Mining as a slow violence in Northern Finland?
Dr. Satu Ranta-Tyrkkö gave a fascinating presentation on 30th of May in the International summer school in social work. Ranta-Tyrkkö is a Finnish postdoctoral researcher from the University of Tampere. Her expertise is on eco-social and international social work, and she’s been doing research on mining industry’s implications on socio-ecological environment in Northern Finland and India. In her presentation she brought up suggestions on what social work as a discipline has to offer to study such implications. Furthermore she says that we can actually use our expertise and position to intervene in the unequal and excessive use of natural resources.
There are few features that make Finland a perfect destination to invest in mining, so it is Europe’s number one and fifth in global comparison. Firstly, Finland is politically stable and the infrastructure is already safe and comprehensive. Second, when mining permit is given, yield is nearly free for mining company, whether it is in foreign or Finnish ownership. Third, there is strong political will to get investments on mining in Finland as it creates employment and temporary growth to areas that would otherwise be economically stagnated. Ranta-Tyrkkö says that the employment effect is around 7000 jobs at the moment, which is many on Finnish scale.
Ranta-Tyrkkö has focused on Sodankylä area to have closer look at Kevitsa and its influence on community. Kevitsa is a large scale metal mine and it has given to small town of Sodankylä a significant economic boost. The employment influence is remarkable although many jobs are related to construction of mining area: when the construction of a mining area’s infrastructure and foundation is completed employment influence starts to decrease. Naturally, there are local people who have reacted to growth in mining industry and educated themselves to suitable field like engineering or geology, but it is relatively rare. Highly educated experts are often operating from abroad or posted to Sodankylä. Shorter vocational education in mining is provided in Lapin ammattiopisto, and it offers longer employment. The mine has indirect effect on services that the increasing population requires.
Ranta-Tyrkkö says that municipal social work practice needs to bend schedules to fit with working hours of miners and construction workers. The same applies to child day-care system, schools and other social and healthcare services as well as service sector operators. The problem is that mines deplete or are otherwise deactivated usually in 20-30 years.
Ranta-Tyrkkö says that although Finnish Lapland is sparsely populated, community cohesion is tight. People keep trying to find ways to stay near to relatives, friends and nature. Up North there are very few ways to find a living. Tourism and service sector do not attract men who were earlier working in forestry and logistics. Nevertheless they are men who stay and therefore gender distribution is often skewed.
Perhaps Lappish men tend to have closer connection to nature. Traditional gender roles address men outside and women inside the house in rural Finland. With urbanization leaving to cities and getting high education is strongly women’s act. However people face a difficult conflict when mining industry is spoiling beloved and empowering nature but is also only way to make a living. Ranta-Tyrkkö brings up Rob Nixon’s concept of slow violence. In this case, slow violence refers to a change in the environment that is difficult to detect during the process. The socio-ecological effects of change will only be visible gradually. Also small and perhaps disadvantaged communities have very little to say about mining permits and establishments. Large scale mining investors have political and economic power and Finnish legislation is mainly supportive to industrial development.
Municipal social work has an orientation of here and now, but it needs to be widened, says Ranta-Tyrkkö. Social work deals with and produces knowledge of people’s lives in society. Research and social workers have a perfect position to start discussions on socio-environmental implications of large scale mining and to bring out that extractive industry operators are only visiting but people have to stay in the exploited areas. Ranta-Tyrkkö suggests also that social work as a discipline and as a practice has a chance to stand on front line taking forward transition to more sustainable living. She reminds us that the ecological crisis is also a social crisis.
Social work student, University of Lapland