Lapland: A Prisoner of Geography

Photo of a landscape in Lapland

. . . Laplanders know that geography brings with it vulnerabilities. Finland’s shared border with Russia – which spans more than 1,300 km to the east – has been an increasing concern since Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. Three months later Finland applied to join Nato. The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the move was an “escalation” that “forces us to take countermeasures to ensure our own tactical and strategic security”. Finland became a full member of the defence alliance in April 2023.

Nato membership has not insulated Finland from Russian aggression. In recent weeks, Finnish border guards have reported a large increase in asylum seekers, many of them from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, attempting to cross the border from Russia. Finnish officials accuse their neighbour of aggressive tactics like those previously employed by Belarus, which since 2021 has been pushing thousands of asylum seekers over the border into Poland. In November alone, more than 900 asylum seekers crossed the Russian border into Finland; prior to November, ten or fewer such crossings took place each month.

On 22 November the Helsinki government, hoping to stem the flow of refugees, announced that it was closing seven of its crossings on the Russian border, leaving just one, Raja-Jooseppi in Lapland, open. (Update: on 28 November the government ordered the entire border closed.) Anxiety over Russian hostility is high. In a low-lit restaurant adorned with reindeer antlers in central Rovaniemi, Antti Kokkonen, the editor-in-chief of Lapin Kansa, Lapland’s largest daily newspaper, told me that “there is a lot of worry that hiding among these migrants are little green men”. This is a reference to the Russian soldiers in unmarked clothing who infiltrated and then helped to annex Crimea in 2014.

Megan Gibson, "Lapland: A Prisoner of Geography," The New Statesman, November 29, 2023.

Some People at UC-Berkeley

Charisma Acey

Christopher Alexander

Michael Burawoy

Manuel Castells

Karen Chapple

Bradford DeLong

David Harding

Martin Sanchez-Jankowski

Michel Laguerre

Clare Cooper Marcus

Carolyn Merchant

John Powell

Robert Reich

Carolina Reid

Harley Shaiken

Neil Smelser

Sandra Susan Smith

Laura D'Andrea Tyson

Kim Voss

Loïc Waquant

Margaret Weir

The Point of No Return

Eric Holthaus, "The Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here," Rolling Stone, August 5, 2013.

On July 20th, James Hansen, the former NASA climatologist who brought climate change to the public's attention in the summer of 1988, issued a bombshell: He and a team of climate scientists had identified a newly important feedback mechanism off the coast of Antarctica that suggests mean sea levels could rise 10 times faster than previously predicted: 10 feet by 2065. The authors included this chilling warning: If emissions aren't cut, "We conclude that multi-meter sea-level rise would become practically unavoidable. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea-level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization" . . . .

James Hansen, the dean of climate scientists, retired from NASA in 2013 to become a climate activist. But for all the gloom of the report he just put his name to, Hansen is actually somewhat hopeful. That's because he knows that climate change has a straightforward solution: End fossil-fuel use as quickly as possible. If tomorrow, the leaders of the United States and China would agree to a sufficiently strong, coordinated carbon tax that's also applied to imports, the rest of the world would have no choice but to sign up. This idea has already been pitched to Congress several times, with tepid bipartisan support. Even though a carbon tax is probably a long shot, for Hansen, even the slim possibility that bold action like this might happen is enough for him to devote the rest of his life to working to achieve it. On a conference call with reporters in July, Hansen said a potential joint U.S.-China carbon tax is more important than whatever happens at the United Nations climate talks in Paris.

One group Hansen is helping is Our Children's Trust, a legal advocacy organization that's filed a number of novel challenges on behalf of minors under the idea that climate change is a violation of intergenerational equity — children, the group argues, are lawfully entitled to inherit a healthy planet.

A separate challenge to U.S. law is being brought by a former EPA scientist arguing that carbon dioxide isn't just a pollutant (which, under the Clean Air Act, can dissipate on its own), it's also a toxic substance. In general, these substances have exceptionally long life spans in the environment, cause an unreasonable risk, and therefore require remediation. In this case, remediation may involve planting vast numbers of trees or restoring wetlands to bury excess carbon underground.

Coalition of the Willing

The " Coalition of the Willing": Afghanistan, Albania, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uzbekistan.