paralysing climate apathy?

Amanda Rejström Even small things can carry a huge potential for both psychological and social change. If you do something small but visible, others will be able to observe it, which will then generate conversations that turn into trends. The way I see it, small deeds are exactly the tool with which to combat apathy. If all we do is discuss, research and build theories about things, we place the solutions out of reach of people. The experience of having the power to do something can change your entire world view. In my opinion, there’s huge power in small things. 
Siiri Mäkelä Although I agree with Amanda and think that change needs to happen on multiple different levels, I always criticise pushing the responsibility onto the individual. Focusing on small things often just makes the individual a culprit and emphasising the individual’s responsibility relieves the pressure from political and structural forces. In other words, individuals shouldn’t be blamed for climate change, but rather a crisis that’s the result of our current system’s functions. Having said that, I agree with Amanda: it is important to feel that we have the power to change things. Small deeds can make a change happen inside an individual’s social circle.



So, where should we begin: on a structural level or on an individual level?

AR My background is in research and I used to work on energy systems and future carbon-neutral society research at the Technical Research Centre of Finland. After seven years in the field, I realised that the technical and economic aspects of climate change only matter to a certain extent because, fundamentally, climate change touches upon very private matters: who we are and how we live. Big structural changes require political decisions, but political decisions require everyone to be on board with them. It’s a bit of a dilemma: we need to talk about politicians’ tasks and individuals’ responsibilities separately, even though the political is often personal. We rarely accept a politician touching our private lives as it infringes upon our freedom. But, if we make it appealing to live sustainably, it will hopefully become a magnet; a trend and an example of how we can live differently.
SM I believe that changing the system around us is the only way to change how people think and what they want. We are currently chasing economic growth, and we will have to let go of that mindset at some point. We need to start sketching alternative ways of measuring wellbeing: a shift from consuming to living.
AR I want to be a part of building a new system with new values; a system in which money isn’t the only value that we cherish. Human rights and caring for our planet so that our children will have a world to live in are vital for our survival. Something needs to happen.
SM We all need to try to make it happen. There are plenty of short-term changes that we can make every day.

Amanda Rejström is co-founder and CEO of Spark Sustainability, a climate impact startup that inspires personal climate action. She currently also works with circular economy projects as a member of the board of Saxo Oy. She holds a MSc degree in energy engineering.

Siiri Mäkelä is president of the Finnish Agenda 2030 Youth Group and project manager at the Finnish 4H Federation. She holds an MSc degree in environment and resource management, as well as in Economics.

Who do you think will be at the forefront of change? Can we get everyone on board?

AR We can’t afford to leave anyone out. We need to get the children and the elderly, the entrepreneurs and the leaders, the politicians and the people all on board. We have to find a way to make everyone feel like they’re a part of the solution. The conversation around this topic is, unfortunately, often very polarised, but we need to make everyone feel like they are valuable. I think that is the seed of change.
SM Our world is young: around half of the global population is considered young, and young people are more likely to be ready for change. That is a power that we can harness for good. I see huge opportunities there.
AR I’d already call the youth climate conference and climate marches a global movement, and I think that large movements have the power to sustain change. It takes a while, but if we can maintain this pressure, global leaders are bound to realise that the young people who will gain the right to vote in a few years want something else. I’m not sure if that’s fast enough, though, which is why we need to look for shortcuts. There’s no one right way to change the course of this ship, but looking for solutions is bound to lead us somewhere.

What about the best case scenario? What would be a ten-year utopia that you would love us to reach?

SM If we think in concrete terms and about Finland, becoming carbon neutral is a good start. After that, I’d like to see this country fully abandon fossil fuels.
AR I hope for a big cultural change; that in ten years, we’ll define ourselves not by how we consume but how we spend our time and who with.