Protection of the Environment
Although Finland had a very low population density and was famed for its many areas of nearly untouched nature, it had not been spared environmental pollution. Some of this came from neighboring countries, such as the dose of radiation it received after the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Soviet Union in 1985. In this case, there was little damage because the radiation fell too far south to harm reindeer herds and fell too early to contaminate grasses and vegetables that have a late growing season because of Finland's long winter.
Domestic sources also contributed significantly to the country's problems with environmental pollution. The exceptionally strong growth rate of an economy based to a considerable degree on energy-intensive industries was a factor, as were the fertilizer-dependent agricultural sector and the wood-processing plants that, between them, contributed much to the pollution of Finnish rivers and groundwater. By the 1980s, Finland registered considerably higher sulfur and nitrogen emissions than other West European and Nordic countries, and its discharge of oxidizable matter into water was three times the average of the members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Finnish efforts to protect the environment began in the 1920s with the Nature Conservation Act of 1923, which allowed the establishment of nature preserves if they were needed. Since then there have been many laws covering different aspects of environmental protection, including water purity, control of poisons and pesticides, establishment of an oil pollution fund, waste management, prevention of marine and air pollution, and reduction of noise.
An attempt to protect the environment more thoroughly was evident in the formation of a ministry specifically pledged to this task. Established in 1983, the Ministry of Environment had four departments, employing about 250 persons in all. One department dealt with administrative matters, while the other three were concerned with environmental protection and nature conservation, physical planning and building, and housing. In 1986 the National Board of Waters with its 1,400 employees was renamed the National Board of Waters and the Environment and was placed under the new ministry.
In the mid-1980s, Finns were concerned about the environment, and a study found that only 11 percent of them would place economic growth above protection of the environment. Many believed ecological conditions were worsening. A 1983 poll found that only 31 percent of those questioned--compared with 57 percent in 1973--believed their country's environment to be very good or excellent. Another indication of Finns' concerns was the birth in the early 1980s of a new political party, the Greens, which was remarkably successful in elections. Commitment to pollution control also was seen in the portion of research money going to environmental research, which compared well with that spent by other countries. Despite these measures, there were observers in the late 1980s who contended that Finnish efforts in this area needed further improvement.
An OECD study published in 1988 held that, despite improvements, Finland still did not have an adequate environmental program. There was still no single law relating to the environment, and different ministries often did not consult sufficiently with one another about the ecological impact of their plans. Despite the existence of excellent statistics about damage to the environment, decision makers were often not well informed about them. Also lacking, according to the OECD report, was a sufficient assessment, when making plans for economic development, of the real costs of pollution. Recommended for a more economical defense of the environment were an exact consideration of these costs and an increased use of the "polluter pays" and "user fees" principles. The report noted, too, that many local authorities lacked the expertise to deal properly with ecological decisions; moreover, because they were suspicious of the power of provincial-level and national-level officials, they were reluctant to cooperate fully with them.
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