University of Helsinki: FLOWISION exposes the hidden production chains associated with gas and oil flows as well as their environmental impact

The differences between Finnish and Russian energy cultures make it difficult to assess international and cross-border environmental effects. According to Professor Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen, who heads the recently launched FLOWISION consortium, the visibility or invisibility of energy production chains is always political.

“The invisibility of energy infrastructures or the visual highlighting of production chains is considered apolitical, a matter to be left to engineers and economists. However, this is not the case. Just in terms of visibility, energy and waste are part of climate and environmental policy,” Tynkkynen says.

The project promotes climate-friendly politics and good practices. Among other things, the researchers will examine energy and waste infrastructures as well as how energy and waste are discussed in the energy industry, the media and among civil activists, and how related flows are made visible.

Towards a carbon neutral world
The project aims to produce tools for the transition to a carbon neutral world. In Russia, the national identity is built on energy-derived wealth originating in oil and gas. The production processes associated with fossil energy sources have a direct impact on the everyday life of many people, and they elicit pride. In contrast, most of the energy consumed in Finland is imported. In addition, Finland, like the rest of the EU, is aiming for carbon neutrality, which leads to fossil fuel flows being hidden instead of brought to the fore in the everyday landscape.

“We are still dependent on fossil energy sources. Making this fact visible provides us with more means to abandon fossil fuels, as we will know whether the energy we consume is produced from fossil or renewable resources,” Tynkkynen says.

What cannot be identified cannot be changed. Even though Finland and Europe are investing heavily in renewable energy, the energy transition and carbon neutrality will remain difficult to achieve as long as hidden fossil fuel flows, which still cover roughly three quarters of Europe’s total energy demand, are neglected.

“Learning to trace the energy we consume and see its overall impact helps us choose. Much like the effects of cigarettes are displayed on cigarette packets, fossil energy flows and their diverse environmental and health effects should be made visible in society.”

Through basic research, the project will describe the means with which the energy sector, the media and civil activists can establish an overview of energy and waste as societal phenomena.

The project will expose natural resource flows coursing through society thanks to collaboration with researchers, journalists and artists. Newspaper articles, a documentary film and a photo exhibition will be produced on the project’s research topics, energy and waste flows in Finland and Russia. This will present silent, hidden or unilaterally presented energy and waste flows in a new light in public discussion.

Russian energy culture continues to rely on fossil resources
With its major environmental problems, Russia is hardly considered a country that could teach others about sustainability. However, the strong economic and even cultural dependence on fossil fuels of the political leadership and entire society in Russia opens up new perspectives.

“By investigating Russian energy culture, we can learn to see energy flows that are currently hidden, and make decisions that affect them. This way, we can promote an increasingly responsible climate and environmental policy also globally.”

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