Operation Arctic, back from the Egypt climate summit: “Climate repair can still save our generation”

Imagine you are breaking a wooden chair and it has already started to come apart. If you still want to be able to sit on the chair, it is not enough to stop breaking it. You also need to repair the chair. The same applies to our climate: it is not enough to stop spewing emissions because the destruction has already taken place. That is why the climate must be repaired, Operation Arctic believes.

Ellen Haaslahti and Anni Pokela have just returned from the UN climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. They represented Operation Arctic there.

What is Operation Arctic?

“At the climate summit, it felt natural to introduce ourselves as part of a 14-person climate activist group that is currently focusing on a project called Operation Arctic. All but one of us have previously been involved in Extinction Rebellion Finland’s activities, but we’ve been working on this project independently for a couple of years now. We want to build bridges between environmental movements and the business world, for example,” Haaslahti says.

Just before the trip to Egypt, Haaslahti and Pokela learned that the operation had been granted funding from the Nessling Foundation in the 2022 grant call.

“We were pleased to receive a signal from society that it believes in our work and considers it important. In Egypt, however, the mood was mixed. On the one hand, it was great to meet other young activists, researchers and representatives of indigenous peoples. However, on the other hand, it seemed that the gap in understanding between them and decision-makers is still tragically large,” Haaslahti says.

“At the climate summit, it became even clearer to me that we, young people, need to organise ourselves. Representatives of the older generation are largely incapable of doing what we young people are able to do,” Pokela adds.

Raising awareness and initiating discussion as a solution

Operation Arctic focuses on two concepts that may be somewhat difficult to grasp: climate repair and Arctic climate tipping points.

As the name suggests, climate repair focuses on technologies that can be used to repair the climate, and a tipping point refers to an event that causes irreversible changes in the climate system. One such tipping point in the Arctic region is the complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet. It has been estimated that it may happen even at current temperatures and that if the ice sheet melted, it would eventually raise the sea level by 7 metres. The melting of the ice, on the other hand, will set off a chain reaction – when it is no longer reflecting sunlight away, warming will further accelerate.

The concepts are not that difficult to understand. Discussing them is the difficult part. Anni Pokela says that even climate movements do not necessarily talk about how serious our situation is, and climate repair just as an idea provokes an opposing reaction.

We should be able to look at different repair technologies one at a time instead of rejecting them all in one go.

“Emission reductions alone are no longer enough. If we refuse to even look at other solutions besides emission reductions, it means that we accept the consequences that global warming is causing at this rate. This is the moral issue at the core of our work: ignoring climate repair at this stage, and accepting the impacts that are already in the pipeline, is a violent act towards our generation.”

“The ideal outcome for our project would be to raise climate repair for discussion in Finland so that Finland could take the lead in the area. The ultimate goal is, of course, to try to avoid crossing the tipping points and thus guarantee the safest possible planet,” Haaslahti says.

“We know that the goal is ambitious, and that’s why we’re working towards it strategically and resolutely. We always think about what it takes to reach the next step and how best to get there,” Pokela adds.

Operation Arctic has an association behind it, and its members represent different fields. The members have backgrounds in fields such as sustainability sciences, gender studies, arts, philosophy of science, communications, linguistics, history, information systems science, political history and environmental economics. The oldest member of the group is 26 years old.

The 14-person group is organised into various work groups. The aim of the operation is first to compile information about climate repair in a form that is easy for the general public to digest, and then to launch a discussion on the topic at the level of decision-makers, particularly through various events.

Operation Arctic. In the top row, from the left, are Lassi Laakso, Liina Huttunen, Ainu Kyrönseppä, Saana Ott and Anni Pokela. In the bottom row, from the left, are Ada Koistinen, Dagmar Ilonoja, Justus Lehtisaari, Viktor Jaakkola and Ellen Haaslahti. Missing from the photo are Anton Keskinen, Vilma Lahdentausta, Topias Pihlamo and Pietari Purovaara.

“We want to talk specifically about climate repair, not about climate engineering. With the word ‘repair’, we want to highlight the fact that it is purposeful, planned and deliberate action that strives to repair parts of the climate system that are already falling apart,” Haaslahti says.

The young people involved in Operation Arctic believe that sooner or later someone will carry out climate repair anyway. They want to ensure that the action would then be as democratic as possible, based on solidarity and in line with climate justice. Several different climate repair technologies are currently being studied, and they can be divided into three categories: removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, limiting solar radiation reaching the Earth’s surface and local geoengineering.

“Our take is that we should be able to look at different repair technologies one at a time instead of rejecting them all in one go,” Haaslahti and Pokela say.

The general attitude towards climate repair is, in some respects, very critical. Operation Arctic has not been spared criticism, either. Still, the young people consider the work to be so important that it has to be done.

“Although we’ll probably find ourselves in a very tight spot between other activists and the technology bubble, for example, we’ve come to the conclusion that, at this point, it’s worth trying to build some kind of bridge there,” Haaslahti says.

In 2022, the Nessling Foundation granted a total of EUR 2.3 million in funding to 28 new projects. Operation Arctic is one of them. You can follow Operation Arctic on the project’s website and on social media @operaatioarktis.

See the list of all funded projects.

Photos: Annukka Pakarinen