Jack H. Raisanen had an environmental awakening in 2014. He was spending a lot of time in nature and doing research on climate change for a course while studying at the Ranua Folk High School in Northern Finland. Originally from the United States, Finnish American Raisanen came to Finland to discover his heritage and ended up staying for good.
A while later on a trip to London, Raisanen was admiring the Atmosphere exhibition at the Science Museum. He then stumbled upon a talk by Professor Lord Anthony Giddens, one of the most prominent modern sociologists, who in the past decade turned his focus to climate change.
“These were really formative experiences for me. I realized that I wanted to dedicate my professional energy to questions of the climate and the environment.”
Raisanen has earned the qualification of Environmental Planner from previous studies, but he wanted to deepen his knowledge and become an expert in a few chosen subjects related to the environment. In autumn 2020, Raisanen began his studies in the Master’s Programme in Atmospheric Sciences. The programme had interested him for some years already.
“I have a broad understanding of environmental issues by now, but I wanted advanced expertise in specific matters such as climate change, air pollution and biogeochemical cycles. There is an excellent cluster of research here at the University of Helsinki, and the study programme is one of the best in the world.”
Learning together and from each other
One of the most impactful experiences of his studies have been the field courses at the University of Helsinki’s Hyytiälä Forestry Field Station.
“A field course is a very special kind of course, where you learn a lot in a short period of time. We were doing flux measurements of the lake. One group set up an eddy covariance system, a micro-meteorological method to observe the exchanges of gas, energy, and momentum between ecosystems and the atmosphere. The others then got to go and see how that works.”
In addition to lectures and practical work, the field courses also provide a way to network with fellow students and teachers.
“There were many instructors, professors and PhD students, and we would all socialize together in the evenings. It felt like a very special time. We were all learning together and from each other.”
Advocating for the right to participate
According to Raisanen, in order to achieve environmental sustainability we need to re-prioritize what is valued in our society. Therefore, he advocates for people’s right to participate in political decision-making.
“The days of economic growth just for the sake of economic growth should be long gone. For instance, in Bhutan, the metric for progress is gross national happiness. We should think in this way, too. The economy should be born out of a foundation of environmental and social sustainability.”
Raisanen actively participates in public discourse. He recently voiced his opinion about the City of Helsinki’s plans to build a hotel and housing buildings in the Lapinlahti Hospital Park.
“In the spring, I wrote a Letter to the Editor of Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest newspaper in Finland, about the plans. When I opened the Nature Information System for the City of Helsinki, a public environmental database, I was able to see that the exact spot for the planned hotel was classified as a very valuable vegetation area. It was clear to me that it was not a sustainable plan.”
The plans for the area are currently still in discussion.
Raisanen feels that to influence political decision-making, willingness to work together across disciplinary boundaries is needed. This starts by sharing ideas and having conversations about issues affecting us all.
“I’m preparing for a lot of advocacy work and am developing my ability to influence society. I believe that the current ecological collapse is caused by the economic and political dysfunction. I want to encourage citizens to take part in the decisions.”
“I am gathering knowledge and new understanding”
In addition to voicing his opinion, Raisanen wants to come up with solutions. One is the EcoMeter, an ongoing project developed at a hackathon organised by Helsinki Think Company, the entrepreneurship society of the University of Helsinki. The competition focused on developing innovative solutions to prevent microplastics from ending up in the Baltic Sea.
“We have continued developing the concept. The idea is to have a meter in your car that gives real-time information about how your driving behaviour is affecting environmental factors. The goal is to help reduce tire wear, as car tires are a major source of microplastic pollution.”
Raisanen wants to strengthen his research skills by studying and has plans to continue his studies in a doctoral programme. He is also taking advantage of the multidisciplinary approach of the University of Helsinki, as you can take courses from other programmes as well.
“I have so many research interests and questions. I am constantly gathering knowledge and new understanding, and not only about issues related to atmospheric sciences and climate change but also from my other courses, for instance urban studies.”
In the future, Raisanen wants to contribute to building an economically, socially and environmentally just world for all within planetary boundaries.
“Currently, society often compromises on social and environmental issues in the name of economic sustainability. But if the economy is not operating environmentally and socially sustainably, it is not a sustainable economy. It is not so complicated.”
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