Environmental mediation is an established field in the U.S. There are academic experts, mediation companies, protocols, and court structures in place.
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Not so in Finland, says Lasse Peltonen, a mediator and a senior researcher at SYKE, the Finnish Environment Institute. He and colleague-spouse Jonna Kangasoja are both trained in mediation and recently started a mediation company based in Helsinki.
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“In Finland the role of a neutral third party mediator in environmental conflicts basically does not exist,” he says. And, he says, the administrative courts where environmental conflicts are dealt with don’t have a mediation system. “This kind of institution is not recognized.”
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Part of that has to do with cultural differences, as Peltonen and Kangasoja learned during a year at the Consensus Building Institute in Boston. Kangasoja summarizes some of the main contrasts: low vs. high trust in government, tendency for public policy to be shaped by private interests vs. public interest, heterogeneous/individualist society vs. homogenous/collectivist culture, and a legal culture of litigation vs. social protection. All of these affect conflict resolution and mediation.
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Trust in government is a particularly interesting example. Mediator Peter Adler has said that “Neutrals act as surrogates for trust.” In other words, mediation is considered more of a necessity when there is less trust between two groups. Took a look at the chart below and guess where mediation is more necessary.
joona chart 2
Source: Jonna Kangasoja, Aalto course material
During a summit last summer on environmental mediation, MIT professor and mediation expert Larry Susskind told Peltonen that “Finland is at a critical moment. The country has an opportunity to shift to the use of more collaborative practices to resolve environmental and resource management disputes. The need is certainly there (especially in the mining and forestry sectors). It would not be difficult to train a cadre of skilled mediators to assist with this transition.” During the same visit, Susskind, Peltonen, and other summit participants drafted the Fiskars Declaration, “calling for a national commitment to encourage the use of environmental mediation.”
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In this conversation, Peltonen explains why environmental disputes are particularly tough to mediate, how a backyard rat spotting can evolve into an environmental protest movement, why trust in public authority in Finland to protect the environment might be eroding right now, and the lessons Finland can take away from the U.S.
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