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Clean nature and water in Finland is a myth: a(nother) rant

September 24, 2014

Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece.

I think I live in a hypocritical society when it comes to the state of the environment in this country. Just think if more people made better choices – you know, putting their garbage in the garbage can, putting it in recycling bins, returning the bottles and cans, stubbing those cigarettes out and then actually putting them in the garbage instead of throwing them on the ground… It wouldn’t look so ugly. There has been plenty of discussion recently around the way we have accepted the throw-away culture in Finland. Littering is worse than ever before and the city of Helsinki spends EUR 11 million a YEAR in clean up costs…

Awhile back, I brought the Little Miss to a local park to play. I often clean up the garbage on the ground, especially if there is glass. But on that day, I picked up 5-6 handfuls of cigarette butts – in a park for kids. What’s up with that? If parents are going to smoke while their kids play, fine, no problem – but don’t toss your butts into the same sand that your kids dig in – and may put in their mouths. You know what kids are like!

I think we need to take more personal responsibility to keep the environment free of garbage – the wastefulness and blatant lack of respect for the environment by some sectors of society has to stop. Stop being so lazy and apathetic.

Recently YLE News reported that Finns waste 9 MILLION EUROS in returnable cans every year, 9 million euros… If people are going to waste their money like that I will gladly take it. On the other hand, the reported recycling rate is 95 percent, which impressive. Too bad we can’t up that number and make it more admirable.

Water quality is in Finnish lakes and rivers is not as good as we think.

Agriculture is responsible for high amounts of phosphorous and nitrogen emissions into Finnish waters. In 2007 more than half of Finnish river waters and one fifth of Finland’s lake waters fall short of the “good” quality standard. The number of rivers and lakes classified as being of poor quality has remained almost unchanged since the mid-1990s. (From the now defunct HS International 24.11.2007)

Just a few weeks ago “deadly bacteria” was found in the waters near fur farming operations in the Pietarsaari region in Pohjanmaa. The situation is also apparently exacerbated by the drastic increase in the number of seagulls in the area. The water quality is so bad that environmental officials have recommended that people avoid swimming in local waterways.

Let’s talk catastrophy…

The failure of a tailings pond at the Talvivaara Mine in Kainuu in November 2012 sent millions and millions of litres of waste water contaminated with high concentrations of nickel, zinc, mercury, cadmium, aluminum and uranium. The waterways will probably never recover and the Finnish taxpayers will be shouldered with burden of cleaning up the some of most catastrophic environmental pollution this country has ever seen. Other mining operations in Raahe, Harjavalta and Orivesi have also released large amounts of polluted waste water into local waterways, seemingly without consequences.

Currently the Finnish Mining Act does not shoulder the costs of environmental clean-up on the (largely foreign) mining companies that set up shop in Finland. Basically they get to extract the metals, make a mess and take the profits with them – mostly outside of Finland.

The story of Talvivaara and mining overall in Finland and how it has affected people who live in these areas deserves to be told as it is, but that should be saved for another entry. Mining is necessary, yes, but in this country it can be done far better than it has been so far. I come from a mining community and I know they have done better than Finland as a country has. The wild west attitude shown by business and government with regards to mining in Finland is focused on short term maximal profit, with little regard for how it will play out far into the future.

Sustainable mining is an oxymoron and I detest the term. There is no such thing as sustainable mining, you either do it or you don’t – sustainable is leaving it in the ground and finding other ways to meet our needs.

That Finland is a clean, natural paradise is a myth, we’re well on our way to destroying a lot of it in the name of short term economic gain.

We can do better but let me end it here for now.

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The bits of Finnish culture that don’t appeal to me

September 9, 2014

I have been living in Finland for nearly 16 years and I have tried and seen and done a lot of different things. Yet, I just realized there some are habits that are culturally important in Finland that I have just not subscribed to or do not actively take part in. Here’s a few:

  • Crayfish parties – ‘Tis the season – now. Taking apart a tiny little crayfish is a lot of work for the measly reward of a tiny little piece of meat.

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  • Dancing to humppa – maybe I need to be a little older ;)
  • A lot of Finns pick seasonal flowers and tree branches to mark different kinds of celebrations, like Juhannus (birch branches). I prefer to leave them in the fields and bushes.
  • Changing curtains and house decor with the season. Are you kidding me? I don’t have time and nor do I feel like I need to fill my house with extra linen to be washed, dried and ironed.
  • Spring / Christmas cleaning – Finns tend to basically empty the house and clean like crazy ahead of Christmas and in the spring. I clean regularly, but I don’t make a ritual out of it.
  • Seasonal / celebration food – Don’t get me wrong, I really like Christmas ham and Christmas food, but if it was my house, you probably wouldn’t find the peruna and lanttu laatikko on our table. You’d probably find turkey, oven baked potatoes, lots of fish, salad and sweet desserts

Have you lived here for a long time? Is there something you don’t do as the locals do?

p.s. Sorry for the recent absence. With the advent of school and ringette season (both mine and the Little Miss’) my energy has been focused on those things. It’s been tough to keep up!

If you can’t beat ‘em…

August 19, 2014

We came back to Finland from Canada a few weeks ago and the capital area was suffering from near drought conditions. It felt like the summer of 2010 all over again. Back then it was dry and the stinging insects were out in force. I also discovered that yellow jackets were a relative new comer to Finland.

The first day home and out in the back yard, we noticed: They’re back – and there are lots of them, AND they’re hungry.

The Little Miss even got stung by a bumble bee. It wasn’t pretty. :(

Eating supper out on the deck was not a good idea because we were getting dive bombed by yellow jackets and they were welcoming themselves on to our plates.

The solution? (Not poison… The occasional fly swatter, yes…) I bought cherries and now they’re happy and out of our food.

I rigged up a yogurt container, put a couple of cherries in it and hung it in our back yard. Problem solved. When they’re finished devouring the cherries, I go and grab a couple more out of the freezer and pop them into the container. What amazes me is how little time it takes these stingers to completely take apart a piece of fruit!

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<shrugs>

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Trip to Canada

August 12, 2014

I was “home” recently – home being where I grew up in Ontario. It was the first time I had been back in three and half years! (It was time.) It was nice to be back among family and friends and actually understand everything that was being said! A lot of things have changed: the trees have grown, buildings have disappeared, people have fixed their houses… I could go on about the subtle things I noticed or the things I take for granted, but caught my in-laws’ attention.

“Propaganda” signs

There were a lot of these…

I was taken aback by this and wondered why I needed to be told how to cross the road:

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Or how to exercise common sense:

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The street and road signage was way too busy! I realized this as we drove down the road on our way back to our (Finnish) home from the airport – there is less to look out for. I drove a rental while I was home, the first time I had driven there in ages (we usually put one driver on our rentals to save money). I had to be on the ball. The Mr. drove our rental for the last week of our trip in southern Ontario and I was glad for that, I would never survive driving in Toronto. On the day we were leaving we hit rush hour traffic, oh joy!

Driving

On the subject of driving we all know there are idiots on the road the world over and Ontario was no exception. Drivers there seem to weave in and out of traffic more often than they do here. Then again in southern Ontario there are three or more lanes on some of the highways.

Most people in Finland slightly exceed the speed limit while driving and the police mostly look the other way. In Ontario NO ONE drives the speed limit! Most people drive 10-20-30 km/h over the speed limit. We, the Finns driving the rentals, were the slow ones!

Pedestrian-friendly? Heck no! This time around I noticed more than ever that many of the places I visited were not designed with pedestrians in mind. In many places sidewalks are an after thought in consideration of the space allotted for them. In Niagara-on-the-Lake and Virgil, the bike path going through the community was only inaugurated in 2009. There has been some progress in getting bike lanes in Toronto, but cyclists still have to share the road with cars, buses and other large vehicles… No thanks, I’ll take the Finnish version of cycling paths any day. I never have to share the road with a car if I don’t want to.

Faucets, toilets, doorknobs, handles and locks

“Mommy, I don’t know how to flush the toilet!” was the first of many new challenges for the Little Miss. One thing I realized while we were there is that not every faucet, toilet, hand dryer, door knob, lock or handle is the same – anywhere. Finland is a pretty standardized country in comparison to Ontario. And the Little Miss wasn’t the only one. My in-laws were challenged by the faucets, toilet levers (or in some cases, buttons) and door knobs. The Mr.’s mom locked herself in the bathroom at my mom’s house and it took a few minutes for her to figure out how to unlock the door. (See a previous entry about door handles.)

Playgrounds

The Little Miss would normally pipe up, “Mommy, there’s a playground, can we go?!” if we drove by one. Normally we were able to humour her and check things out, but one thing I kept asking myself: where we are all the kids? Maybe it’s true, playgrounds don’t get used that much anymore. The playgrounds we visited were often empty and sometimes in a state of non-maintenance.

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Tractors

The father-in-law was fascinated with all things mechanical, tractors especially. He was amazed that the tractors were so “small” and so “old” compared to the ones that people use in Finland. I told him that a Finnish relative once told me that Finns had tractors that were far too big and expensive for the work they were doing on their farms. Well, in Northern Ontario the tractors may be older and smaller, but people still get by!

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Hey! Hay! Everywhere!

And on the topic of farming, it was hay season during our visit and the father-in-law again was amazed by how many hay fields there were in Northern Ontario. It appears that the hay season was pretty good, we saw tens of thousands of bales of hay with all the driving we did.

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Environment

Another thing that registered for the father-in-law was the mostly unmanaged forests in many parts of Northern Ontario. In Finland where the land has been forested several times over, a planted commercially valuable tree means money, lots of it. The father-in-law couldn’t understand why there was so much unmanaged forest, until we told him that property ownership is a little different in Canada, forestry is in the hands of large companies and that Every Man’s Right does not exist.

Clean lakes

In July in Finland, hundreds of people got sick with norovirus just from swimming in contaminated lakes! (The hot weather hastened that along, surely.) In Northern Ontario I am grateful to be able to swim in cleaner waterways and we did, a lot!

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Media

Summary: Sensationalistic, bordering on idiocy. The news reports were hyped up and made me feel there was an awful lot of scare-mongering going on. The reports were desinged to elicit emotions that’s for sure, and much of the time I was angry – angry that such horrible things happen on a daily basis all over the world. It’s not right.

I often felt like I was being talked to down to – advertisers were telling me how to take care of basic things in my life – trying to tell me I needed help. Advertsing was kinda over the top and in some cases downright eye-rolling dumb!

Other musings…

On a happy note, I was so pleased to be able to listen to my favourite radio stations CBC Sudbury and the music stations Q92 and Q107, it was so refreshing to hear Canadian rock music which doesn’t even register here in Finland. I am sorry Finland, you have no idea what you’re missing!

Things are always big in Canada (food packages, serving sizes, household appliances, cars, roads, etc.). I couldn’t get over the size of the washer and dryer set at a friend’s house. There is no way that would ever fit in our house!

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I now understand why Ontario’s road infrastructure costs so much! The shoulders on the highways are 3-4m wide, that’s an awful lot of infrastructure to maintain. Finnish highways have no shoulders… less to maintain.

We travelled to some new places and had some great experiences. The highlight of course was being among family and friends, although the Niagara area was very nice and our accommodations were superb!

Overall, I had a great time at home. A trip back to Canada is never long enough. Is there any way to move everyone closer to Finland? ;)

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Soft landing – back to reality!

August 5, 2014

Hello friends!

I was in Canada for four weeks and just got back a few days ago. In addition to getting back into the home and work routine, I am also struggling with slight jet lag. It is also HOT in southern Finland, so sleep is elusive these days. In any case there is a lot to tell and I’ll be back soon!

On our agenda was Niagara Falls (below). :)

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Maddening! Litter, but this takes the cake

June 27, 2014

I have often lamented about how awful littering has become in Finland. It seems there are stories about it in the daily news with reports about the mountains of garbage that the City of Helsinki (for example) picks up because of the disposable and throw-away culture we have become accustomed to.

I think it is unacceptable, and where there are opportunities to reduce, reuse, recycle (upcycle) and just-plain say no, we should exercise those options.

I was walking to work this morning and saw this cup discarded beside the sidewalk. This makes me crazy – this is GREENWASHING! There is nothing that makes the world better by using disposable cups – biodegradable or not.

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<rant over>

Midsummer greetings

June 19, 2014

Dear friends, Midsummer, aka Juhannus is upon us – in spite of the unseasonably cool weather. (The Finnish Meteorological Institute just tweeted a picture of snow in Ylläs!)

I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for surfing in and reading. Have a safe (and warm) Midsummer and I’ll repeat my holiday weekend mantra yet again: Drink responsibly, don’t drink and drive (or boat) and arrive alive!

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