Johanna Maria Tõugu: Estonia's security also depends on people's homes

Johanna Maria Tõugu.
Johanna Maria Tõugu. Source: Piret Räni

Johanna Maria Tõugu's speech at the general assembly of the Estonian Greens (Rohelised) on January 17, 2023.

In around six weeks, Estonia will celebrate a day of democracy that will have a much longer and greater impact on Estonia's future than a single election cycle, which lasts four years.

In the coming years, the nation will lay the foundation for an important green turnaround: how to transition to renewables, how to deal with the economic crisis, the environmental and the climate crises, and how, under such extraordinary pressure, not to fall prey to populism. Converging multiple crises are causing a mental health crisis. Now, self-harm kills more people than traffic accidents. I believe these grim statistics speak for themselves.

We cannot afford to delay a just transition while the health, energy, economic, and climatic crises are ceaselessly chasing each other. Without social solidarity, there is little hope that people would be able to face the consequences of climate change with grace and goodwill.

If we continue to bury our heads in the sand, blaming a select few, as we have done in the past, tremendous social inequality, poverty and marginalization will follow. People should not be left alone to endure the consequences of the inaction of large corporations and politicians. We must create a system from the ground up that creates the conditions for an economy that is compatible with our ecological limitations.

A "crisis" is a difficult situation, a potentially dangerous condition, or a turning point in a disease at which the disease will either improve or worsen. The same could be said of the environmental crisis. We have reached a tipping point from which we can progress either positively or negatively.

Important institutions are aware of what needs be done to heal the world, but they fear losing their wealth and power, which prevents them from enacting the necessary changes.

We have simultaneously reached deadlock in several areas and must start thinking and acting differently. We need a solution that addresses the underlying causes of the problems, which means we need to have a holistic perspective on the world. We see that one thing causes the another, everything is interconnected — we know that all is one.

What is out is also in; it shapes our environment and affects our mental health. The way we feel is a mirror of what is occurring in our environment, which is why people choose to live and spend their vacations in areas with abundant natural beauty and wildlife. Similarly, our mental and physical health will suffer if our water, air and soil are of poor quality.

For years, scientists have warned us about the environmental repercussions of our actions. We are sawing the branch on which we are sitting; the thickness of this branch makes our sawing appear slow. We believe that we can go in the same manner indefinitely. However, ecosystems have limits and they do not last forever. The rubber will finally snap under the strain of the stretching.

We do not know where that breaking point is but we know it exists. In the same way that we safeguard our most valuable possessions, such as our house or car, we should protect our planet. It is better to be safe than sorry and continue with caution and respect for nature.

Nature is one of the few constraints that human strength and intellect is unable to overcome. We will die before nature. The core of the Greens worldview is this reverence for something as magnificent as nature. Many argue that the Green Party is unnecessary, as other parties already have their own environmental programs, so why us?

We propose security, education, social protection and financial measures in our program; such a party cannot be accused of being a single-issue party. Each political party has its own ideology and perspective on the world. Ideology is a pair of tinted glasses through which everything can be seen in the same way as with the naked eye, but in a certain hue. Our program, like that of other political parties, covers all aspects. We must evaluate each party's response to a given issue on its own merits, just as we do for any other issue.

The environment has always played a crucial role in the development of every civilization. It dictates agriculture, the food we eat, and the availability and quality of drinking water. The climate influences our economy, employment and prosperity. It is such a complex system that should not be tampered with as it is impossible to predict how changes affect processes on the opposite side of the globe. For example, we endure half of the summer of heavy rain.

The result could be a major disruption of the ecosystem that has real consequences for our agriculture, e.g. the rotting of all cereal and vegetable crops. This is crucial from a security standpoint, as Estonia would no longer have its own food supply and exports would cease. This poses a direct threat to national security; starving nation cannot defend itself.

We must broaden our perspective on security, it is not merely a military standpoint. Without a doubt, our ability to mobilize is essential, In focusing on this, we must not forget our day-to-day security, which is guaranteed by people living all over our country.

The level of trust we have in the state determines our willingness to defend Estonia even in difficult circumstances. Are we willing to defend our homes even if there is no power, central heating, or food in the stores? Will we flee or will we stay bravely? Every Estonian's home is part of the country's defense capability.

Forests are also essential for our security. The Estonian forest fighters have demonstrated our robust and hardy mentality; they could build a home in the forest and it was a place to hide. Estonians would never go hungry in a forest with a healthy ecosystem.

The war in Ukraine shows the risks of turning forests to flat lands. The Russian tanks and military vehicles crossed the Ukrainian steppes with ease. The forest is a crucial strategic defense aspect for Estonia. It has existed in Estonia since the dawn of time and must remain so.

We began our efforts to safeguard Estonia and the planet in the 1980s, when the effects of the Chernobyl tragedy reached Estonia and phosphate mining was planned to start the next year. Free Estonia was becoming increasingly tangible and imminent despite the difficult circumstances.

A similar movement had begun a little earlier in Europe: in the German government, the now-legendary German Greens is the government party, which is most critical of the Russian regime.

Initially, in Estonia and the other Baltic states, the environmental movement became intertwined with the independence movement. However, the environmental activists did not enter the political arena on a major or sustained scale in the newly independent republics.

The present Greens Party was founded in 2006, seventeen years ago
This was preceded by the Green Party Action Group's activities (Rohelise erakonna algatusgrupp, or REAG). It brought together intelligent, thoughtful and compassionate people who believed that Estonia's future could only be secured if our environment was also preserved. A few months elapsed until the Riigikogu elections of 2007, in which the Greens won six seats.

This was both a huge success and an enormous responsibility for a nascent political organization. The young and newly founded party had growing pains like a teenager with a restless temperament, which resulted in fewer than five percent in the subsequent elections, which prevented the Greens from entering parliament.

While such a blow has historically proven fatal for other parties, the Greens have never been discouraged and have consistently and tirelessly pursued their mission. The same stubbornness and unwillingness to decide and agree on party's vision has been the undoing of many parties. This is what has happened, for example, with the Estonian Freedom Party – Farmers' Assembly (Vabaduspartei – Põllumeeste Kogu) and the Estonian Biodiversity Party (Elurikkuse Erakond).

The Greens were also defeated badly, but we have maintained our foothold and adapted to the times. Such endurance over many years is a strong indicator of principled steadfastness. The Green Party has come to stay and to grow. Looking at the developments in Europe, we can see that the green wave is bound to make its way to Estonia.

In 2014-2015, when I was living in Germany, I noticed that environmental concerns had made their way into marketing; in Estonia, I did not see similar changes until a couple of years ago. There is about a seven-year gap. Given that the pace of development is accelerating, I believe, it won't be long until our society begins to consider the environment on a broader scale. The first opportunity to test this is already March 5.

In the meantime, we must face the challenges that threaten our nation's stability and cohesion. Authoritarian and divisive forces are fueled by fear of the unknown and the uncertainty about the future. Maintaining democracy takes daily and continual effort.

Choosing the easy way out by closing down your country and imposing a tight and hostile administration is the wrong narrative for us. In contrast, a green and just transition built on solidarity will provide the Estonian people with paying jobs, clean cities, healthy homes and a brighter future for present and future generations.

Renewable energy sources generate significantly more economic activity and jobs than conventional energy sources. Through intelligent regional policy, we can achieve a transition that benefits local communities and people rather than large corporations. Distributed and cooperative community energy capacity can make energy profitable rather than paying for it.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a watershed moment in our country's history.
This unjust war is altering the foundations of our international relations, and Estonia must now implement its policy agenda in a new context.

Security means a holistic approach to our environment and our people. The Estonian state begins with the inhabitants of Estonia, which includes human beings and all other living species. The bear, the lynx, the wolf and the tree lichen also live in Estonia. What is nature if not a living organism? We work to preserve and protect Estonia in all its forms. We work to preserve and protect Estonia in all its forms and to achieve this we must take decisive steps in the forthcoming elections - the responsibility for making these decisions rests with politicians and voters.

At all political levels, we must take the green transition more seriously than ever before.

"Harmony makes small things grow. Lack of it makes big things decay."

― Gaius Sallustius Crispus

Let's join forces because the future is at risk.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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