September 6, 2018

10 Questions: Tero Mustonen

Tero Mustonen is an adjunct professor, who is running the Snowchange Cooperative.

  1. What constitutes a perfect morning for you?

In winter, out seining on the ice at 6 am at -20ºC or, in the open-water season, an early morning out with my nets with the birds, rising sun and hopefully fat whitefish in the nets! An otter might be around too. We’re fishing together then.

  1. Was it something in your younger days that steered you toward science?

I was strongly drawn to history and social justice questions in my youth, but at 17 my first job was canoe guiding in the US–Canadian wilderness. Being in nature for weeks made me realise that sciences, including social sciences, are a powerful tool with which to understand the change we are in. Simultaneously, the gap between what nature really is and how limited a view science provides us is mesmerising.

  1. You have been the mainstay behind the award-winning Snowchange Cooperative for almost 20 years. What does it do, and why are you associated with it?

Big question and hard topics. Snowchange has weathered many storms and, as an organisation today, I think we are one of the most powerful international NGOs in our field. It has gone through its ups and downs. Snowchange supports indigenous and local-traditional villages, and their rights and cultures across the boreal and the circumpolar area, as well as conducts scientific work on biodiversity and climate change. Lastly, since 2014 or so, we have had a large portfolio of ecological restoration, led by the villages, to combat climate. We combine traditional knowledge and science.

I am associated with Snowchange because I strongly believe another way of governing natural resources, revitalising traditions and living in the peripheries of the north is possible. But we need somebody to actually show the way and do it! That’s why we exist: to provide a large-scale alternative to the current top-down models of governance in the north. On a lighter note, Neil Young seems to agree – he invited us to his 2016 Helsinki concert share our thoughts with him, so not all we do can be totally wrong!

  1. Have you had any mentors or has anyone made a big difference to your career?

I had the chance to receive a second “Ph.D” from the old Finnish professional fishermen on ice and water – people like Kalevi Vierikka, Kalevi Veko, Olli Klemola, Martti Välimaa, Esa Rahunen. Many of them were in their 80s and are now gone, but they showed me another Finland, the beauty of our icescapes and another way of connecting with our lakes, which is currently completely invisible. Finns are not indigenous peoples (the Sámi are), but we have a tremendous cosmo-vision, if you will, when it comes to our way of being with our lakes and forests, or what’s left of them, in our living tradition. Eero Murtomäki, an awarded nature photographer, has inspired my thinking of nature, as has Mikko Lamminpää, an outdoor specialist. A late Sámi traditional hunter Aslak Uula Aikio reminded me of the fragility of northern nature. As for international influences and thoughts, my head was wrecked early on by the social thoughts of Willy Brandt, the music of Pearl Jam and Tom Waits and the graphic novels of Neil Gaiman and Hugo Pratt, especially the Corto Maltese series. But the real authority for me is nature herself.

  1. From your perspective as an adjunct professor at the Department of Geographical and Historical Studies, where does Finland stand in the field of climate science?

We have three to four good people in the in the field who are world leaders. Unfortunately, collectively we are doing rather poorly in understanding the significance, implications and scale of what climate science is telling us. In Finnish academia, we are stuck in the 1960s when it’s 2018. We are doing especially poorly on the links between climate science and biodiversity changes, and social systems and communicating the implications of these findings in public – unlike Sweden, for example. Unfortunately, the sciences in Finland are heading to a sad place, brain drain seems to be big and we really don’t talk about it enough.

  1. You have recently been appointed as a lead author for Sixth Assessment Report of the United Nations-supported Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. How big an honour and responsibility is this?

It’s a dream come true. I am one of the lead authors for Europe and on some chapters for the Arctic. I’d like to think this is at the same time a recognition for the reindeer herders, fishermen and hunters – the women and men of the taiga and tundra – who have worked with Snowchange through the decades to convey their messages. I feel humbled to be the person to convey in science these and other climate messages at this crucial moment in human history. We cannot fail, and the financial, social and policy implications of our chapters are immense. For all of Europe. We will do all we can. What I can say from ‘behind the scenes’ is that the whole UN bureaucratic machinery is filled with very good people who know the urgency, the need to listen to all sources. Most of them really, really try their best. Let us hope politicians will follow suit!

  1. What have been the most rewarding or exciting aspects of your career to date?

I am a traditionalist. I strongly revere parts of the old Karelian and Finnish fishing cultures and what we know of them. I believe an alternative relationship with nature can exist. Together with Snowchange, we were able to revitalise seining in both Western and Eastern Finland in the 2000s, after a one-century gap. We are all different, but seining has united us for a moment to be like the people of old. I am not a big fan of global modernity or post-modernity. Nor do I long to the 1800s. We need to live now and here, but with a new awareness of what the traditions contained and how well all of this functioned with nature prior to large-scale cultural impositions in Finland. Forests and lakes were intact unlike now.

Meeting ministers and heads of state is part of my work, but it is not very exciting. It’s much more exciting to actually see indigenous and traditional villages that choose to revitalise their ways of life, culture and nature economies – these are people still with ‘non-global’ thoughts and minds. It is not wrong even though they might be different.

  1. How could traditional indigenous knowledge be better utilised in science?

This knowledge is in places 10 000 years old or older, as is the case with indigenous Australians. They survived, so something seems to work there. Science benefits from a respectful and rights-based dialogue with knowledge in establishing past changes, place name implications for biodiversity, community-based observations and positioning changes into local contexts. But most profoundly, and leaving all romantic stereotypes behind, this knowledge can convey profound messages of the relationships humans have with the cosmos. Finns have had it too. Unfortunately, as we are no longer on ice and in old-growth forests for extended periods of time, we seem to suffer from a collective amnesia and hence make bad decisions regarding nature.

  1. Being a globally renowned scholar on northern climate change, its impacts and adaptation, what is your number one tip for all of us to combat climate change?

Walk in nature without a hurry and a cell phone. Put down the silicon obsession. What was that bird and what did it seem to tell me? Find out.

  1. When are you at your happiest at work?

On Finnish lake ice checking nets or seining.

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