Piret Räni: Nature and a feeling of home instead of grand developments

Piret Räni.
Piret Räni. Source: Kristi Teemusk

We do not need to care for nature because we fear fines, but to keep life. We consider ourselves intelligent creatures and should therefore be able to understand that destroying other life amounts to destroying ourselves, Piret Räni writes.

It is a time of crises. Man's collective "effort" has left us with climate change and dwindling biodiversity that come with an even greater challenge for the current economic model – a crisis or resources.

All of these crises require contemplation and need to be given meaning on the state level. What do we really need? What is actually important? What could give as many people as possible certainty?

We have run out of resources needed to execute every grandiose whim. Actual resources. I am not talking about money, which is made up and can always be redefined or printed in greater quantities. I am talking about rock and sand, earth and water, woods and fields.

Home is the most sacred place for Estonians. We define what it means to be Estonian through our homes, the woods and the sea, our fields, language and culture. It is the native's perspective. We are the land.

From here on out, every major development will grind people's homes into required materials. The economic momentum is great and it takes strength to stop developments. We need to find that strength, take a collective look in the mirror and realize that while we can make the current sufficiency a little more comfortable still, we simply cannot do everything we dream about.

Let us take a look around. People defending themselves from their own state are all around. Going to court to stop mines from leaving their wells dry, putting their own money toward protecting nearby woods, saving their habitual landscapes as they love them.

The people of Võru County are forming ranks to stop a military training area expansion from rendering the cradle of their special language and culture uninhabitable. The residents of Letipea are fighting against a private nuclear plant that Estonia hasn't even greenlit, while development is already underway. The west of Estonia is facing the Rail Baltic route cutting villages and roads in half and wells going dry as endless mining permits threaten to destroy our fragile groundwater system.

We need laws to stipulate that local life must not suffer as a result of major developments, irrespective of whether they are sought by the government or a private company. Estonia must make sure those who find themselves in trouble because of developments get help and a new place to live if necessary. In cases where someone's home is damaged, their quality of life needs to be improved compared to the previous situation. The government must make sure people get a new and better place to live in the same area if their well runs dry. Estonia cannot evict people for market price and compulsory purchases must not be allowed.

Only the government can guarantee a level living environment or compensation if damage has occurred. The state issues development permits and thereby assumes responsibility. No matter what happens to the developer, local residents whose living environment is damaged must not be the ones to pay the price.

The obligation to see the big pictures also lies on the state, just as it must make sure developments do not destroy the natural environment. Unfortunately, nature conservation has taken a back seat in Estonia as the economy is seen as beneficial, while maintaining the natural environment is not.

It is especially difficult to retain biological diversity. Species need different habitats, while human activity is steadily reducing them. Diversity cannot adjust on roadsides, clear-cut patches of forest, poisoned fields or bicycle paths. Measures and quotas for loss of biodiversity are just a matter of time, as are major fines. This in addition to the carbon emissions fine that Estonia has already been handed for overexploitation of forests.

However, we do not need to care for nature because we fear fines, but to keep life. We consider ourselves intelligent creatures and should therefore be able to understand that destroying other life amounts to destroying ourselves.

Therefore, we understand that we must not ruin natural communities that still survive in the name of resources. Developments must not get in the way of new natural conservation areas. No environmental impact assessment can be merely ticking a bureaucratic box. The assessments need to be honest and their conclusions observed. If scientists find that a place is important for the local biota, it is simply unsuitable for development, no matter how much money someone has to move around.

It has been suggested recently that Rail Baltic needs a new cost-efficiency study. We could also use a new environmental impact assessment that would consider the entire material use cycle, damage done to Rääma marshlands and total carbon emissions.

We must know in advance how many families will lose access to water, the feeling of home or familiar landscapes. It is probable that analyzing new and honest assessments would lead us to conclude that trains should remain on existing routes. Besides, the European Union has decided that all railroads must switch to the same track gauge, which makes this the perfect time to modernize the Koidula and Pärnu lines and permanently connect them to Latvia. Do we really need a new pair of tracks built on the tears and severed roots of hundreds of people? Not to mention damage to nature.

A resource crisis necessitates thinking about the future. In a situation where we are already debating whether we have enough gravel for both four-lane highways and Rail Baltic, what will future generations use to build vital infrastructure? Does it not seem harebrained to you to bury all of our gravel reserves in Rääma bog?

Local environmental activists are often accused of the NIMBY syndrome. However, I would ask their accusers to stop and think for a moment. Everyone is responsible for their surroundings. No one except us can defend our home.

It is not NIMBY when a person loses their home or seeks to avoid environmental damage to make sure our land remains inhabitable. No, it is not NIMBY, but the start of the era of running out of resources that forces developers-miners to invade people's homes. We were warned that this era was coming a long time ago but have not wished to listen.

/.../ People in Võru County feel that our own country has set about destroying their language and culture by turning Võrumaa into an international war center. They do not want it there, which gives rise to anti-government speeches and suspicions that NATO forces will be stationed in Võru County so that a potential first strike would happen there and not Tallinn in case of an attack.

The planned polygon is too big for Võru County, just as many other planned developments are too big for Estonia. We need to fit inside the bounds we have, in terms of space, natural conservation and materials. Every new development that people can dream of simply cannot fit in Estonia. We need to come to terms with it.

And our country has to reconcile with its citizens. The state and the citizen must share a relationship of trust so everyone would know that the government is there for the person, so we could all live better and more efficiently. Too many feel that the state is not a friend to them today, and that is our greatest security risk.

Estonia has successfully fought against the environment and destroyed a lot of natural value. Let us try to avoid our state fighting its own people to build for them grand projects that no one needs, that will never take off and will stand as moronic monuments to our own carelessness. Both toward our people and environment.

The era of squandering has ended. We must change our laws to make evicting people and harming their homes terribly difficult. Instead of relaxing expropriation laws. We must once again think about a self-sufficient Estonia that fits inside itself and where the government is a friend to people and nature alike.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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