5 Nov 2020
In 2017, The National Museum of Finland celebrated the country’s 100th anniversary with the exhibition ‘The Public and the Hidden Finland ‘. It comprised a selection of pictures from the National Board of Antiquities’ collection. In the section ‘Technology and nature’, the following caption could be read:
“The image of Finland combines high-tech and modernity with a mythical connection with nature. The forests and the lakes are building blocks of the Finnish state of mind and a source of well-being. Furthermore, everyone is free to enjoy nature based on the jokamiehenoikeus (“everyman’s right”) right-to-roam legislation. However, nature can also be viewed as a resource, an endlessly renewable commodity. 100,000 hectares of forest are clear-cut annually in Finland. The diverse forest ecosystems are threatened by monocultural fields of trees. Less than one tenth of Finland’s forests have been declared protected nature reserves. (…)”
Following the title of the exhibition, ‘The Public and the Hidden Finland’, the text in a first instance describes the commonly accepted and circulated version of history followed by a more controversial one, that of nature as resource. The text (not included here) then went on to summarily describe the history of industrialization and post-industrial Finland. It ended by stating that “Finland is taking climate change into account and investing in the bio-economy and nuclear power”, but that there have also been investments in mining, which is posited as a non sustainable solution. FRAUD’s investigations could be described in this context as building a critical spatial literacy into the ‘Hidden Finland’, one that may question highly mediatised and accepted notions such as the sustainability of the acclaimed bio-economy. We seek to complexify the current discourse on forestry and financialisation through a genealogy of carbon and its many derivatives, from the carbon stored in trees, its distilled form in pine tar (terva), to fossil fuels and their financialisation in emission trading systems and carbon accounting.
To begin: forest “nature”
“From the tree of nature to the tree of knowledge, from the tree of life to the tree of memory, forests have provided an indispensable resource of symbolization in the cultural evolution of humankind” (Harrison 1993, 8)
Long before a forest was understood as a carbon resource, or a carbon sink, it had an altogether different meaning. In Prologue, Zarathustra warned us: “Do not go to man. Stay in the forest!” (Nietzsche 1968, 2). In this warning also lies the separation of ‘civilisation’ and ‘nature’, which went hand in hand with the division of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’. In considering classical sources of history-making such as the Roman Empire, not as a form of validation of History, but rather as a study of widely circulated symbolisation, we find that as the empire grew, the nearby forests of Latium became defined in distinction, and outside of the res publica (Harrison 1993, 49). Thus, civitas, and with it the taxable citizen, and the origins of civism, meaning the virtues and sentiments of a good citizen, has its dubious beginning with the beginning of forest clearing.
Forest became a frontier or margin against which the civic, strictly institutional space was defined. It demarcated the natural boundaries of the Roman res publica and the res nullius (Harrison 1993, 49). In contrast, cities were a type of asylum situated in a forest clearing. Those entering the civic boundaries of cities were supposedly seeking refuge from the forested shadows. Forests were in fact commonly referred to as the locus neminis, or “place of no one” (Harrison 1993, 4). The res nullius stood against the res publica in such a way that a sylvan fringe gave the civic space its natural boundaries. The European Enlightenment furthered the classical apprehension of forests as a border. Following Descartian thought, the forest is an alienating and confusing space. It poses a barrier to the engineer’s mind which fosters a mode of Cartesian rationalism that is avid for the rural vacant plain. After all, a forest is a place where the straight lines of geometry encounter the greatest obstacles.
These notions reinforce the separation and abstraction in “nature” and “wilderness”. Finns are closer to their history as forest dwellers than their southern neighbours, where we must look to antiquity to understand nature before its abstraction, when “[u]nder the goddess’s reign [Artemis], earth and sky were not opposed, nor were life and death, animal and human, male and female, inanimate and animate, matter and form, forest and clearing.” (Harrison 1993, 19). In ‘Tree People’ (Puiden kansa) Ritva Kovalainen and Sanni Seppo vividly describe the wealth of traditional Finnish beliefs centred on trees and forests. In one example, trees act as intercessors, or “intermediaries to maintain contact with the dead or to return a slain bear to its home in the skies” (2014, 8). The relationship between trees and humans is further connected through their interlinked destinies. It was for example believed that should a sacred tree become ill, the humans with which it is in a relationship would also become weak. In their book, Kovalainen and Seppo argue that Finns still carry these traditions within them. With this in mind, considering less than 10% of Finland’s primeval forests remain (and its sacred trees), we could begin to consider the massive clearcutting of the country’s forests not simply as ecocide, but as geotrauma.
Speculation, a genealogy of scarcity? Or governance as corruption.
The financialisation and valuation of forests and forest resources can be seen as one of the foundations of western political power as much as its effacement. Forests once marked the limit of sovereignty, the areas of productive economy and with it the threshold of the law. In the late middle Ages, when the forest became the foundation of political power, “the impending wood shortage became an increasingly effective instrument of politics” (Radkau 2012, 139). ‘Forest laws’ designated grounds reserved to the royal houses and aristocracy for hunting. Afforestation was a cruel, despotic instrument of dispossession to forcibly evict and invalidate ancient freedoms and common rights such as communal land- and water-uses. The latter is echoed in the Great Partition (1757-1827), an umbrella for several agricultural land reforms enforced in Sweden and Finland (part of Sweden at the time) by the Swedish Empire (Storskiftet and later Enskiftet and Laga skiftet in Swedish or Isojako in Finnish).
Another common practice was the creation of scarcity through restricted wood supply access also decreed by aristocracy for their own financial gain (Radkau 2012, 139). This artificial creation of scarcity has a very long tradition which finds its penultimate orgasm in speculation. In this sense, scarcity can be understood as a preface to the colonial project – and it is also at the root of forest policy which has in some cases been defined as “the history of growing scarcity of wood” (Streyffert 1954, 3). Even Karl Marx pointed out that afforestation, namely forest enclosures, which precipitated the origins of the landless proletariat, were a response to the “chimerical fear of falling into scarcity” (Foucault, 2009, 61).
The history of forests and financialisation is deeply entangled. To fuel the colonial expansion longleaf pines were in high demand to make masts. They often were called “king’s trees” reserved for making ships’ masts (Radkau 2012, 138). The northern forests of Finland, Sweden and Canada fed the colonial enterprises undertaken by European empires, providing pine logs for masts and pine tar to seal the hulls of ships. Trees suitable for masting were difficult to find as mast trees take a century to grow, and timber production from pine trees was only a viable industry in sparsely populated areas. They were however a crucial requirement for any sailing ship, and often had to be replaced after storms or wear. As European powers competed on the high seas, higher, tougher and more robust masts were in increased demand. They became the cutting edge of naval technology. Ships with huge single masts could travel at full sail compared to those with composite masts which were slower and vulnerable to strong winds. These masts are cited as one of the reasons why Britain outstripped France at sea in the C18th (Bamford 1956, 207-8). Thus, these crucial Finnish forests, stripped for masts and tar, line the world’s seabeds, scattered in a trail of wrecks that traces the colonial impetus.
A fine trace of Stockholm tar.
The colonial expanse also afforded the colonial gaze onto the other through the ontological definition of the terra nullis, therefore morally validating is conquest. A similar establishment of civitas and cultivated land against the shadowy depths of the forests, which had sanctioned its destruction in Europe, was applied to the lands that were encountered in the Americas.
Black gold speculation
An often overlooked ‘carbon derivative’ in the expropriation of land in the Americas is terva (pine tar), which was used as a wood preservative. Finnish pine tar (often referred to as Stockholm tar) is described in many archival exchanges between colonial powers as being the best both in quality and fabrication method (Kent 1973, 80). Consequently, Finland has historically been one of the most important providers of both timber and tar for many of its European neighbours’ pillaging ventures abroad. The fluctuation of the black gold’s resale value is linked to both the creation of a bourgeoisie (in Oulu), and to great famines (Kainuu region). The increase of timber value, also afforded by the demand of trading companies and naval fleets, afforded the switch from an agricultural to a monetary economy. These reforms are dubbed the ‘liberalization of Finland’ in the 1860s, which also coincide with the creation of the Finnish markka, and the beginning of a widening gap between forest owners and landless peasants (Toivanen 2018). These reforms also precipitated the ‘hunger lands’. One of the main factors in the great famine of 1867 killing hundreds of thousands,was the inability to finance cereal import because of the decrease in the price of pine tar (Toivanen and Kröger 2018). Thus pine tar brought the beginning of speculation, riches and extreme poverty to the country.
Pine tar today in Finland epitomises the complexities challenging the co-existence and development of traditional practices alongside a bureaucratic apparatus that privileges the logic of accumulation. Under EU law, terva is categorised as a chemical which requires a production permit costing 200,000EUR (Braunschweiler n.d.). The EU chemical definition was devised according to industrial production methods and scale. Small artisanal terva producers have to merge or collectivise to survive. While this traditional knowledge is under constant threat of disappearance under the EU’s legal framework, in former tar production and distribution areas (such as Oulu and Kainuu), pine tar festivals have emerged as a hipster-esque nostalgia of Finland’s past, dehistoricising its relationship to death, famine and speculation.
Jos ei viina, terva ja sauna auta, niin tauti on kuolemaksi.
(Finnish Proverb: If alcohol, tar and sauna do not help, then the disease is fatal)
The mathematization of risk calculation and ‘worth’
… “as long as the cut is smaller than the growth”
Metsähallitus (Finnish state forestry administration)
The wider global trend towards financialisation and the switch from agricultural to monetary economies emphasises notions of ‘exchange value’. The trees which were used to make the masts of the empires’ fleets, also became a resource with an exchange value. Eino Saari (1894-1971) is said to be one of the founders of forest economics in Finland. He pioneered the first national wood utilization survey in the world – the birth of forest valuation. This could be understood as the development of biological-mensurational research which enables the application of economic theory and facts to biological and technical conceptions. In 1966, Kullervo Kuusela of the Finnish Forest Research Institute stated: “the age of planned development of forest resources is about to begin” (Edwards 1968, 155). Kuusela’s statement points to the importance of early national wood utilization surveys within a genealogy of ecosystem services.
Central to planned development is forest modelling, one of the oldest forms of mathematization of risk calculation and the calculation of ‘worth’. The birth of forest valuation is, according to the economist John Maynard Keynes, the link between the present and the future, the latter being “perfidious” and threatening (Esposito 2011, 11). Industrial forestry thus conquers the perfidious future through planned harvest, determined maturity, yield calculation and other predictions. Forest modelling, in its conquest to assuage future uncertainties, systematises the forest as a set of variables within a formula, forever optimising itself, thus paving the way for its financialisation.
To understand the financialisation of nature – which could be defined as “economic reasoning and market approaches applied to ‘nature’” it is useful to understand what is deemed as ‘productive’ in financial terms (Fioramonti 2014, 104). According to the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA), what is deemed productive: “must be carried out under the instigation, control and responsibility of some institutional unit that exercises ownership rights over whatever is produced” (United Nations 2009, 7). In concrete terms it applies in the following way. For fish stock, natural growth in the high seas is not counted as production as it is not bound by international quotas and the fish is not managed by any proprietary institution. However, the growth of fish in fish farms is defined as production and consequently adds to GDP (Fioramonti 2014:111). In a similar way, the natural growth of wild, uncultivated forests is excluded from production, whereas industrial forests, consisting of trees grown for timber are counted and defined as productive (111). Thus, and somewhat sordidly, the deliberate felling of trees in wild forests counts as production, constituting a positive increment to national income (111). Certain practices are clearly privileged by these definitions. Such categorisation and logic define Neoliberal Biodiversity Conservation: ‘an amalgamation of ideology and techniques informed by the premiss that nature can only be “saved” through its submission to capital and its subsequent revaluation in capitalist terms’ (Büscher et al. 2012, 4). Neoliberal biodiversity conservation exudes a Christian logic of salvation, imbued with the associated morals, and repurposed by finance capital.
What the SEEA definitions and modes of valuation leave out of the equation are the incomputables, such as traditional knowledges and complex relationships. If “power is grounded in the very ability to calculate, count, measure, balance and act on these calculations” (Weizman 20012, 17), that which cannot be measured, cannot be governed, and it can also not be valued in marketable terms. Thus, through the illusion of total capture by efficient calculation, incomputables become marginalised and slowly erased. As an example, Tero Mustonen recounts a meeting with Vladimir Kolesov, one of the principal knowledge-holders of his generation, an Evenk hunter and reindeer herder from the nomadic community ‘Gonam’ in Siberia. Vladimir checks an ice pressure ridge of a river, and shares the specific Evenk terminologies for these ice ridges, indicating how intimately the Evenk language interacts with the rivers and forests of Iengra (Mustonen 2016, 49). As such, it reflects the importance of the relationship between knowledge and place. These relationships are not figured in carbon accounting, or in the calculation of worth, when Metsähallitus proceeds to the clearcutting of old growth forests, most recently at the time of writing, in the area of our friends in Mustarinda (Kainuu region). These losses are precisely incalculable.
In contrast with Vladimir’s rich vocabulary in relation to ice ridges, the UNCLOS (The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) framework defines ice in legal term as equal to water, and as such, the Arctic Ocean is regarded as empty, categorised as unpopulated, while it is the site of indigenous hunting (Bruun 2016, 35). The redefinition of land as void, is itself another violent act of erasure, which guides the ownership and use of land (Sematei 2005, 86). Similarly incalculable in Metsähallitus’s precision software are the complex lichen growing on trees and on the ground in old growth forests.
The reindeers’ winter grazing consists mainly of various forms of lichen, particularly reindeer lichen, Cladonia rangiferina and Cl. Silvatica but also includes crust lichen, Parmelia olivacea, and beard lichen, Alectoria and Usnea, together with (particularly in the spring country before the fresh grazing has sprouted) the rock lichens, Gyrophora, which have been softened by snow and thaw water; all lichens must be in a moist and soft condition (Kent 2018).
Reindeer herders in Finland must often feed industrially produced food to their herds because of the lack of such lichen. This is but one example of an impoverished biodiversity directly related to the lack of old growth forests, which is not quite encapsulated in Metsähallitus’ mantra: “as long as the cut is smaller than the growth”.
Carboniferous capital, carbon markets and legitimised accumulation
“Good Derivatives – You CAN Put a Price on Nature”
Richard Sandor at TEDxWallStreet”
Postmodern sociologists argue that contemporary Capitalism privileges flow oriented ontologies and network structures (Steinberg and Peters, 2019, 2015; Steinberg 2001). It is no surprise that the northern forests are seen as a great cycle of flows, which have carbon circulation, exchange and storage as nominal abstractions. We argue that understanding the northern forests as a space of flows pictures them as void of social factors, biodiversity, conflicts, and incomputables.
Forests, footprints, industry pollution, credits, emissions, animate and inanimate alike are measured and valued in terms of carbon, and their potential to sequester it. In the wake of climate catastrophe, carbon as currency becomes a tool that like forest modelling, which capitalises in the present upon the uncertainty of the future (Esposito 2012). Following this logic, carbon has been introduced as a commodity on the futures market, to be traded, exchanged, and subjected to market speculation.
As such, carbon is the currently accepted unit of measure to calculate the value of “nature”. This is reflected in the emergence of carbon markets worldwide, and in forestry policies such as those defined by Metsähallitus. In a manner similar to the corporate annual report, Metsähallitus publishes its holdings based on wood mass and carbon content. It ensures that each year, the mass and carbon removed, does not surpass that which is growing (or standing). For example, in 2019 they reported that an annual increment of 11 million cubic metres exceeded the annual fellings by five million cubic metres (Mäntyranta 2019). These simplified metrics convey palpable earnings, a convincing support to Metsähallitus’ claim in the fight against climate change. However, the underlying carbon calculation is not that complex, and closer consideration reveals some of its shortcomings.
Carbon sequestration is calculated as follows:
A CO2 molecule is made of one carbon atom and 2 oxygen atoms. The atomic weight of carbon is 12, and oxygen is 16. The molecular weight of CO2 is 44. This means 12 Kg of completely combusted carbon produces 44 Kg of CO2, or 1 Kg of carbon at complete combustion will produce 3.67 Kg. of CO2. Wood is heterogeneous and the exact amount of carbon in 1 Kg of dry wood will vary depending on the species of wood, age of wood etc. It is reported that 1 Kg of wood contains about 450 to 500 gm of Carbon. This means 1 Kg of wood is holding about 1.65 to 1.80 Kg of CO2. In this way wood, or forests, act as carbon sinks (Kuittinen 2015).
Notwithstanding the averaging and generalisations that render this calculation practically inconclusive, carbon trading and pricing, and carbon as a form of measurement mobilises a certain world view. What is the broader cultural significance of the proliferation of carbon analytics, along with the methods and imaginaries employed to rationalise the bioeconomy?
Metsähallitus’s recent Climate Smart Forestry project attempts to address some of the critique directed towards its simplistic calculations. It takes into account more granular data such as soil, land use and regional ecology, otherwise known as the integration of ‘feature selection’ and ‘feature engineering’ (Domingos, 2012; quoted in Mackenzie 2015, 440). However this vision, that a larger amount of variables, or more data, could theoretically lead to a calculation that encapsulates the complexity of a forest, is predicated upon a flawed concept of statistical models. This view is contemporaneously exacerbated by machine learning models, in which so-called ‘smart forestry’ promises greater efficiency. No matter how much data is collected, and features implemented, a number of factors render these calculations erroneous, such as generalisation (mentioned above), the necessity of a fixed and comprehensive classification system (which is namely at odds with complex species such as lichen), and a stable, calculable input and output. All of which could not be retrofitted to a forest.
Numerous contemporary examples of the oppression inherent in classification are widely discussed, from predictive policing, and racial bias to smart city gentrification (see Safransky 2020, Arora 2019, Benjamin 2019, or Wang 2017). These categorisations could be understood as rooted in Carl Linnaeus’ pioneering 1758 global racial order ‘Systema Naturae’ in which he distinguished four categories of human species, each with inherited biological and cultural characteristics: HomoEuropaeus with his light-skin, muscular built, inventiveness and governed by laws; Homo Americanus was copper-coloured, choleric and regulated by customs; Homo Africanus was black, phlegmatic and indolent and governed by impulse (Linnaeus 1758, 20-22). Sámi were placed by Linnaeus in the category of Homo Monstrosus, regarded as degenerate and freakish creatures (Koerner 1999, 416). This vision was echoed by English naturalist Oliver Goldsmith in his 1774 ‘History of the Earth’, who ranked the Sámi as the lowliest of his six races, and an earlier French naturalist Jean-François Regnard (1655-1709), who compared “this little animal that is called a Lapp” to apes (Koerner 1999, 416). Linnaeus’ system also classified fauna and flora species, a nomenclature that is still widely used today despite its incommensurable violence and discrepancies, such as the case of the composite organism lichen, which defies classification as either fungi or algae (Gabrys and Pritchard 2018, 394-5, Rikkinen 2014).
In a similar way, carbon centred calculations and the notion of ‘nature’ reducible to its weight in carbon that was initially popularised with the Kyoto Protocol, obfuscates other politics of extraction. Strata of fossil fuel, or “subterranean forests”, are a contentious treasure within the contemporaneous nomenclature of carbon (Sieferle 2001). According to Larry Lohmann “The Kyoto pact is technocratic” (Lohmann 2001, 2). It portrays the causes of global warming mainly in physical terms, which is the production of excessive amounts of greenhouse gases calculated in CO2 emissions. However, it does not “address institutions and power imbalances which have resulted in both the overuse and the unequal use of the atmosphere.” (2) Also, by avoiding historical analysis, the focus on emissions themselves, rather than what is being burned “averts [the] gaze from the politics of [the] industry, the explosion in trade-related transport, subsidies for fossil fuel exploitation, the creation of consumer demand, and so on.” (2). In other words, carbon accounting is a system that was put in place to apparently ‘save nature’, but actually facilitates environmental destruction at a much greater pace and scale.
Carbon accounting facilitates environmental destruction.
Carbon credits are perhaps one of the most deceiving aspects in support of this grand fallacy. Framed in terms of debt, carbon credits are posited to alleviate the ‘evil’ carbon footprint, present day indulgentia. The financialisation of nature which gained traction leading up to the Kyoto Protocol, shifted to emission trading and creative carbon accounting with the Paris Agreement. The dubious and lucrative phenomenon of carbon leakage is one that stems from the attempt to universalise emission mitigation practices. Carbon leakage is posited as a negative externality of climate change policies, a phenomenon projected from the imagined consequence of production processes moving to countries with less stringent measures. This displacement would lead to rising global greenhouse gas emissions rather than its desired opposite. As a result, manufacturing industries that have been deemed at risk of carbon leakage receive an amount of emission allocations for free. This may be understood under the umbrella of ‘allowances for economic growth’, the actual subface of the green economy. One of the consequences of market speculation driving the cost of carbon credits is that industrial sectors are receiving more free pollution permits than the amount of CO2 they emit, which they sell, incurring what is called windfall profits (Carbon Market Watch (n.d.); Elah and Okereke 2014, 24). These profits are to the order of billions on a yearly basis. This begs the important question, in whose interests is the carbon market and its entire system of knowledge production.
The reduction of forests to a weight measured in carbon, valued according to the carbon futures market, can be understood within a genealogy of expropriation. In 1542, the land proclamation claimed the “uninhabited wilds” of Finland as crown property. In reality the lands were often shared or freehold. Several agricultural land reforms followed, such as the 18th century Land Enclosure Statute, in which the liberal property rights required fixed physical occupation and cultivation of the land to give recognition of land ownership, thereby denying collective land use such as for hunting, and fishing, or collective land rights such as those of the Sámi (Lähteenmäki 2006, 188). The use of Crown commons and wastelands dictated the state’s agricultural policy, which included forests, and was driven by increase in the value of timber (188). This forced collective land use into individual holdings, and presented a significant land dispossession for the people of the North. In a similar continuation of this practice, in 1966, ‘Features in Finnish forestry’ defines waste land as land that is “practically treeless” (2). These waste lands, home to bird species and used by fishermen and hunters, were drained and rendered productive. Thus, divesting most of Finland’s peatland and marshes for the production of forests or fuel. Tree less, uninhabited wilds, unpopulated, discovery, these have long been the semantic tools of expropriation. The logic of the bioeconomy which propels policy making is equally a form landgrab validation.
Vandana Shiva calls for the decolonisation in the deep sense of the term (Mies and Shiva 1993, 264-5). Decolonisation not only of one nation over another, but decolonisation of the concepts of Western notions, its alleged superior knowledge systems of how to live, what progress entails, and what development actually means. The carbon market, or carbonocracy is a continuation of imperialistic relations, cleverly outsourced to the allegedly objective and impartial market, programmed by Western thought, categorisation systems and power structures. We should question the green economy and its mantra, recycled by such policy and profit makers as Metsähallitus. Their formulas and calculations are not neutral. The question is in whose interests are these modes of valuation being promoted in the Hidden Finland, and worldwide? More importantly, how can we re-centre non-modern knowledge systems?
FRAUD (Canada/Spain) is made up of the duo Audrey Samson and Francisco Gallardo. Critical spatial practitioners, they develop modes of art-led enquiry, which examine the process of ‘financialisation’ through extractive data practices, and cultivate critical cosmogony building. FRAUD has been awarded the State of Lower Saxony – HBK Braunschweig Fellowship (2020), the King’s College Cultural Institute Grant (2018), and has been commissioned by Contemporary Art Archipelago (2020), the 5th Istanbul Design Biennial (2020), and the Cockayne Foundation (2018). Recent work includes: Carbon Derivatives, the 57th Venice Biennale, the Whitechapel Gallery, London (2018) and Somerset House, London (2018); Shrimping Under Working Conditions that was shown at Kunsthall Trondheim (2017) and the Empire Remains Shop in London (2016).