Climate change


What if you lived in a place with almost unlimited possibilities to make your dreams come true? What if – at the same time – that place contributed in destroying the dreams of a better future for our planet and the future generations? Could you reconcile these two dreams that seem so incompatible? Or would you have to sacrifice something? These were the questions in my mind before I went to see the documentary Dark Eden (2018) at Helsinki Documentary Film Festival – DocPoint 2019. I wondered if the film might give me some answers.

Dark Eden, directed by Jasmin Herold and Michael Beamish, paints a picture of life in Fort McMurray, located at the Athabasca Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada. The Athabasca Oil Sands is the largest industrial project and the third largest oil reserve on the planet. People from all around the world are drawn to oil business to earn high salaries and to pursue a better life for themselves. But oil is also one of the world’s most destructive industries. It damages the environment by polluting the waters and releasing toxins in the air as well as contributing to CO2 emissions that add up to the blanket of greenhouse gases surrounding the planet.

It is difficult to watch people chasing after fortunes at the expense of the environment. I find myself wanting to rewind and watch some of the scenes again and again to understand better. Dark Eden does not explain. The lives of the protagonists just roll in front of the audience’s eyes framed by massive plumes of smoke rising from the oil sands. The scenery looks bleak. The waters, land and wildlife are affected by the oil industry. The livelihood of indigenous peoples in the area is in danger: the wild food is contaminated by pollution. And if the wildlife is affected, then so are the people. We find out that children are being diagnosed with rare conditions and diseases. And it gets more personal for the film makers when the film’s other director is diagnosed with cancer. People in Fort McMurray are worried but they seem hesitant to voice their opinions. After all, the oil industry is a major employer in the area.

There are no statistics, expert interviews, politics, demonstrations or oil company CEO interviews in Dark Eden. There are just people whose lives are intertwined with the Athabasca Oil Sands in good or bad. Greenpeace is mentioned in passing, and we see a glimpse of the celebrity activist Jane Fonda visiting Fort McMurray. Otherwise, no environmentalist action is seen in the film. I think it is more thought-provoking this way. The film does not point a finger at anyone. The audience is forced to deal with their own thoughts and feelings about the subject in the darkness of the cinema.

The reality of Fort McMurray crawls under your skin. The town exists because of the oil industry. If and when the companies leave the oils sands, the town might cease to exist. If there is no work, people will leave to pursue their dreams somewhere else. But the nature will stay damaged, and the people whose health has been affected, will still be ill. In the film, people talk more about what the collapse of oil prices might do to their future than about health and environmental concerns. Reconciling the two dreams is not easy. “You don’t see what you know”. Is this the answer that I am looking for? I feel it is only a survival strategy of sorts. The reality behind the dream future is something you do not want to or cannot see in order to go on.

People think, talk and dream about their life after they leave the oil sands. They dream of buying houses, building houses in the mountains, reunited families, good life, and in one case, trophy hunting in Africa. Nobody talks about leaving the oil industry in order to protect the environment. A human desire for a better, wealthier life outweighs the will to protect nature.

I am not sure if I got the answers I was looking for. The film asks what is the price for a better life. I might say that the price is the sacrifice you have to make. And what is the sacrifice you have to make in order to fulfill your dreams? In my view, there is not only one sacrifice. The environment, the future of the planet, the living conditions of future generations, health and even one’s conscience are all sacrifices here. There is no reconciling the two different dreams. There is only the question: which dream are you willing to sacrifice?

DocPoint 2019 took place 28 Jan to 3 Feb 2019 in Helsinki, Finland and Tallinn, Estonia.

Written for Global Senses
Text by Tiina Junno


People gathering at the Senate Square before the march. The photo was taken with solar powered camera. Photo: Tiina Junno

For several years now, I have followed the news with both fear and hope. Will we be too late or will we be just in time to stop the consequences of climate change from getting out of hand? What kind of a planet will we be leaving for the future generations? I have felt that as an ordinary citizen, my chances to make a significant impact are somewhat limited. But what I can do, is to demand the decision-makers to act now. In order to put pressure on the politicians, a group of organisations arranged a climate march in Helsinki on Saturday 20th October 2018.

People getting ready before the march. The photo was taken with solar powered camera. Photo: Tiina Junno

Getting ready. The photo was taken with solar powered camera. Photo: Tiina Junno

In the last few years, the world has seen the effects of climate change up, close and personal. Stronger hurricanes and typhoons, wild fires, heat waves, droughts and alarming amounts of algae are here to stay. And these are only some of the effects. Suddenly, the climate change and its impacts are everywhere: in the news, in social media discussions and at home when you sit down to your evening supper. The wake-up call has been sounding for years but now the alarm is getting harder and harder to ignore.

When the Paris Agreement was forged in the 2015 Climate Summit, the United Nations asked the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to examine what the goal of keeping temperature at 1.5 C would mean. According to the panel’s report, it is still possible to keep the temperature below 1.5 C but it will be challenging. To reach this goal, every single country in the world will have to commit to prompt climate action in order to lessen the impacts of climate change. The panel was very strict about this. Even the rise of a half a degree to 2 C would be a significantly worse scenario for the world. And if we keep going like we are now, the temperature will rise to 3 C which is something the world cannot handle. Therefore, the action against the effects of climate change must be taken now and not tomorrow, next year or in five years time.

The march has started. The photo was taken with solar powered camera. Photo: Tiina Junno

The march has started. The photo was taken with solar powered camera. Photo: Tiina Junno

On Saturday last week, the day of the march was finally here. I and thousands of other people took part in the climate march and demanded climate justice, ecosystem protection, support for the increase of renewable energies and energy conservation, environmental education to all school levels, support for the climate action of the poorest countries, and a just transition.

The weather was crisp and beautiful. The crowd gathered at the Senate Square in front of the Helsinki Cathedral before the march. The sight of all those people attending was almost emotional. I was happy to be there with others who were worried about the state of our climate.

The young Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, 15, who has been in a school strike for climate since August this year, gave a moving speech before the march and urged decision-makers to act before its too late. She pointed out that the climate crisis has already been solved: we have the facts and the solutions. Now we only need to open our eyes and change ourselves.

At the Parliament House. The photo was taken with solar powered camera. Photo: Tiina Junno

At the Parliament House. The photo was taken with solar powered camera. Photo: Tiina Junno

Soon after Greta’s speech, the march proceeded from the Senate Square to the Parliament House. In front of the Parliament House, we heard speeches by Kaisa Kosonen, the Climate Policy Advisor at Greenpeace Nordic, Petra Laiti, the chair of Finnish Sámi Youth Organization Suoma Sámi Nuorat, and the politicians from eight parliamentary parties. Petra Laiti’s speech was very impressive. She reminded us all that as one of indigenous peoples in the Arctic region, the Sámi people are in the frontline of climate change. They have the best knowhow of their land so they should have a place in the decision-making when it comes to making sustainable decisions about the arctic nature. I hope that her speech made as powerful impression on the decision-makers on the scene as it did on me and on many others listening to it.

Before the march ended, I had an inspiring discussion with one other participant about what we ourselves can do for our planet. We agreed that using renewable energy, avoiding food waste, being vegans or vegetarians, and setting an example ourselves are some of the things we can do. On Saturday, there were many of us setting an example. The reports say that approximately 10 000 people participated in the march. It was the biggest climate march that had ever taken place in Finland. The aerial photos I saw online later that day looked amazing. I felt empowered with a renewed sense of hope for the future. I hope that the knowledge that so many people are worried about climate and our future and the future of our children will accelerate the actions we as a nation have to take to do our part in keeping the temperature below 1.5 C.

Written for Global Senses
Text by Tiina Junno

Sources: IPCC, The New Yorker, Greta Thunberg’s speech (in English), Petra Laiti’s speech (in Finnish)