Children demand faster results in the protection of the Baltic Sea: ‘The sea is ours, the responsibility is yours!’

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Lasten Itämeriprotesti. Kuva Erika Weckström.
Lasten Itämeriprotesti. Kuva Erika Weckström.

The Lasten Itämeriprotesti (the children’s Baltic Sea protest) event on 25 May was the highlight of a project, spanning several months, where children got ready to tell the adults what should be done to protect the Baltic Sea.

The protest was sparked by the open letter, sent in July 2014 by Vera and Isak Meriläinen to Helsingin Sanomat and Hufvudstadsbladet, demanding that the adults save the Baltic Sea. The sea they could not swim in because of blue-green algae.

We want a cleaner sea. Do something now! – Ett renare hav, det är vårt krav!

Participants at the event in Narinkkatori included dozens of children, their parents and grandparents, and also representatives from civic organisations. The children took to the stage to present a list of their demands to politicians. The list included the demand that politicians should help farmers help the Baltic Sea, and also stated that the politicians should not let ships pollute the sea.

The fluently bilingual and welcoming event featured music and dance performances. The audience was wowed by, for example, Sotta and Pytty, Satin Circus, and the Galante and Tähtisumu children’s choirs. Sotta and Pytty made the protesters sing, while Satin Circus summarised the message in their own fashion: less crap into the sea! The graceful performances by the children’s choirs wrapped up the message and petition of the event. The children had rehearsed their performances and MC duties in workshops.

Seppo Knuuttila, Senior Research Scientist from the Finnish Environment Institute, wanted to join the event because he himself had as a child been awakened to the importance of protecting the Baltic Sea. He told the children that roughly 50 years ago, he was particularly concerned about the future of the white-tailed eagle. Knuuttila answered the questions posed by the children, and, to sum up, identified the three things we can all do that impact the status of the sea. Knuuttila encouraged everyone to switch to the Baltic Sea diet: eat less meat, and replace meat with wild, sustainably caught fish from the Baltic Sea. Secondly, Knuuttila advised everyone to use electricity from renewable sources of energy. His third tip was reducing the use of chemicals: ‘wastewater treatment plants have not been designed to remove harmful chemicals’.

Seppo Knuuttila also advised the children to ask members of parliament what they have done for the Baltic Sea. Included in the Baltic Sea protest event programme were, in fact, the promises and responses members of parliament had given to the children. The participation of the politicians was, however, muted, and the one member of the parliament who had been invited on stage could not make any concrete suggestions with which he would have answered the children’s demands.

Sixten Korkman, one of the event’s patrons, did not feel that this was a major issue, as performances by politicians were not the event’s foremost achievement or objective. Essentially, the event was about protecting the Baltic Sea and inspiring the kind of change in attitude that is required for this task. Korkman stated that ‘for democracy to function, we need well-informed citizens. It is simply wonderful to have children practising how they can impact society. At the same time, they learn that taking care of our important, shared issues also involves taking responsibility for ensuring such issues stay on the agenda. Protecting the Baltic Sea is a value by itself. Lasten Itämeriprotesti carries a strong symbolic message: it reminds us of the fact that saving the sea for future generations is the responsibility of our generation.’

Lotta Ruokanen from the City of Helsinki Environment Centre is the coordinator of the Baltic Sea Challenge: she explained that cities and municipalities can do a lot to save the Baltic Sea. Examples of such actions include the efficient treatment of wastewaters, and the natural treatment of rainfall as heavy rains increase. The City of Helsinki, for example, receives wastewaters from boats and ships that enter the Helsinki Harbour and its small boat harbours. Moreover, the city has over 400 hectares of farmed fields that do not use any artificial fertilizers.

Natur och Miljö and the Finnish Nature League were the main organisers of the event; the John Nurminen Foundation provided volunteer help throughout the event.