The annual symposium for environmental students in Europe – the EuroEnviro2014 was held from the 17th to 25th of May. We invited about 50 students from Europe to come to Helsinki, Finland. The goal of the symposium was to facilitate discussion between different disciplines and nationalities about ways to change our societal patterns. We aimed to give the participants new ideas and capacities on how to be agents of change.
The program focused on the theme Transforming societies – towards an environmentally sustainable future. We approached the theme through four different topics, introduced shortly below, related to economics, food production, urbanization and new forms of activism. The program consisted of academic lectures, excursions and thematic workshops. In addition to the academic program, there was an extensive social program for the free time, allowing the participants to get to know each other, create networks and stay in touch after the symposium as well.
Transformation of economics
Our economy is fuelled by oil and exploitation of human and natural resources. We need new models and ways of thinking in order to change our course towards an environmentally sustainable future. On Monday, we kicked off the academic program by delving into global economic systems: what are the alternatives to business-as-usual? We learned about green economy and its application in businesses, and got to know the more alternative approaches of degrowth and participatory economics. The afternoon consisted of workshops and excursions concentrating on small-scale and bottom-up alternatives.
Food production in transformation
The food system faces new kind of threats such as climate change and biodiversity loss as well as increasing use of resources and costs of production inputs. At the same time the demand for food products is forecasted to rise up to 120 % by the year 2050. There are expected to be about 9 billion mouths to feed in 2050. Reaction and change is needed to respond these threats. How do we change our food culture towards more sustainable diets? How can we bring city dwellers closer to the nature and environmental impacts of food production? How can we drive transformation towards a more sustainable food system by our choices and influence? The program of the food day concentrated on these issues. The themes included food culture, urban farming and agriculture after oil.
The challenges of urbanization
The world is more urban than ever before. Mega cities are growing and previously rural villages become urban areas. This translates into both problems and solutions. On Thursday the theme was challenges of urbanization. We tried to understand what are the problems of urbanization for the natural environment and for the people living in the cities, both in the global South and North. The focus was on solutions: how to transform the urban areas into more sustainable and safer places of living. The lectures, discussions and workshops included topics such as: urban ecology, sustainable urban structure and how to plan it, ecological architecture, adapting to climatic impacts, public participation and norm-critical cities.
Creating change from grassroots up
On Friday we took the step from academia into action and applied the themes discussed in previous days in the context of grassroots level activism. We looked at new ways of creating change from bottom-up and compared them to traditional types of environmental activism, discussing the pros and cons of different approaches. Interesting case studies from Finland were also presented. After delving into the academic point of view on the topics, we got into action ourselves in fun and practical workshops lead by people involved in creative urban activism.