Pro-nuclear environmentalists gain in Finnish elections

I wrote earlier about two interesting developments in Finnish politics. First, four municipal election candidates from the traditionally strongly anti-nuclear Green party published an opinion piece where they clearly stated that humanity no longer has the luxury of opposing nuclear energy. Second, well over hundred election candidates from all the major parties – the Greens included – signed a petition calling for feasibility studies for nuclear district heating to provide heat for Finnish cities.

The election was held last Sunday, and the results are now clear. A major winner of the elections was the Green party. The Greens took 12.4 percent of the total vote, the largest share of votes in their history, and they are now the largest party in Jyväskylä, a medium-sized university city, while being close seconds in Helsinki and Turku and the third in Tampere. The Greens were also, remarkably, able to gain seats and in a few cases even majorities in municipal councils of many smaller localities. This is a significant achievement that so far had eluded the mostly city-centric party, and the Greens can now honestly claim to be a nation-wide political movement now.

Even though the results reflect politics well beyond environmentalism (the major issues motivating people to vote Green were likely education, strong urban policies, and opposition to right-populist Finns party), and even though the Green party line is still solidly anti-nuclear, the results are encouraging for an environmentalist. The Green victory should cause at least some reassessment in other parties, and environmental issues are almost certain to gain at least a little bit in the future. While many important environmental policies are decided in Brussels and on a national level, municipalities in Finland have considerable power to help or hinder environmental efforts through e.g. zoning and decisions about energy sources used by municipal energy companies.

For a growing number of pro-nuclear environmentalists, the results are even more interesting: it seems that being even quite strongly pro-nuclear did not prevent anyone from being elected, and in some cases being pro-nuclear might have actually gained the candidate some votes. While the four explicitly pro-nuclear Greens mentioned above gained “only” enough votes for vice-councilors (that is, they provide the backup in case the officeholder isn’t available; however, vice-councilors often serve in various committees nevertheless, and the vote tallies of the four were quite respectable), eleven signatories of the nuclear district heating proposal were elected as full members of their respective city or municipal councils. Among them was the primus motor of the proposal, the Pirate Party member and physics PhD Petrus Pennanen, who also gained some publicity by explicitly proposing to use nuclear heat to replace coal and biomass in Helsinki’s heating. While other factors were at play, at a minimum it can be said that being strongly pro-nuclear and favoring strong climate policies did not prevent Petrus from increasing his catch by a staggering 1099 votes from the last municipal elections, and making him one of the two first elected Pirate Party members in Finland.

Another very interesting case was the extremely good showing of Green party member Mr. Atte Harjanne, a 32-year old PhD researcher at the Finnish Meteorological Institute (where he studies climate mitigation). Atte has become known as a strong proponent of all emission-reduction alternatives, made an official proposal to end nuclear opposition in the Green party convention, and even wrote an opinion piece supporting the controversial Fennovoima nuclear plant project just before the elections. Despite such stances, which are still an anathema to many traditional Greens, and in spite of being a relatively unknown first-time candidate, Atte gained 937 votes in Helsinki, more than enough to comfortably secure a seat in the city council. (Disclaimer: I’m one of the people who provided a recommendation for Atte.)

The elections and their results are therefore an encouraging sign: the importance and potential of nuclear energy to help in the climate fight is beginning to spread even to the traditional bastions of anti-nuclear movement, and it is totally feasible to be elected into the city council of Finland’s capital while being Green and pro-nuclear. (It needs to be said, though, that the outgoing Green party leader, Mr. Ville Niinistö, did declare before the elections that he would use a Green victory to withdraw major municipal energy companies from the Fennovoima nuclear project, thus depriving Finland of 50% more low-carbon electricity than outlawing wind power altogether. However, the fact that the Greens came only second in Helsinki and Turku is likely to derail such populist proposals, which would be infeasible due to contractual obligations anyway.) At the same time, the strong showing of the Green party as a whole tells that at a minimum, demanding strong climate policies does not prevent a success in the elections – and may even help politicians to get elected.

About J. M. Korhonen

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4 Responses to Pro-nuclear environmentalists gain in Finnish elections

  1. Ikemeister says:

    Having seen what Green Party politics is like in other countries, especially in Europe, I have to say I’m skeptical. But hey, if Finland becomes the first country with a Green party in charge that supports nuclear, it would send shock waves through Green Party politics around the globe. All I can do is root for everyone that realizes that nuclear is necessary and not the boogeyman most greenies imagine!

    • I think there will always be a hardcore anti-nuclear political movement – extremist political movements are not exactly amenable to rational discussion of evidence. But it is encouraging that cracks are beginning to appear in the facade of old-fashioned environmentalism, as more and more people are beginning to realise that we can’t solve the problems of the 21st century with 1970s thinking.

      The constant theme from these pro-nuclear environmentalists in these elections was that the Greens, who traditionally have had a monopoly on environmental thinking, aren’t doing enough for the climate. Petrus Pennanen in particular has criticised the Greens pretty harshly about this, yet he still carried the day. That’s also encouraging, because it is a fact that the climate plans the traditionalist Greens endorse simply don’t add up. They’re better than what competing political parties so far have promoted, but the Green push will mean that they’re beginning to pay attention. A direct outcome is that the old powerhouse, the Social Democrat party, is likely to have its first actual energy and climate strategy ever.

  2. I’m not sure that having plans drafted at the political level is such good news. I’ll take a case in point: France.

    Let’s put aside the question of the nuclear share of electricity production. It turns out that in the 2015 law, the target of a reduction of 50% of final energy consumption from 2012 to 2050 is written black on white. If you do some maths, that means a 1.8%/year reduction. Statistics show that every year in France for some time, the energy intensity of GDP decreases by 1.3%/year. If one merely wants to stabilize unemployment, it is generally estimated that a growth of 1.5%/year of GDP is necessary.

    Hence, if the energy intensity trend continues, one ought to see a recession of -0.5% of the GDP every year up to 2050. Conversely to stabilize unemployment, the energy intensity ought to decrease by 2.8%/year.
    It is unlikely this plan can add up. But it was nonetheless written into law, because it was the grist of an electoral agreement with the (french) Green Party on the campaign trail. The take away is that it’s not because political parties start being interested in energy issues that actual solutions will be brought to the forefront.

  3. Pingback: What the Finnish municipal elections tell, and don’t tell, about nuclear power? | The unpublished notebooks of J. M. Korhonen

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