- The role of science and technology
- Environment and energy
- Science and research
- Knowledge-based society
- Artificial intelligence and automatization
- Economy and society
- Look to the future
This statement of principles of the Finnish Greens for Science and Technology (Viite) reflects our shared green values from the point of view of science and technology. Viite is a feminist association promoting equality, human rights and the protection of nature.
Viite aims to promote the best available scientific research and expert knowledge to guide politics towards the values we share. We should learn from the best experts in their fields and listen to them as broadly as possible, in order to find the best means of achieving the goals that have been defined worth striving for. Within Viite, we do not think favourably of attempts to weaken trust in experts or efforts to replace unwelcome research findings with alternative sources.
In politics today, the most important questions revolve around climate change, loss of biodiversity, human rights, population aging and eradication of poverty. On the one hand, the fast development of technologies offers new opportunities for solving societal problems, and on the other hand, it increases pressure for large-scale structural changes in our social systems. In the last decades, an enormous amount of people have been lifted out of poverty into the middle classes. However, due to the boundary conditions set by nature, the progress started by the industrial revolution cannot continue as it has until now. In the future, we must make sure that any further development takes place only within planetary boundaries. Every significant political decision in the following decades is somehow related to science and technology, whether it is about a radical reduction in carbon emissions or about ground rules for a democratic information society.
Our way of life in the modern information society is very energy-intensive. Until now, the technologies we have used, and our lifestyles more generally, have caused wide-scale destruction of habitats, and belong to the most significant factors driving climate change. In the future, a good life must be realized with significantly less harm. It is possible that we also have to give up certain things in order to secure the livability of the planet. Slowing climate change requires lifestyles and means of energy production that do not cause significant carbon emissions, as well as very efficient use of energy and natural resources. A sustainable way of life implies a critical view on habits, practices and societal structures, along with major investments in research, development and implementation of new technologies.
When employing new tools, we must pay attention to ethics, economy, efficiency, risk management, usability and accessibility. Technological developments can also enable structural changes, for better or for worse. Further, they can render matters formerly taken for granted uncertain, requiring a re-examination of the situation.
Viite aims for the Greens to be the leading pro-science party in Finland. Political decision making in both the Green party itself as well as at the national level must be based on best available research knowledge. Viite brings a scientific perspective to decision making and builds bridges between political actors and scientific communities.
2. The role of science and technology
More scientific research and experts are needed to support political decision making, as decisions require a deeper understanding of the evolution of science and technology and its impacts on society. Expert opinions must be public, in particular in the preparation of legislation and parliamentary work. A diversity of highly valued experts in each respective field must be consulted. On the one hand, such experts must be able to communicate the established knowledge in their field, and on the other hand, explain the more significant uncertainties. Established research knowledge must be prioritized in decision making, and when exceptions to this principle are made, they must be carried out with careful consideration and acknowledgement of uncertainties. It is also important to make sure that the consultation is broad enough. In principle, no important decision should be made based on a single research study, but a wide variety of different studies. Additionally, it is important to consider that scientific communities can also consist of people with fairly similar backgrounds, whereby relevant questions outside the usual frame of reference are not always asked.
The ultimate objective of politics is to ensure the security and continuity of society, and within those limits, to aim to improve people’s quality of life. To realize these objectives, we must regulate, guide and standardize the behaviour of various societal actors, and support people in their lives by offering a variety of resources. Political decision making must also be better able to take advantage of research knowledge from the human sciences. With these, we refer to humanities, behavioural and social sciences. Many major challenges of humanity have no straightforward solutions, and issues must be considered from many different viewpoints, looking for solutions that make our common world a better place.
In politics, it is important to recognize what the significance of values, emotions and facts are in decision-making situations. For example, in value discussions, human sciences offer a broader context and more perspectives for understanding different worldviews and ideologies, while also giving tools for clarifying thoughts and concepts. Additionally, we need to improve our understanding of the development of technologies in relation to human communities. Technologies will have an increasing impact on society and their employment is inevitably dependent on their surrounding social contexts.
In legislation, the main principle must be that laws govern potential negative side effects and risks – and not particular technological or social solutions as such. Follow-up studies are required in order to evaluate the impacts of political decisions. The purpose of laws is not to restrict new innovations, but to direct us towards a better society. Laws must enable the benefits that new ways of doing things give while minimizing negative side effects. We must also take care of keeping up with technological development in terms of laws and monitoring their implementation. Unnecessary risks must be avoided, but the precautionary principle, for example, should not be used as a conservative way to maintain the current state of affairs and the problems within that. No absolute scientific consensus exists, and insisting on it is not part of reasonable political discourse. Discussion, questioning and uncertainty are part of the nature of science.
3. Environment and energy
The biggest challenges of our time are human-caused climate change and the sixth mass extinction. They are also threatening our own existence, as humans are part of nature and therefore, fully dependent on it. Adaptation to the consequences of climate change and mitigation of its effects are the most important political issues of our current century. These challenges touch upon all areas of human activity, and we are in a situation where our whole economy must be decarbonized while protecting natural biodiversity. It is no longer sufficient to just reduce carbon emissions. Rather, we will also need negative emissions, in other words, carbon capture from the atmosphere.
Climate change and habitat loss also destroy species and entire biotopes at an increasing rate. The disappearance of species and biotopes endangers the balance of nature and the future of humanity in an irreversible manner. Therefore, we must aim to stop this wave of extinction by all means possible. The protection of some biotopes may require special means – for instance, the relocation of species to new areas. It is also important to speed up the mapping of the world’s plant and animal species. This knowledge is vital for us to be able to protect the species. Further, it is important to know which species are so-called keystone species, critical for the survival of biotopes. Finally, it would be beneficial to store the genetic material of each species by using databases and tissue samples.
Environmental problems do not know borders. Therefore, the world needs common rules of the game to prevent them. When necessary, developing countries must be supported so that they can transform directly into economies in line with sustainable development and reduce their emissions with the help of new technologies. Finland can have a significant role as an exporter of new techniques and technologies supporting such development. Development cooperation must, in particular, pay attention to the transfer of good practices.
Population growth and economic growth have traditionally increased environmental stress, and measures must be taken to minimize these impacts. Global population growth is slowing down at the moment, and this development has to be supported. According to research, the most efficient ways of doing this is educating girls and reinforcing societal institutions.
Regulation of new plant varieties should be technology-neutral and based on expert evaluations of risks and benefits. It does not matter how a particular plant variety has been developed. When employed responsibly, GMO technology does not present more risks than traditional breeding methods. For example, the new Crispr-Cas9 gene editing techniques are even more precise than previous techniques which also have not required the transfer of genes from one species to another. It is not reasonable to ban these techniques, while at the same time allowing more uncertain techniques that cause larger random changes in genetic material. When employed wisely, the new techniques enable the minimization of negative environmental impacts from agriculture, as well as the required adaptation to the warming climate. Control of GMO technology has to be strict and the risk assessment of plant varieties produced with this technology must be open, so that the materials are not only available to patent holders and licensing authorities, but to others as well. In the end, GMO technology should be seen as just one technology among others, with its own problems and opportunities.
However, no technology should be supported without a critical view, as the employment of a technology is often tied to relevant social questions which must be answerable. For instance, patenting of plant varieties or genetic information of species may have problematic commercial features. Sometimes a technology may have been designed for only a narrow target group of people, bypassing the needs of many others, such as poor farmers. It is therefore important for the public sector to also actively participate in the development and introduction of new plant species, in a way that advances broader well-being. Additionally, large-scale food production always carries a risk of deteriorating biodiversity and the associated risk for food security. If new plant varieties are clones, such as cavendish bananas, the risk grows. Dependence on imported food also implies reliance on functioning global markets, and this must be taken into consideration in planning. These problems apply, however, to all food production and are not related to any single technology.
When all environmental effects, including land-use effects, are considered, intensive agriculture cannot be categorically condemned, as its overall benefits are often bigger than those of the alternatives. Animals raised for food or other human utilization must have a right to a good and healthy life, as well as a painless death. We must strive to quickly reach a global agreement to end unsustainable fishing. The sustainability of fish farming should be improved, for example, with Pigovian taxes or by developing technological solutions. A significant reduction in the production and consumption of animal-based foods is justified, from the point of view of both mitigating climate change and protecting ecosystems. The used means of control should specifically target products of animal origin which produce particularly large amounts of greenhouse gases or otherwise burden nature in a major way. When the population grows and climate changes, feeding the world will become increasingly challenging. Substantially increasing the share of plant-based foods is most important, but the utilization of waste streams and employing other technical means, such as producing cultured meat, can be part of the solution.
We must strive towards a circular economy where material circulates and waste streams are used as raw materials for new products. Consumption has to be reduced and recycling made easy and worthwhile. In particular, the consumption of single-use products should be reduced and material efficiency optimised. Products need to have information on the greenhouse gases their production, assumed use and disposal cause. We should aim to reduce taxation of labour, business and innovations, and move to tax environmental and other harm. Since environmental taxes are usually regressive by their nature, this reform requires measures to compensate for these changes in other taxes, and, for instance, the introduction of basic income. We must also take into consideration that a transition towards a circular economy will increase the demand for clean energy. On the other hand, the reduction in the consumption of virgin materials reduces the associated energy demand.
The main goal in energy politics has to be to first arrest the growth of atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions, and subsequently, to rapidly reduce the emissions. The decarbonisation of the entire energy system is a long, expensive and in many ways an uncertain path in terms of both technologies and costs. Therefore, it will be wise to steer the transition in a technology-neutral way, welcoming all decarbonising options. An efficient means for this is a strict global carbon pricing, through either emissions trading or carbon taxes. Additionally, however, another governmental guiding will be necessary. This is particularly important for locations where carbon pricing either does not exist or where its stringency is not adequate for responsible climate targets.
As decarbonising electricity production is more straightforward, its proportional contribution to energy consumption should be increased. We must put particular effort into low emission energy while being aware of its technical challenges to energy grids and storage. Energy storage and the smart grid should be developed systematically. We must pay attention to the true impact of bioenergy on biodiversity, carbon balance and food production. Truly sustainable bioenergy is a limited resource and its use must be prioritized for sectors which are otherwise difficult to decarbonize.
Due to the rapid progression of climate change, the challenges in renewable energy and various technology risks, also nuclear power should, in principle, be accepted as an inherent part of low carbon energy solutions. Including it will significantly facilitate the required decarbonisation of electricity production. It will also open up new possibilities to deep decarbonisation in, for example, heat production where other options rely on either wood burning, partial decarbonisation or technologies with significant uncertainties. All new energy projects and lifetime extensions should be considered case by case and from multiple angles while keeping in mind that the highest priority of energy policy is slowing down climate change and radically reducing emissions.
The usable oil reserves are limited. Therefore, instead of using oil for burning, it should be reserved for more durable applications that are harder to replace.
4. Science and research
The main aim of Viite is to promote scientific research and the use of scientific knowledge in political decision making, whereby it is also important to ensure the quality and impartialness of research.
We must secure adequate basic financing of universities and other institutes of higher education so that they can carry out long-term research education, as well as quality teaching and research activities. The building of a top research team takes years and we cannot afford to lose key researchers due to breaks in financing. The career path of a researcher must be more predictable than it currently is, and career paths should also be available to teachers in higher education. Research financing should not be based on fast commercialization of research results. Instead, the focus has to be on basic research and on culture, art and science universities.
Basic research changes our understanding, and its applications change the world. Applied research applies the methods of scientific research to solving practical problems, and so, produces a new understanding of the use of science and its impacts. Basic research does not necessarily produce direct economic benefits, but it is vital for product development based on applied science. For example, the development of components for quantum computers currently benefits from the top-end Finnish cold research.
Most suitable funders for basic research and research activities are those who do not pursue short-term gains. Therefore, the main responsibility for adequate funding belongs to the state – the main responsibility for carrying out the research to universities. The private sector and, in particular, universities of applied sciences are in turn responsible for using research knowledge in product development that pays attention to the principles of a sustainable society. Commercial applications often require also public funding.
Advancing the principles of open science and innovation is important, as it can have substantial consequences for both furthering science and the general development of society. For instance, scientific publications should also be available for developing countries where higher education institutes often cannot afford the high fees of these publications.
Multidisciplinarity must be encouraged in both higher education study and research. New ideas are often found at the interface of different fields of science. The multiculturality of research teams also fosters creativity. It is therefore important to encourage universities and other higher education institutes to recruit students and researchers from abroad, and applying for residence permits must be fast and straightforward.
5. Knowledge-based society
Education has a major role in a knowledge society in terms of improving equality and opportunities. Schools and other educational institutes should be provided with sufficient resources for creating curricula which emphasize the development of a range of basic skills, including learning skills and emotional skills. Further, multidisciplinary skills in media literacy, knowledge acquisition and source criticism should also be emphasized in teaching. This requires adequate investment in information and communication technologies in schools. In particular, their use should be pedagogically meaningful, considering the age and skills level of the pupils, and the potential of the technologies used. Pupils should be provided with sufficient skills in learning and self-development from which they will benefit beyond basic education. Moreover, quality of continuing education must be provided everywhere in Finland. Goal-oriented and self-motivated learning and studying have to be possible in all life stages.
Telecommunications and computing technologies evolve quickly, and therefore, the related regulations must be updated often. Regulation should be as technology-neutral as possible so that it does not start to direct product development. The ethical regulation for artificial intelligence (AI) is particularly topical at the moment. Decision-making processes in AI can be based on harmful prejudices rising from the source data used to train it, and these should not hinder positive change. As an example, the AI Amazon used for recruitment was trained with old recruitment data, and consequently, it learned to consider women as worse job seekers than men. In order to manage challenges like these, we have to develop training, create methods, such as the use of multi-professional teams, and improve the competence and potential of the authorities in charge. Further, the use of experts in social and humanistic sciences should be increased in the development of AI. Finally, legislation should ensure that the use of information related to people’s privacy is based on either voluntary choice, regulation or court order.
In a knowledge society, every citizen should have the possibility to use online services. We should prevent a situation where more people fall in between different systems, and as more and more services move online, we have to support people in using them. Online services should be barrier-free and achievable by design. For instance, it has been estimated that half a million people living in Finland would benefit from simplified language. On the other hand, we cannot offer basic services in society only online. Electrification of services or other activities should not have intrinsic value. Instead, its justification should always be the overall benefits of electrification. For example, elections cannot be electrified at the expense of democracy.
Intellectual property rights (IPR), such as copyright, patents or trademarks, are social contracts which are designed to promote the emergence of new culture and innovations. All IPR should be viewed from the perspective of appropriateness: do they have more pros or cons for society? Information resources, such as statistics, map data and research materials should be available to all – to citizens, researchers and businesses – as long as privacy protection is sufficiently taken care of. Copyright laws cannot restrict people’s right to access the internet and communicate privately and without censorship. Fundamental rights take priority over intellectual property rights.
6. Artificial intelligence and automatization
Digitalization changes all fields of science and technology. The increase in computing power speeds up not only automation and robotization, but also other technologies, such as genetic modification and space technology. Evolving solutions based on artificial intelligence will bring numerous changes and have an impact on the daily lives of many people already in the near future. If well implemented, these changes will improve the quality of life, protect nature, save natural resources and increase security. The speed of technological change, however, also makes it challenging to adjust to the change. Therefore, political and regulatory systems must keep pace with the developments sufficiently, so that we are able to benefit from the new innovations, and the structural changes will not lead to societal problems such as inequality.
In particular, we must support re-education for new occupations. Already now, old occupations and job descriptions are disappearing and new ones are born at an increasing pace. Many areas of work may see rapid and unexpected changes when an existing profession disappears. Re-education is indispensable in such situations, and therefore, we must support adult education. In the long run, we have to also take into account the possibility that the total amount of work in society will decrease, at which point it is no longer appropriate to strive for full employment in its traditional meaning. Reduced working hours may be one alternative.
The first development of artificial intelligence has caused much debate about the risks related to AI. We have to thoroughly examine these risks, and take them into account in education, research and product development. Technological development should not be held back only because of perceived risk. Nonetheless, risk assessments have to be carried out and the use of technologies regulated by society when necessary. Implementation of algorithms may involve issues to do with equality, for example, for which current education or the knowledge of public officials is not adequate. Active research and development of AI technology, support for education in the field, and utilization of its methods can all boost the growth of well-being in Finland.
The link between science and well-being is particularly strong in health. The improvement of public health has had a close connection to the improvement of scientific understanding. New treatments have been introduced and the potential for prevention has been better understood. However, while public health has improved, people’s concerns for their own health, or that of their loved ones, have become perhaps even more intense, and are sometimes directed at treatments for which there is no scientific evidence of usefulness. There are also people who actively avoid useful treatments and risk prevention, such as vaccinations, and resort to so-called alternative treatments while ignoring the responsibility of individuals for the safety of their communities. This is against the principles of Viite.
The promotion of individual and public health should be based on research knowledge, and professionals should be listened to and learned from. Experts and professionals should not be replaced with alternative sources best suited to one’s own prejudices. Further, questioning or eroding the role of authorities promoting public health is not in line with the values of Viite. Stirring up fears, doubts and uncertainty should not be used as a political tool.
The fast advancement of biomedicine opens up more and more possibilities for health promotion. New medical procedures should be evaluated on their contribution to health and well-being. Genetic mapping is within everyone’s reach, and everyone should, as a rule, have control over their own genetic information. Old, stored specimens should, however, be available for research when anonymized and if an authorization for research has, in principle, been granted.
The benefits of new technologies should be realized while existing problems and risks are minimized. Individuals have the right to modify their own genes as they wish, as long as this does not harm others. Sufficiently safe and ethically sustainable methods for modifying the genes of offspring should be made available to all future parents. However, any such modifications must always be in the best interest of the child. Modifying the germline to prevent diseases should be part of public healthcare, as long as such therapy is considered effective. Research funding for applications of human genetics and for the modification of the human genome should be at an internationally comparative level.
The use and control of DNA databases by the police or others must be regulated and strictly limited. Discrimination based on genetic heritage should be forbidden and privacy protection should be strong. Sequence information must not be used without authorization as a basis for insurance, social support or recruitment, for example. The same principles should also be followed when utilizing information collected through brain imaging techniques or health applications. Theft or unauthorized use of genetic information must be criminalized.
8. Economy and society
In green economic policy, a market economy is the starting point of an ecologically and socially sustainable social system. At the same time, we should aim to fix the weaknesses of the market system, such as market failures, negative externalities, as well as income inequalities. The economic system should be redirected away from the so-called linear economy based on natural resource use, and towards a circular market economy with a socially just legal framework.
Economic growth increases prosperity and is desirable. However, it must be decoupled from resource consumption and distributed fairly. In recent decades, more than a billion people worldwide have risen out of absolute poverty to a functioning middle class. This would not have been possible without economic growth based on science and technology, and this development should continue, especially in those areas where there is a need to lift people out of poverty. A stagnating economy would be a human disaster for those who do not yet even have clean drinking water or electric lighting. At the same time, however, it is imperative to move away from the current carbon intensity, as it will lead to an even greater ecological catastrophe, as the world population grows. Nor would a return to Stone Age type living with the current population be an ecologically sustainable or ethically acceptable option.
The common ground between ecology and economy can be found in economic models decoupled from natural resource use. Here, Finland and Europe, benefitting from their rule of law, can be forerunners. A socially just economy needs an economic policy that is governed by the rule of law and cares for the weakest. The use of scarce resources must be made more efficient, and energy and material losses must be reduced by developing new technologies that do not burden the environment or produce greenhouse gases. This does not, however, eliminate the need to decarbonize production, since it is also possible that the increases in material and energy efficiency lead to the so-called rebound effect which increases the demand for more efficient processes, and can cancel at least some of the environmental benefits achieved. Over-reliance on high-tech solutions may also divert attention from simpler, low emission solutions with low material requirements. In practice, these ideas mean a shift towards a high value-added green service economy. Therefore, equal opportunities for e.g. education and healthcare must be guaranteed for all.
Automation and digitalization as global megatrends are predicted to cause increasing structural unemployment in the future, and therefore, we must ensure that everyone has meaningful opportunities to participate in and develop society. It is crucial to prevent wealth accumulating in only a few hands. A social security system based on basic income provides a better and more humane way to ensure that everyone receives a basic livelihood than the current model. It also reduces the risk of starting a business.
In conclusion, a green economy is based on a transition towards a market economy decoupled from natural resource consumption, operating within a socially just framework based on the rule of law.
9. Look to the future
We have to be prepared for future risks and opportunities already now. Climate change will bring many challenges in the next decades. Sea level rise has already started, which has to be taken into account in planning buildings and infrastructure. Finland is likely to become significantly warmer during this century, and the changes and growing number of extreme weather events must be prepared for in agriculture and forestry, for instance. Climate change-related catastrophes, conflicts and civil unrest will increase, and we must also prepare for increasing refugee flows and relocation of large numbers of people into more northern areas. The loss of biodiversity poses its own threats that should be addressed. We must build a resilient society that can withstand uncertainties and can adapt to new situations quickly. Above all, this requires active maintenance of social cohesion and humility in the face of difficulties in predicting the future. Plans must be made with an open acknowledgement of uncertainties while protecting the security of future generations.
The fast pace of climate change and the slowness of humanity’s response cause difficulties in reconciling goals. It is possible, for example, that eventually the economy can be decoupled entirely from carbon emissions, but it is also possible that we will not achieve that with purely technological means within the timeframe necessitated by the climate crisis. The long-term future of humanity may be bright, while we can foresee a difficult period in this century, through which we must try to pass wisely. We have to discuss the opportunities in the far future optimistically and the challenges in the near future realistically. This requires a strong and broad scientific basis. Our society is dependent on technologies and social networks, and their interaction. We have to put particular effort into ensuring the reliability of these systems, and in the case of vital systems, we must ensure societal functioning in the event of system failure.
Humanity evolves further. This can make the previously impossible possible, and therefore, irreversible decisions should be avoided. Development in itself is neither good nor bad, but it must be guided in such a way that it brings as much well-being to humans and nature as possible. Examples of such positive influences include the global fight against poverty and hunger, reduction of infant mortality and raising of educational attainment. Guiding technological development is particularly important for technologies that enable major changes. These include a significant increase in human life span by using bio- or nanotechnologies, or the development of advanced artificial intelligence or quantum computers. These possibilities must also be taken into account when making far-reaching decisions.
It is difficult to predict the direction and speed of change. However, the decisions in front of us must be made judiciously, relying on the best available knowledge and a strong green value base. Whatever the world and humanity will look like in a century’s time, we must first survive the next hundred years.
Welcome to the activities of Viite.