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Harri Lammi

Harri Juhani Lammi
Born December 3, 1971

Master of Arts, University of Helsinki (theoretical philosophy)
Phd student in environmental politics 2001–05, University of Tampere

Senior campaigner (carbon) 2014–, adisor to the Chinese climate and energy campaign 2011–14, manager of the China Office’s carbon campaign team 2011–13, Programme Director of Greenpeace Nordic 2006–11, energy campaign officer 2000–02, Greenpeace
Part time lecturer 2003, researcher 2000, University of Tampere

Founder and board member of the windpower company Lumituuli Oy 1998–2000
Board member 1998–99, Friends of the Earth Finland
Vice-chairman 1997–98, Dodo ry

Photo: Salla Tuomivaara
Written by Harri Lammi (Tiia Niemelä, ed.)
Translated by Matthew Billington

Experiences from China

I went to China in 2011 as the manager of Greenpeace’s coal campaign team and an advisor to its climate campaign. The rapid change that occurred in China during those years was a real awakening. As the manager of Greenpeace’s Beijing coal team, I led a Chinese team, people who had not had much experience of NGO work, but also people who didn’t have the same problems of an entrenched debate. Our role in China was to provide alternative environmental knowledge through research and guide the debate to those issues that environmental officials could not tackle without public discussion.

In 2011 my first task was to develop a new carbon campaign strategy together with the team. We decided to focus on air pollution and the water consumption of the coal industry instead of climate change. The air pollution strategy worked surprisingly well and may tell us something more general about people’s motivational system. Although research suggests that the Chinese are not climate change sceptics, the issue feels distant to the man in the street. In contrast, no one can avoid air pollution, even the country’s top leadership. The issue is much closer to people’s everyday concerns, and even those who are basically uninterested in the environment are concerned about their own health and that of their children. Air pollution became an important subject of discussion in Chinese social media, and over the course of three years the discussion ultimately revolutionised China’s energy policy goals.

In Beijing smog with a breathing mask, 2015. In Particular, the smog in Beijing has prompted China to reign in its coal consumption.

The force that has most changed the Chinese energy debate is personal health concerns. When I arrived in the country in 2011, the Chinese man on the street had an extremely shaky understanding of what the fog they could see around them was and where air pollution came from. In the autumn of 2011, smog was present for particularly long periods. In Chinese social media, covering hundreds of millions of users, a rapidly intensifying discussion broke out on how serious the situation was. Our team began to communicate basic facts about air pollution on social media: it was a question of smog and exposure should be avoided, smog was formed from particulates that the government didn’t even measure, and particulates come from many sources, but primarily from industrial carbon consumption and traffic. Surprisingly, the government allowed this discussion, although it is common for it to actively monitor and restrict online discussions. After an intense three-month debate, the government promised public measurement of particulates and an air pollution programme in big cities.

The thing I miss most about Finland is the countryside, Eastern Lapland is often where I go hiking. Photo is taken from the summit of Pyhä Nattanen fell towards Lake Sompio

In the winter of 2012, people already had hour-by-hour information on their mobile phones about how bad the air pollution was in the cities. This was of crucial importance, as after this, air pollution episodes always caused an avalanche of turbulent discussion. Eventually, in the spring of 2013, China’s new government promised to intervene in the air pollution problem with an iron fist, as pollution was a direct challenge to the image of the good life sold to the middle class, the “Chinese dream.” As the only environmental organisation in mainland China, we had emphasised the role of coal in air pollution for years, and we had been in continuous dialogue, through advisors, with the Chinese government. We emphasised that reducing air pollution meant reducing the use of coal. Other organisations had considered this issue too sensitive in a country whose energy policy was founded on coal. The Chinese leadership nevertheless considered that the country’s dependence on coal had gone too far, and they announced a complete U-turn, an ambitious programme to reduce air pollution and coal consumption. Thus, the issue had become a question of authority, as the country’s top leadership had sworn to solve the problem. By intervening in the pollution caused by heavy industry, the Chinese government also made a virtue out of a necessity, as at the same time it reduced overcapacity in the old coal-based steel and cement industry and moved the structure of industry towards higher value-added sectors.

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