Over the holidays my colleague, expert on social enterprise Eeva Houtbeckers and I both reacted to the same opinion piece in a Finnish newspaper.
The letter we reacted to had a provocative headline. It exhorted young people to “work for the environment, protest doesn’t help”. The letter by turn was a response to earlier editorial content on environmental fears and activism among young people. The paper has recently written rather sympathetically about activism, for instance about Extinction Rebellion. The movement gained new visibility in Finland in October, when its activists were peppersprayed by the police after they refused to stop blocking a busy street. The event provoked considerable debate about policing.
Below is our letter in my English translation, here a link to the original in Finnish.
My disagreement stems from a political conviction, but also from having studied social movements on and off for the last thirty years. They very much do change the world.
Here’s our response:
Markku Metsäranta (K&k 17.12.) encourages young people to solve our epoch’s terrifying threats by pursuing familiar modern paths. He mentions science, engineering, enterprise, parliamentarianism and progress.
The letter’s concluding claim – decision makers are totally dependent on enterprise – is partly true. Economic growth has been made synonymous with progress and is said to guarantee social peace.
At the same time, we forget or ignore how many different ways there have been over the centuries to organize life on this human-friendly planet. But as progress became reduced to economic growth, our imagination was narrowed.
From such a perspective, enterprise does appears like the foundation of many things and it seems it is best served by engineers and scientists, marketing and financial professionals. Social enterprises is also on the rise, but it is more of an accommodation than a challenge.
In the lives of the young people, who protest by sitting on the streets or going on school strike, and whose lives are affected by affected by the slowdown in economic growth that predates the pandemic, this recipy for progress is outdated. It is not possible for them to continue as before, or to deny the ever more palpable ecological crisis.
For that reason, our message to youth would be quite different: we value your energy and activism, we hear your imagination-expanding activism, which brings comfort. After all, though we have been taught to worship enterprise, we know that at the end of the day that is not what we depend on.
We also both discovered, somewhat to our surprise, that we actually read this “free” paper published by the Lutheran (State) Church in Finland. It is still delivered, on paper, to (tax-paying) members.