The New Geography of Health
I will always remember the feeling I had when I stepped my foot down on Beijing railway station in Autumn 1983. I had come by train all the way from Helsinki,through Siberia. As I went to explore the city, I saw immediately what was strikingly different to what I had seen elsewhere in capitals: instead of huge amount of cars filling roads, here you could mostly only see bicycles, some buses somewhere in the middle of bicycle jam, and then, very far and few between, occasional cars. It was a very thrilling outlook.
Fast forward 30 years: Today, the streets of Beijing are filled with cars as everywhere else and with it came pollution and smog. And it is not only the immediate cities but also large regions around that are suffering. Recently professor Hi Dongxian from China Agricultural University expressed his concern by saying that conditions in China start to resemble that of nuclear winter. In a similar vein, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has come up with report saying that because of excessive pollution Beijing has become close to "uninhabitable for human being" .
So is this the inevitable price China has come to pay for its material and social progress? If so, even in the face of impressive development China has generated, we must ask why on Earth they are cutting their very own branch they are sitting from the tree? Already now, in many areas, the agricultural production has decreased, simply because photosynthesis just don't work so well if pollutant particles mirror the sun rays back to the space.
But things can be changed: Closer to my home Baltic sea is one of the most polluted seas around the world. Its shape has been deteriorating for a long time to the extent that now in the "normal" summer you always at some point in summer see the the masses of algae forming that live from the massive overdose of phosphorus and nitroxen. It has been heartbreaking to see how sick that our little ocean has become. Some weeks back I had the pleasure sailing with Ilkka Herlin and some of his crewfrom Baltic Sea Action Group. They have done a marvelous work to save the Baltic by tacking the most important polluters at their front yard. Together with their networks they have really been able to turn the tide: particularly improving the way wastes are treated in and around St Petersburg. They also hit the counterparts in high political level and initiated contract among all states around Baltic to cut off the pollution streams to the sea. Here Poland seems to be the toughest case but I am sure they will get over every obstacle.
The point is: there are limits what people tolerate. The more information flows the less they tolerate in terms of harmful side-effects. People are simply becoming aware what a terrible price we have to pay if do not take care of what is happening to our environment.
In addition, new generations want to do things differently. Less grey, more green. Urban gardening is spreading fast and we see these all these sort of initiatives everywhere. Germany is probably the most advanced country in these terms, but you can see the same thing happening in US. Here in Finland some DODO-activists started years back to build a greener and healthier city with a lot of success. I can tell for my very rather extensive experience that there are very few other occupations that increase more your mental health than gardening.
All this boils down to the fact that people see today much more clearly the connection between space and health. We need to nurture our health and well being by creating spaces where we feel happy. It is a grassroot movement that is spreading everywhere where people live in the same way as there is also growing movement around conscious tourism as a reflection around the real impact we have when we explore sensitive nature reserves.
It's time to be aware.