Common factor: Concern over environment

The Climate Café network is expanding to Oulu, as two residents of Oulu worried about climate change want to create a safe and open community for everyone. In the meetings, topics such as climate change as well as other environmental and preoccupying issues are discussed. The aim is to come up with local solutions to […]

TEKSTI Marjut Lauronen

KUVAT Tuuli Heikura

The Climate Café network is expanding to Oulu, as two residents of Oulu worried about climate change want to create a safe and open community for everyone. In the meetings, topics such as climate change as well as other environmental and preoccupying issues are discussed. The aim is to come up with local solutions to challenges posed by climate change from a northern perspective.

A relaxed hustle and bustle fills the Paljetti café at the Cultural Centre Valve on a Thursday evening in October. Oulu’s first Climate Café, which is part of the Climate Café movement, has gathered at the Paljetti café to talk about climate, environment, and sustainable development. Although the meeting is the first of its kind, nearly thirty persons interested in the subject have arrived there to chat about the topics.

As a phenomenon, the roots of the Climate Cafés are in 2015 in Scotland where a public lecture on climate change provoked discussion among the locals. People wanted to talk more about the topic and the idea of a monthly discussion group started forming.

Over time, the Climate Café community grew and new sub branches of it were formed all over Scotland and the world. The same goal connects all of the Climate Cafés that are part of the movement: to create safe spaces for conversations where everyone gets to chat and act on things that are dear to them.

Petr Stepanek, one of the organizers of Oulu’s Climate Café, also thinks that the people’s desire to talk about climate-related topics is strong, but finding a suitable environment for such discussions can be challenging.

“Climate change affects us all and it raises a lot of questions and worries. Many would like to talk about these things but they might not have gotten a chance to share their thoughts”, Stepanek notes. “Many also have the urge to influence and act on things but have no knowledge of how to do so.”

“Public discourse about climate change is also often very exaggerated”, mentions Veera Juntunen, one of the organizers. “Open and shared discussion could prove that this doesn’t have to be the case.”

Stepanek and Juntunen accidentally ended up talking with each other after one public lecture at the end of summer. During the summer, Stepanek had thought of organizing Climate Café activities at Oulu but he was faced with a language issue: he would need the help of someone fluent in Finnish because a shared language would help to handle things on a large enough scale and with the proper sensitivity.

When people are discussing difficult and worry-inducing topics, many find it is easier to talk about them in their native language. The threshold for participating in the Climate Café activities would be lower for many thanks to the use of two languages. Stepanek and Juntunen got on the same page very quickly and decided to bring Climate Café to Oulu.

Stepanek and Juntunen are both researchers at the University of Oulu. Stepanek works as a post-doctoral researcher of chemical physics in the NMR research unit and he also studies environmental engineering. Juntunen is working on a doctoral thesis about the production of solar hydrogen. Outside of work they are united by the worry about climate change and its impact on our environment which is why they are organizing a Climate Café in their freetime as a shared discussion space for the residents of Oulu.

“Above all we want to create communality, not an academic bubble. We are organizing the Climate Café as private persons, not in connection with the university”, Juntunen says.

The idea of the Climate Café is simple: those interested in the issue meet once a month over a cup of tea – or a cup of coffee, as we are in Finland – to chat about matters relating to climate change and other environmental challenges.

The communality cherished by the Climate Café concept is visible in the very first meeting as everyone gets to introduce themselves in turns. The participants come from different backgrounds but they all are brought together by the same thing: worry over the climate and our environment. Discussions are held both in Finnish and English in the meetings.

There is no specific, readily planned programme for future meetings as they are built around the wishes and needs of the participants. Besides discussion groups, the meetings can also include workshops or visiting speakers.

In Scotland, the local Climate Cafés have already been noticed by the decision-makers. In the beginning of October, in their meeting, the Scottish Parliament discussed the local effectiveness of the Climate Cafés as they managed to encourage local residents to save electricity by collaborating with the Heat energy guidance project.

The end result was impressive. The project reached over 700 households which means the amount of saved electricity was outstanding. Does the Climate Café of Oulu have similar goals?

Stepanek and Juntunen also hope that the ideas that develop in the Climate Café could be implemented in practice. “The ultimate idea of the Climate Café is to share thoughts and experiences”, Stepanek says.

“Oulu is a relatively large city and lots of professionals from different fields live here. We would like to have local experts with hands-on experience and insight on the topics at hand as our speakers.”

In fact, Stepanek and Juntunen want to highlight the northern outlook in the topics of the Climate Café. The Climate Café is meant to become a discussion space for the local community where ideas are expressed from the perspective of their own area, taking their needs into account. The goal is to find local solutions that mirror the experiences and wishes of the residents of Oulu.

When examining Oulu from the perspective of the northern climate, one of the changes caused by climate change is the increase in the rainfall in the future. Is the infrastructure of the city prepared for increasing rainfall? What’s the situation like outside of the city? Additionally, the issues with fast fashion and renewable energy provoke discussion also here in Finland. The organizers of the Climate Café are hoping to get experts to speak of these topics among other things, as well as of new topics that come up in the conversations.

When it comes to societal influencing and appealing to decision-makers, Stepanek and Juntunen emphasize that the Climate Café is politically unaffiliated. They want to maintain the meetings as spaces for discussion that are open for everyone. They don’t want to politicize the conversations that are had in the Climate Café but due to the nature of them, they might sometimes turn political. That is not the intention, however.

“The people coming to these meetings come here as professionals of their field, not as political figures. Apoliticism means the discussions remain open and welcoming for all participants”, says Stepanek.

You don’t have to be a professional of the field or know exactly what it is that you want to do to participate in the Climate Café. It’s also not mandatory to partake in the conversations: it’s enough that you are interested in the topic and want to listen to others’ experiences and ideas.

Stepanek and Juntunen encourage people to attend the meetings and just be themselves. Children are also welcome in the Climate Café. If you are unsure about participating, you can drop in without commitments and just feel out the atmosphere. To those who are thinking about what to bring up in the discussions of the Climate Café and to those who are thinking if they have anything to say, Stepanek and Juntunen say encouragingly: 

“Come as you are”.

The Climate Café gathers together once a month on Thursdays. More specific dates and locations can be found on the Climate Cafe Oulu Facebook page and on Instagram @climatecafeoulu.

Marjut Lauronen

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