To all young climate activists claiming we leave it all to them – Sorry, I beg to differ

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To all young climate activists claiming we leave it all to them – Sorry, I beg to differ

“You have failed us in the past. If you continue failing us in the future, we, the young people, will make change happen by ourselves. The youth of this world has started to move and we will not rest again.” Climate activist’s open letter in The Guardian, 1 March, 2019.

I am not young anymore, I am 50+ and typical middle age. Young climate activists nowadays quite often accuse older generations, or a least their political leaders, for failing them by not taking climate change and the loss of biodiversity seriously enough. Also the head master of Helsinki University, Jari Niemelä, indicated similar thoughts in his anniversary speech on 22 of March this year - “Toiminta ilmaston ja luonnon puolesta on ihan jokaisen asia. Tehtävää ei voi jättää pelkästään nuorille ilmastoaktivisteille”. The mission to save our nature and climate is everybodys duty and cannot be left to young climate activists alone.

I am not very happy about insinuations of this kind. We are not taking climate seriously enough - Really? I am a geophysicist who has for the last 10 years or so devoted much of my waking hours to develop, test and support climate scientist in using computational models of calving and disintegration of glaciers and ice shelves. This is one of the important missing pieces of global climate models, and that is just my small contribution to the vast international research effort to model how climate change may proceed and how we can tackle it.

Furthermore, we just initiated together with Helsinki University and others a long term EU-funded collaboration effort to support, by computational methods, the development of the first really large scale fusion reactor ITER that is being built in Cadarache in France. This effort was granted to us partly because we are currently installing a 500+ Petaflops computer LUMI in Kajaani to give us a chance to begin, in detail, to model the dynamics and material behaviour of fusion reactors. On top of that, the Kajaani data center uses hydropower and the excess heat of the computers cooling system will be used for heating houses in Kajaani – Our data-center have actually been labelled ‘carbon-emission negative’.

On a more personal level, I have been biking to work, or used public transport, for the last couple of decades, I own 15 hectares of forest that I have left growing for carbon uptake and to improve forest biodiversity. Also, I was part of the board of the environmental organisation Natur och Miljö, when a project to save the critically endangered pearl mussel (margaritifera margaritifera) in our local Esse-Å river was initiated. Last autumn we got really good news, when first new-born mussels in maybe a century had survived and grown for a few months in their natural habitat. Before this, there was only about 500 mussels, all with an age of a hundred years or more, still living in the river.

These are my personal efforts, and I constantly meet people of my generation with a similar resume of climate action. As an example - I ran into my neighbor recently. He is a leading figure in the Neste company efforts to replace fossil fuels with renewable fuels. This field of research has quickly and worldwide risen to massive proportions. I know there has been problems on the way, and biofuels certainly have their own environmental and efficiency problems – but problems exist to be overcome and the renewable-fuels industry is adapting fast. Together we discussed ways to utilize LUMI to support Neste in their efforts. If we, as a society, are going to have any chance to succeed in transforming to a carbon neutral future, companies like Neste, together with numerous others, as well as research institutes and technical universities, must be given all the support we can accomplish to aid their efforts to develop carbon neutral solutions. 

Can we do even more to reach carbon neutrality? Of course we can. LUMI will become operational at the end of this year – if there is any other company out there that has development or research ideas for a carbon neutral future that could benefit from computational support – do not hesitate to contact us. Contact info included.

Yes, the climate will change, and the globe will lose a great deal of its biodiversity in the future, but the situation is far from hopeless. Western Europe, for example, has historically lost a great deal of its biodiversity, but life here is still not miserable and there is still a lot of biodiversity to save. Also the climate has changed throughout history and we have, so far, always been able to adapt.

So, to all young climate activist – your task may well be to protest and demand changes and actions, but to claim that we in the older generations are not really contributing and that we leave the entire burden on you - Sorry, I beg to differ.

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Jan Åström

The writer is Fil. Dr. in Theoretical physics from Åbo Akademi University and a developer of scientific code at CSC.

jan.astrom (at)