Mika Nieminen: “We spend a lot of time in air-conditioned spaces that climate change doesn’t 'touch' us much.”

Mika Nieminen: “We spend a lot of time in air-conditioned spaces that climate change doesn’t 'touch' us much.”

Head of Degree Programme in Energy and Environmental Engineering, hydrobiologist and researcher Mika Nieminen is among all confined titles, an environmental activist preaching sustainable development to anyone concerned about climate change and preserving traditional knowledge.

From classroom lectures at TAMK to poem translation for The Fisher Poets Gathering in Oregon, Mika Nieminen's genuine interest in people and strong connection with nature go hand in hand a long way to meet those with kindred spirits.

Born and bred in Tampere, Mika first saw Tampere University of Applied Sciences with student eyes in 2002. He graduated three years later with a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Engineering and the desire to become a limnologist. He went to study Limnology and Hydrobiology at the University of Jyvaskylä, and after a series of events, Mika returned to TAMK in 2015 as Senior Lecturer in Energy and Environmental Engineering. Five months later, he became the Head of the Degree Programme.

– I teach as much as I can. I like it and that's why I came here. I get a lot of help from my colleagues and without them, being where I am now would not be possible at all.

Sustainable living is the future

Energy and Environmental Engineering is one of the oldest English degree programmes in Finland with a history spanning two decades. Sustainable development seemed to be a trendy word in the past, but it has become acknowledged by most organisations and enterprises nowadays. TAMK is one of the organisations who understood its importance and committed to focus on creating and maintaining energy-efficient and healthy built environments. Sustainable development and circular economy started to reflect in the courses taught at TAMK.

– Sustainability is so important to us that we don't need to mention it anymore. It's ingrained in our actions, Mika firmly believes.

The ideology behind sustainable development is for everyone and so is the environmental field. Mika provides constant support to his students hoping the new generation of environmental engineers will be more aware of the scientific side of the studies.

– This is an engineering programme at the core, and we base our operations and teachings on natural sciences. While it's important to have an idealistic side, students need to be interested in the scientific side of environmental issues too, he claims.

Mika also wants to emphasise the role of fieldwork and taking high-quality samples arguing that "not everything has come digital and field work is at risk to be neglected by modern environmental engineers". During his working years at The Finnish Environment Institute, he came to a conclusion:

– The most difficult task is to take a reliable biological sample. It's a complex process and intriguing to a great degree. But you cannot do a research without taking good samples.

Why climate change doesn't touch us much

Climate change has been on the radar for a few years now, yet most people fail to take it seriously. Has Mika got an explanation for why the world is slow in responding?

– I think it takes a while to understand the mechanisms behind climate change. We spend a lot of time indoors, in air-conditioned spaces where it feels that climate change doesn't "touch" us much.

He says it's possible to build an emergency state concerning climate change. It starts on an individual level and transfers to the community. The challenge is to establish the feeling of a community because "if we don't have common goals in our communities, I don't see great change happening".

Poetry as an excellent way to contemplate big questions in life

Remaining outdoors to discuss a captivating matter, one has got to ask a native environmentalist about the authentic connection between Finns and nature. A bittersweet smile appears on Mika's face as he opens up.

– There's a thing we call traditional knowledge and is passed on from generation to generation. We get a basic idea of being in nature in our early childhood. It's not about surviving but looking at the forest as a self-evident truth. The forest is not something to be afraid of. It's a resource. Sometimes I feel we're slowly losing the connection with nature. Perhaps we should cherish it more often and remember that we still have it. I believe that if one loses the connection with nature, one simply cannot understand it anymore.

Traditional knowledge is gathered over trial and error and can only be stored through practice. It's a component of the Finnish cultural system and comes with benefits. 

– Many Finns are rethinking how to use the forest in a more sustainable and clever way. It's a gift to have trees all around us.

Another gift Mika shares with the world apart from his teachings takes the form of poetry. He published two poetry books caused by "an inner difficulty of finding out what I want to be when I grow up" as he humorously puts it. His curious spirit discovered a gathering in Oregon, and fascinated by the idea of fishermen getting together to sing and recite poems, sent them a poem called "Follow your path". Years later, he accidentally met one of the fishermen in Jyvaskylä. It only proves how small the world is and that "you always end up knowing someone who knows somebody and you find mutual friends".

Text: Andruta Ilie
Photo: Anna Vättö


Energy and Environmental Engineering

Read More: Energy and Environmental Engineering
Published 30.01.2018