Contemporary Environmental Issues in the Russian Arctic – Blog Post

In this entry, we publish the other best post, submitted by the participants of the “Contemporary Environmental Issues in the Russian Arctic” course. This poem is written by Vilma Ristikangas, a student at the European and Nordic Studies Master’s programme.

The Tale of the Human Demand and the Fish

There was a small house on a small hill near a lake, located in the Russian North.
The river streamed through villages and woods, and to the Arctic Sea and so forth.

The lake hadn’t seen ice in decades, but its surface reflected a power plant and a mine.
Its murky bottom hid the most terrible secrets and prevented the water to shine.

In this house, where an old couple used to live, now lived their grandson with his wife.
Following the family’s footsteps in the industry, they wanted to raise money for their future life.

While the wife was working at the power plant, the husband took their boat to the lake.
He threw in a fish rod a few times, until something strong bit the bait.

Pulling the rod vigorously, he struggled, and fell to the bottom of the boat with the fish.
Opening his eyes he couldn’t believe: his golden catch told him to let it go and make a wish.

The fish’s five eyes and three fins moved anxiously, it gasped air and hurried the man up.
Instead of eating this weird creature he asked:
“Make me the boss of the power plant and this place an industrial hub!”

In a moment the man was at the shore, looking at his new house so big that the hill looked smaller.
Nearby rose a town around the lake with a harbour, chemical manufacturer, and a huge sawmill.

The power plant boss was taking it easy with his job, but the wife wanted something good, too.
She set sail to the darkening, muddy lake and tried to see where a golden fin would shine through.

The fish ended up to the boat again, now blinking its seven eyes and flapping its four tails.
Before making its speech about the wishes, the wife demanded her own claims:

“I wish we had even a bigger, newer house, and I want to lead the harbour and the mine,
but we need more resources here, so will you transport us more stuff, so we will survive?”

Queues of trucks and lorries grew from day to day, and the couples huge house kept sinking lower.
While the river carried the gloomy water further, the spouses thought they had all the world’s power!

The winter thought of coming, but it never did, instead it sent half a year of darkness and rain.
Without the snowy problem ahead of themselves, the industries grew on to the nearby terrain.

The weather got even warmer and the rain washed everything (also Igor’s car) to the bubbly river.
The lands were exposed, nothing grew anymore, and the profits from the businesses grew thinner.

The husband rowed the boat in the thickening water, while the wife tried to catch the golden one.
“Lucky we know about this magic fish; we can wish that these problems never begun.”

Ten eyes stared at them from below, and the fish jumped on the boat on his own.
“It is easier to breathe up here! In this lake phosphorus, nitrogen and nutrients have overgrown.”

“We want to make a wish!” yelled the man in the biting rain, blinded by the golden scales.
“Our achievements are collapsing, and we need more time, help us before our livelihood fails!”

The lake bubbled ominously, and dust in the air and waste on the ground formed a tornado.
The fish jumped to the water before everything was overcast by an all-absorbing shadow.

The wife and the husband found themselves next to their home, but the hill was not there anymore.
Their house had sunk to a weird, wet pit, and there was no sight of industry on the opposing shore.

The couple lost it all but gained everything back, as now the water reflected the sun and the lands.
They took their boat and floated away to the sea. For the nature they no longer had other demands.

Contemporary Environmental Issues in the Russian Arctic – blog posts

This November four Doctoral candidates of our research group, Francesco Durante, Elena Gorbacheva, Karoliina Hurri, and Sohvi Kangasluoma, taught a Master-level course they created, named “Contemporary Environmental Issues in the Russian Arctic”. One of the course assignments was to write a blog post on one of the topics related to the environmental issues in the Russian Arctic. In our blog, we want to publish two best posts written by the students. The first text, published in this entry, is written by Ellen Ahdekivi, a student at the Environmental Change and Global Sustainability (ECGS) Master’s programme.

Mysterious craters in the Yamal peninsula – A ticking time bomb in disguise?

Welcome to the Yamal peninsula – a vast, harsh and desolate territory, home to few people in the world. It is an environment that shows little evidence of human settlement and development, other than some gas pipelines and the occasional reindeer herder. However, this faraway land has become a headline in recent years. A particular phenomenon is likely providing unexpected evidence of anthropogenic repercussions which no one knew were taking place in the Russian Arctic. And it has the possibility to have an unprecedented effect on how we view climate change and its effects both on a local and global scale.

So what exactly is going on in the Yamal peninsula, and what does it have to do with anybody for that matter? Well, in 2014, a 60-metre sink hole, which was later followed by several more, was discovered accidentally, and its origin was an utter mystery to scientists. Naturally, this stirred conversation amongst the scientific community and others to speculate its origin – ranging from UFOs, meteorites to collapsed gas facilities hidden from the public. In short, there was quite a bit of debate on the origin of such a dramatic and powerful change in the landscape. What on earth could cause such a phenomenon?

As it turns out, the likely explanation is a process that is induced by human action. Scientists now believe that the craters are the result of a build-up of methane gas in pockets of thawing permafrost. Hurray, the mystery has been solved! But what does this reveal about the state of the Russian Arctic? To be honest, it reveals an alarming process that can have the ability to alter the Earth’s atmospheric greenhouse gas intake alarmingly.

Since discovering the crater in 2014, several more similar ones have been found. These are directly located in the Yamal peninsula, meaning that their origin must be locally induced. Climate data from Siberia shows an increase in average temperature that supports the findings, which is an indication of wide scale permafrost thawing. Because permafrost works as a large storage for soil carbon deposits, degrading permafrost works as a releasing force for carbon dioxide and methane emissions. This in turn, creates a vicious cycle; releasing emissions that amplify the effects of climate change, create more opportunity for thawing permafrost.

The formation of these black hole-like craters is a big wake up call for people all over the world. As the warming of the climate continues, the Arctic is projected to be warming two-times faster than the global average. Hence, there is little room for negligence and disinterest. The environment, in this case the Yamal peninsula, is sending warning signals on the fact that business as usual activities can no longer continue without significant repercussions, where these craters are not isolated incidents. The build-up of methane in these permafrost soils represent a ticking time bomb which is waiting to go off. This may also indicate a point of no return regarding permafrost degradation. Although these newly formed craters do not affect local communities on a spatial scale, the craters affect local populations through the amplification of climate change – through coastal erosion, infrastructure failure, changing living conditions and other significant effects of climate change. The mysterious craters of the Yamal peninsula are a representation of what humans are truly capable of doing without direct intention. It begs us to ask the question – what are we capable of doing if we determinedly strived to prevent similar events from happening in the future?

Image: The first crater B1 which was discovered by helicopter pilots.

Photo by Ruslan Amanzhurov. Source: Buldovicz, S.N., Khilimonyuk, V.Z., Bychkov, A.Y. et al. Cryovolcanism on the Earth: Origin of a Spectacular Crater in the Yamal Peninsula (Russia). Sci Rep 8, 13534 (2018).

Dmitry Yagodin for the Research Handbook on Communicating Climate Change

“Research Handbook on Communicating Climate Change”, edited by David C. Holmes and Lucy M. Richardson, is out. Drawing together key frameworks and disciplines that illuminate the importance of communication around climate change, this Research Handbook offers a vital knowledge base to address the urgency of conveying climate issues to a variety of audiences. Our postdoc Dmitry Yagodin wrote a chapter for the volume titled “The unearthed and contagious logics of pluralist climate justice in the Russian Arctic”.

Learn more about the handbook on the publisher’s website.

Drilling for the future: Gendered justifications of the Arctic fossil fuel industry

Our Doctoral candidate, Sohvi Kangasluoma, had her first article published in the special issue of the Polar Record. The article, titled “Drilling for the future: Gendered justifications of the Arctic fossil fuel industry”, through feminist discussions explores how old and gas companies, Norwegian Equinor and Russian Gazprom & Gazprom Neft, try to create a compelling image of themselves on their webpages.

Despite the global alarm caused by accelerating climate change, hydrocarbon companies are exploring and opening up new oil and gas fields all over the world, including the Arctic. With increasing attention on the Arctic, companies address the growing global environmental pressure in their public marketing in various ways. This article examines the webpages of Norwegian Equinor and Russian Gazprom & Gazprom Neft. Building on feminist discussions, I analyse the different justification strategies these fossil fuel companies working in the Arctic utilise in order to support their ongoing operations. This article concludes that in order to justify their operations in the Arctic, the Norwegian and Russian companies emphasise values based on discourses that have historically and culturally been associated with masculine practices, such as the control of nature enabled by technology. These justifications are thus reinforcing the narrative of the Arctic as a territory to be conquered and mastered. Even though the companies operate in different sociopolitical contexts, the grounds of justification are rather similar. Their biggest differences occur in their visual presentations of gender, which I argue is part of the justification. Approaching the fossil fuel industry from a feminist perspective allows questioning the dominant conceptualisations, which the justifications of Arctic hydrocarbon companies are based on.

The article can be found online.

Virtual panel “Extractive Geopolitics”

Last weekend Professor Tynkkynen participated in the virtual panel “Extractive Geopolitics” at EMC Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center Extractive Encounters forum in Tbilisi.

Extractivism unites the state, capital, society, and natural resource governance as governments use resource extraction to boost national economies. Yet these industries’ political drivers and consequences exist across multiple scales, uniting personal experience with international politics and relations. This panel explores the relations among extractive industries and geopolitics, and how power flows through spaces and networks of extraction. Cases come from across Eurasia and illustrate diverse ways of theorizing and implementing critical approaches to extractive politics. Three presentations will be followed by a moderated conversation and questions to the panelists.
More information can be found on the EMC website.

Grant from Kone Foundation

On the 3d of December, Kone Foundation announced the recipients of its 2020 grant call, and our research group received its largest grant for our new project FLOWISION.

“In the Changing “neighbournesses” of Finland funding programme’s now-ending, last thematic grant call, Sustainable Development, Russia, and Finland, the biggest grant went to Associate Professor in Russian Environmental Studies Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen and the FLOWISION consortium’s project. The project’s researchers, journalists, and documentary filmmakers are aiming to make the flows of energy and waste visible. In so doing, they say, it is possible to reveal the political dimension of resource flows and to compare practices in Finland, Russia and elsewhere.

“In the project we have also wanted to listen intently to petrocultures that are seen as detrimental for mitigating climate change, i.e. to the ways that using oil is part of society and of our way of living. Trump’s USA and Russia are examples of what, from a European viewpoint, are often seen as petrocultures. And yet 75% of EU energy consumption involves fossil fuels, i.e. is based on oil, gas and coal.

In energy-poor countries such as Finland imported energy is not visible in the same way as it is, for example, in Russia, where fossil-fuel energy is indigenous and where oil in many senses greases the wheels of society. Energy-related materialities are more visible there, and it is thus possible to view them from the perspective of political power, too.

Once the project has begun, we will carry one trying to listen to these positive signals in what is generally considered the ‘dark side’ of the energy sector. Such listening offers a possibility for making the dark side of petroculture brighter. We believe that listening to these signals can help us as we aim for an energy transition, i.e. when we try to replace fossil energy with renewables.”

Besides Tynkkynen, also involved in the project are: doctoral researchers Elena Gorbacheva, Sakari Höysniemi, Sohvi Kangasluoma, and Teemu Oivo, along with postdoc researchers Olga Dovbysh, Dmitry Yagodin, and Margarita Zavadskaya. Providing the artistic-journalistic component are photojournalist Touko Hujanen, journalist Johannes Roviomaa and documentary film director Niko Väistö. From the Russian side, the project will be joined by Dr. Olga Bychkova, Head of STS Center at the EU SPb, and a doctoral student.

Helsingin telakan suurtilaus on pienen piirin junailema kauppa – ”brittiläinen” varustamo on telakan venäläisten omistajien pikavauhtia pystyttämä luomus

Yle published a large article “Helsingin telakan suurtilaus on pienen piirin junailema kauppa – ”brittiläinen” varustamo on telakan venäläisten omistajien pikavauhtia pystyttämä luomus” (Behind the Helsinki Shipyard’s large order stands a small business – a “British” shipping company is a creation set up by the shipyard’s Russian owners at a rapid pace.), unrevelling the corruption behind the shipyard and its owners.

Professor Tynkkynen was interviewed for the article, and he stated that:

– Of course, one starts to ponder whether the orders are related to stealing of money from Russian state budget. There is corruption in every sector in Russia. In areas with significant state strategic interests, the biggest jackpots are usually available.

“In addition to cruise ships, Helsinki Shipyard specializes in making, for example, icebreaking tankers heading to the Northeast Passage, support vessels for oil drilling in the Arctic, and a new generation of icebreakers.

This makes the shipyard important for Russia. According to Tynkkynen, the Arctic is part of the “Russian story” that Putin wants to use to create a picture of Russia as a further expanding superpower.”

The article is available online in both Finnish and Russian.